Charlie Daniels Band: Charlie Daniels - guitar, fiddle, vocals / Tom Crain - guitar, vocals / Joel "Taz" DiGregorio - keyboards, vocals / Fred Edwards - drums, percussion / James W. Marshall - drums, percussion / Charlie Hayward - bass / Jamie Nichols - percussion; Guests for the CDB set (in order of appearance): Richie Cannata - sax / Don Winters - vocals (Marty Robbins band) / Jack Pruitt - guitar (Marty Robbins band) / Mike Cutright - vocals (Marty Robbins band) / unidentified gospel choir / Roy Acuff - violin, vocals / Boxcar Willie - train whistle
Bobby Gene McNelley - vocals, guitar / Terry Efaw - guitar, vocals / Steve Reis - bass, vocals / Stephen "Tebes" Douglass - keyboards, vocals, harmonica / Dick Smith - drums / John Schwab - guitar, vocals
The Gatlin Brothers Band:
Larry Gatlin - vocals, acoustic guitar / Rudy Gatlin - vocals, acoustic guitar / Steve Gatlin - vocals, bass / Steve Smith - guitar / Mike Smith - pedal steel guitar / Ralph Geddes - piano / Shannon Ford - drums
Betts, Hall, Leavell & Trucks:
Dickey Betts - guitar, vocals / Jimmy Hall - vocals, sax / Chuck Leavell - piano, keyboards / Danny Parks - guitar, violin /
David Goldflies - bass / Butch Trucks - drums
To celebrate The Charlie Daniels Band's first homecoming concert sellout at Nashville's 2400 seat War Memorial Auditorium in 1974, Daniels invited some friends to drop by and jam. Much to the surprise and delight of all attendees, among those accepting his invitation were The Allman Brothers Band and the Marshall Tucker Band. The result was an incredible evening of rowdy Southern Rock not soon forgotten and the initial Volunteer Jam concept took hold. The following year Daniels upped the ante by repeating the concept at Murfreesboro, Tennessee's Murphy Center, with even more friends turning up in addition to the first year performers. Another advance sellout, the event was a roaring success. Filmed and recorded, subsequent broadcasts spread the word throughout the United States and in 1977, the Volunteer Jam concert would find a permanent home. That January, the third Volunteer Jam took place at Nashville's Municipal Auditorium and featured a veritable who's who of southern rock, country and bluegrass musicians all on the same stage. The King Biscuit Flower Hour recording engineers were on hand to document the event and choice highlights were heard by millions of listeners across North America. What began as an annual homecoming concert with family and friends had become one of the hottest tickets in America and had established itself as an annual tradition, with all the musicians volunteering their services. Daniels himself covered the artist's expenses and proceeds from ticket sales and broadcasting rights were directed toward charities, including leukemia research and Tennessee schools working with disabled children.
Despite the guest bookings always being kept secret, with each subsequent year, the Volunteer Jam would repeat its success and would become one of Nashville's greatest and most highly anticipated annual civic events. The ninth Volunteer Jam, held on January 22, 1983, was no exception and featured another astounding lineup of guest performers. Presented here is the entire unedited Charlie Daniels Band set from that evening as well as sets by many of Charlie's special guests, including standout mini-sets from the likes of McGuffey Lane, Larry Gatlin and The Gatlin Brothers Band, Johnny Lee, Carl Perkins and BHLT, which boasted Dickey Betts and Butch Trucks, two founding members of the Allman Brothers Band, in addition to Wet Willie frontman, Jimmy Hall, and Allman Brothers/Sea Level alumni, Chuck Leavell. If that wasn't enough, several additional surprises turn up during the Charlie Daniels Band set and Daniels himself contributes his talents to most of the sets.
