Last Saturday, the NYCB Theatre at Westbury played host to Charlie Daniels Band, fresh on the heels of the 40th anniversary of the Volunteer Jam , a benefit event that raised over $300,000 for U.S. veterans and their families this year alone. Held in Tennessee, the Volunteer Jam is the brainchild of Charlie himself. Daniels remarked that he’s played at Westbury so often, that he “lost count of how many times [he] played” there. It was a comfortable night full of great music.

After an opening set from the Marshall Tucker Band, Daniels opened with “Southern Boy”, to a welcome reception by the crowd.  The band then offered “Drinkin’ My Baby Goodbye”, followed by “Tangled Up In Blue”. “Tangled” was featured on his 2014 release, Off The Grid: Doin’ It Dylan, which features Daniels playing ten different Dylan songs. He explained to the crowd that the album was called ‘Off The Grid’ because the songs are all played acoustically, as the band had previously worked on scoring a television show that required acoustic instruments, and continued with the sound.

The show continued with “Legend of Wooley Swamp”, followed by “El Toreador”. “God Bless America Again” displayed Daniels’ unbridled love of his country beginning, with a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. The talented and seasoned musicians all had a chance to solo in an impressive rendition of “Black Ice”, an instrumental written to showcase their talent.  Each player shined in their moment, and spoke volumes in how much talent supports the headliner every night.

Dylan’s songbook was opened again for “I’ll Be Your Baby” tonight, and the rendition sparkled with a bubbling country twang.  Johnny Cash was honored in song and anecdote, as Daniels recalled how the Man in Black “went out of his way to be kind to me” (in Nashville circa 1967, when Daniels was a novice guitar player).  He followed with a “Folsom Prison Blues” that walked the line, and shone the sun into the darkness that extended to the seats of the music hall.

An acoustic version of “How Great Thou Art” stopped time, and floated up to the places where angels sing praise.  The evening concluded with the singer’s most recognizable radio hit, “The Devil Went Down To Georgia”, with Daniels’ fiddle breathing fire.  The crowd was already awaiting the next run that the band’s tour bus enters the venues parking lot, hopefully not further away than next autumn.

We caught up with Daniels before the show, here’s a Q&A with the legend:

L4LM: You played on three of Bob Dylan’s records, can you tell us how that came about?

CD: Dylan was coming to Nashville to record Nashville Skyline in 1969. A guitarist was hired for 15 sessions, but already was booked for a session when the first was to be recorded. Dylan’s producer Bob Johnston asked me to come in, and play on that one. The first night as I packed up to leave, Bob Dylan asked Johnston where I was going. Johnston explained about the first player, and Bob said “I don’t want another guitar player, I want him.”  I was so surprised at that.  That was the biggest thing that happened to me to that point. 

L4LM: What did playing with Dylan do for you professionally?

CD: Playing with Dylan was a great learning experience, and he gave credit to all of the players. If you turn the album cover over, the different musicians are listed there.  Having my name on a Dylan record gave me legitimacy in the music business.

BW: You released your version of ‘Serve Somebody’ last year, which is one of Dylan’s biggest gospel records.  Were you surprised when his music went due North like that?

CD: Dylan’s conversion did surprise me. It thrilled me.  I was so glad that he found the Lord.  I never knew what Dylan’s beliefs were, or what religion he was. That was the wonderful thing about that.

BW: What has led to your service to veterans, and your strong stance on their behalf?

CD: I was five years old when Pearl Harbor was hit. German U-Boats would try to sink boats carrying war supplies right off of the coast where I was born in North Carolina. There were air raid drills, and black outs.  In 1941 or in 2015, all that is keeping America free and sovereign is the grace of God, and the United States military.

BW: If fans want to help you in your support of veterans, how would you suggest that they go about it?

CD: The Jason Foundation (website here) was founded in Nashville to prevent teen suicide.  There is an APP anyone can dial 24 hours a day, and receive help form a a health care professional.  Gen. Mat Hastings was alarmed at the number of National Guard suicides, and worked for private subsidization to help veterans in this area.  We can contribute to help them through the foundation.

BW: Do you have any new studio work that is being released soon?

CD: Charlie Daniels Band has a promotional song for the National Rodeo in Las Vegas, but the last album is ‘Off The Grid: Doin’ It Dylan’.

BW: Thank you for speaking with me!

CD: You’re welcome, and thank you.