July 07, 2020
By Lynn Burkhead
Hall-of-fame musician Charlie Daniels, best-known for his mega-hit The Devil Went Down to Georgia, died in a Hermitage, Tenn., hospital on Monday, July 6, 2020, due to a hemorrhagic stroke. He was 83.
When news broke of Daniels’ passing, reaction was swift from many corners of the country, the outdoors industry included, as people reflected on the life and times of the member of the Grand Ole Opry, the Musicians Hall of Fame, and a recipient of the Academy of Country Music Pioneer Award.
"Farewell to a legend and true patriot," said North American Whitetail editor Gordon Whittington in a Facebook post.
"The devil went down to Georgia, but Charlie went to be w/Jesus," wrote Eric Conn, now a church pastor and a former editor for several firearms and hunting publications and former host of Modern Shooter TV on Sportsman Channel.
But perhaps the most poignant reaction came from Nick Hoffman, host of "Nick’s Wild Ride" television show on Outdoor Channel. Hoffman had a unique relationship with Daniels, who served as his music and TV mentor, as well as having the honor of playing with him on stage a few weeks ago.
”I was floored to hear about the passing of my hero Charlie Daniels this morning," wrote Hoffman in one of several social-media posts. "Growing up as a kid who played fiddle there weren’t too many artists to look up to. And to me, Charlie Daniels was larger than life. He made the fiddle cool. Made it rocking. And, he did it unapologetically.”
Like many others, Hoffman was particularly fond of Daniels’ country classic, The Devil Went Down to Georgia, a song that Daniels first wrote and performed with his band in 1979. Daniels had many other memorable songs during his long career, but he is best known for that classic song.
Interestingly enough, Daniels said in an interview that a poem from his high-school days inspired the song, which would become a No. 1 Billboard Hot Country Songs chart topper and one of CMT’s 100 Greatest Songs of Country Music.
The song played a unique role in Hoffman’s relationship with Daniels.
"Charlie Daniels was gracious enough to appear in the very first episode of Nick’s Wild Ride," said Hoffman, in another social-media post. "He was the perfect fit because he was such a hero to me.”
Hoffman then played a video clip on his Facebook page, one featuring a familiar tune.
”In this clip we talk about his relationship to the outdoors, how he inspired me and generations of other fiddlers, and also played a bit of The Devil Went Down to Georgia with me," stated Hoffman. "Thank you, Charlie!”
Hoffman said Daniels’ influence on his career went beyond music and playing the fiddle.
“I not only owe lots musically to Charlie, I owe him much on the television front, too," he said. "There is zero doubt that his participation helped get the attention of the folks at Outdoor Channel and get the project off the ground.
”I was so grateful to get the opportunity to play onstage with him at one of his last shows this past February at the SCI Convention in Reno Nevada. It was one of the greatest musical moments of my life.”
Daniels, who still toured regularly and energetically until the COVID-19 crisis put a temporary stop in the nation’s live concert industry, performed in the SCI show on short notice after a legendary rock group pulled out due to anti-hunting group pressure.
"Charlie Daniels embodied many of the values we stand for at SCI as the leader in defending the freedom to hunt and in promoting wildlife conservation," said W. Laird Hamberlin, chief executive officer of SCI and the Safari Club International Foundation, in a news release.
"He loved the outdoor way of life and understood how hunting contributes to wildlife conservation. That belief shone brightest when he refused to be bullied by the ignorant and misinformed groups targeting our convention. We will miss him and his enthusiastic support.”
While the time demands of touring and performing kept Daniels bottled up indoors much of the year, he still found avenues to exercise his belief in the Second Amendment and in enjoying the great outdoors. Such actions included public service announcements for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s annual "Hunters for the Hungry program," which encourages deer hunters to donate venison for residents struggling to put food on the table.
A man of deep Christian faith, Daniels also worked tirelessly to promote a variety of other charities and causes. One of his most passionate efforts was in helping soldiers returning home from the battlefront and finding help to combat the stress and mental health issues that sometimes resulted.
An active Twitter user with 73,000+ posts, Daniels tweeted about his causes almost every day. That includes one of his last tweets on Sunday when he reminded people across the U.S. that "22 VETERANS COMMIT SUICIDE EVERY DAY!!”
A life member of the National Rifle Association, Daniels told NRA blog writer Kristina Krawchuk in a 2017 interview that he was passionate about the outdoors lifestyle and belief in the fight to preserve Second Amendment rights.
When asked by Krawchuk about his introduction to the outdoors, Daniels responded: "I honestly don't remember when I first shot a gun. In my family it was just taken for granted that we would shoot and hunt. With the nuts and bolts of safety being taught and understood first, we started very early. The first gun of my very own was an Iver Johnson 20-gauge single barrel shotgun that I got when I was 12. The second was a 16-gauge single barrel when I was about 15, which I still have.”
He also noted he enjoyed recreational shooting so much that it was difficult to pick out a favorite gun in his collection. "That's a hard question to answer, as I have several favorites!" he told Krawchuk. "One of my favorite handguns is a Sig Sauer 9mm, and I have a couple Daniel Defense rifles that I enjoy shooting. But as to the guns I shoot the most, I have a small range in the woods behind my house, and I'll spend hours with a .22 pump action and the five Buck Mark .22 pistols and 20 magazines I have, sometimes shooting four or five hundred rounds a day.”
Daniels was honored by the organization at the 2017 SHOT Show in Las Vegas for his contributions to help the NRA’s ongoing mission. Such efforts—which Daniels said was just a part of who he was and what he believed in—included the signing of 1,150 fiddles and 1,150 guitars. Such autographed items helped Daniels and the NRA raise some $1.8 million at various NRA Foundation fundraising events.
Wayne LaPierre, the CEO of the NRA, reacted to Daniels’ passing on the organization's website.
“The world knew Charlie Daniels as a wizard with a fiery fiddle," stated LaPierre. "A legendary musician. A true American icon. But, to his NRA family, Charlie was all that and a lot more. We knew and loved Charlie as an outspoken patriot whose passion for freedom was unparalleled.”
LaPierre noted that with Daniels, talk was cheap, and action meant everything. "Charlie didn’t just preach about values — he lived them every day," stated LaPierre. "A proud NRA Life Member and lifelong Second Amendment supporter who performed at countless NRA events, and courageously spoke out for freedom every chance he got.
”The world lost one of its brightest stars. Our country grieves for a true patriot. Our NRA family mourns the loss of a brother. Rest in Peace, Charlie."Such sentiments are shared by many Americans this week, people who were family, friends and fans who remember Daniels and his customary Twitter salute each evening: "Guess I’ll hang it up for tonight. Goodnight planet earth—God bless.”
Goodnight to you Charlie Daniels, and God bless too. And thanks for playing a fiddle better than anyone else ever did. The devil won’t forget, and neither will we.