NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Charlie Daniels, who went from being an in-demand session musician to a staple of Southern rock with his hit “Devil Went Down to Georgia,” has died at 83.
A statement from his publicist said the Country Music Hall of Famer died July 6 at a hospital in Hermitage, Tennessee, after doctors said he had a stroke.
Daniels, a singer, guitarist and fiddler, started out as a session musician, even playing on Bob Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline” sessions. Beginning in the early 1970s, his five-piece band toured endlessly, sometimes doing 250 shows a year.
“I can ask people where they are from, and if they say `Waukegan,’ I can say I’ve played there. If they say `Baton Rouge,’ I can say I’ve played there. There’s not a city we haven’t played in,” Daniels said in 1998.
Daniels performed at White House, at the Super Bowl, throughout Europe and often for troops in the Middle East.
He played himself in the 1980 John Travolta movie “Urban Cowboy” and was closely identified with the rise of country music generated by that film. Some of his other hits were “Drinkin’ My Baby Goodbye,” “Boogie Woogie Fiddle Country Blues” and “Uneasy Rider.”
He is survived by his wife, Hazel, and his son, Charlie Daniels Jr.
“Well, the devil went down to Georgia, but Charlie went straight to heaven,” said Dolly Parton in a tweet. “My heart, like many millions of others, is broken today to find out that we’ve lost our dear friend Charlie Daniels.”
In the 1990s Daniels softened some of his lyrics from his earlier days when he often was embroiled in controversy.
In “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” a 1979 song about a fiddling duel between the devil and a whippersnapper named Johnny, Daniels originally called the devil a “son of a bitch,” but changed it to “son of a gun.”
In his hit “Long Haired Country Boy,” he used to sing about being “stoned in the morning” and “drunk in the afternoon.” Daniels changed it to “I get up in the morning. I get down in the afternoon.”
“The Devil Went Down to Georgia” was No. 1 on the country charts in 1979 and crossed over to the pop charts. It was voted single of the year by the Country Music Association and earned his band a Grammy for best country vocal performance by a duo or group.
Daniels, a native of Wilmington, N.C., played on several Dylan albums as a Nashville recording session guitarist in the late 1960s, including “New Morning” and “Self-Portrait.” He also played on albums by Marty Robbins, Claude King, Flatt & Scruggs, Pete Seeger, Leonard Cohen, Al Kooper and Ringo Starr.
He also performed gospel music, which earned him Dove Awards as well. He co-founded a veterans charity called The Journey Home Project.
Eventually, at the age of 71, he was invited to join the epitome of Nashville’s music establishment, the Grand Ole Opry. He was inducted in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016.
He said in 1998 that he kept touring so much because “I have never played those notes perfectly. I’ve never sung every song perfectly. I’m in competition to be better tonight than I was last night and to be better tomorrow than tonight.”