The recording begins just prior to the Charlie Daniels Band taking the stage at 7:30, with "The Tennessee Waltz" playing over the PA system. Welcoming the audience to Volunteer Jam IX, the CDB kick things off with their patriotic 1980 hit, "In America." A group composition from the Full Moon album (material from which will feature prominently in this set), this number immediately establishes that pumped-up feeling of Southern American pride that has figured so prominently in Daniels' music and solicits a strong positive reaction from the Nashville audience. The 1974 single that established Daniels' reputation follows, with "Long Haired Country Boy," a song about independence and survival, featuring tasteful slide and lead guitar contributions from Tom Crain. Crain also fronts the group on vocals and trades licks with Daniels and pianist Taz DeGregorio on "Lonesome Boy From Dixie," a compelling track from the Full Moon album that ruminates on the plight of America's soldiers and military. This thought-provoking number is followed by Daniel's heartfelt eulogy to departed musical heroes like Janis Joplin and members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the sad, yet comforting 1979 song, "Reflections."
For the next number, keyboard player Taz DeGregorio takes over on lead vocals and Billy Joel's saxophone player, Richie Cannata, joins the band on stage. With Cannata adding sultry sax, they perform "The Lady In Red," the tale of a female serial killer issued on their newest album at the time Windows. Also from that new album, the group's cover of Dan Daly's penetrating "Still In Saigon" follows, further illuminating the plight of Vietnam vets. The set continues with Tom Crain again fronting the group on another Full Moon album track, "Let The Blind Man Play," the disturbing tale of a black street musician blinded in an attack by the Ku Klux Klan. Well intentioned, but lyrically too superficial to be as compelling as what preceded it, this song concludes the "heavy" portion of the set and from here on out things lighten up considerably, taking a turn towards pure fun and presenting several special guests joining the CDB onstage.
Following a brief presentation of the buckle of honor, an annual tradition where the entire CDB and road crew honor that year's most valuable road team member, Daniels introduces three members of Marty Robbins band, singers Don Winters and Mike Cutright, in addition to guitar slinger Jack Pruitt. Robbins, a legendary country singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with a successful career that spanned four decades, had just passed away on December 8th. Performing with the CDB, all the musicians honor Robbins with a great performance of one of his greatest songs, "El Paso."
Following this tribute, the CDB explore two additional standout tracks from the Full Moon album, beginning with "No Potion For The Pain," a great blues number by DeGregorio that features his own expressive piano work and burning lead guitar from Crain. Daniels then leads the group on a romp through "The Legend Of Wooley Swamp," a ghost story set in rural North Carolina, which he appropriately dedicates to the Tar Heels. Daniels caps off this initial section of the CDB performance with his 1979 mega-hit and Grammy winner, "The Devil Went Down To Georgia." This finally provides him the means to unleash his frenetic fiddle playing, which the audience, not surprisingly, goes wild over. With just a second to catch their collective breath, Daniels then sails directly into a fast-paced read of the gospel hymn, "I'll Fly Away." On this exuberant performance and the song to follow, "Will The Circle Be Unbroken," a full gospel choir lends their voices and a troupe of square dancers join in at side stage. The latter number turns into a joyous celebration with Daniels and an unidentified woman from the choir (who has an operatic vocal range that is quite incredible) sharing lead vocals. This is intended to be the grand finale to the CDB portion of the show, but just as Daniels is about to announce an intermission, he gets a surprise in the form of one of the iconoclastic figures in country music, Roy Acuff.
Beginning his career in the 1930s as singer and fiddler for the Smoky Mountain Boys, Roy Acuff was largely responsible for Country music's transition from rural string band music to the singer-based genre that became an international phenomenon. A central figure of Nashville's Grand Ole Opry for decades, Acuff also founded the very first Nashville-based publishing company, signing countless influential artists including Hank Williams, The Every Brothers and Roy Orbison among them. He was also the first living musician inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame. Charlie Daniels is clearly thrilled to have the living legend on stage and he presents Acuff with a gift of one of his electric fiddles, which he encourages him to play. Acuff graciously accepts and announces that he has a friend with him, at which point Boxcar Willie joins the fray onstage. They initially have a bit of technical difficulty getting the electric fiddle working, so the band vamps while they straighten it out. Then, with the familiar sound of Boxcar Willie's train whistle, the entire entourage kicks into a high energy reading of "Wabash Cannonball," with Acuff on lead vocals and electric violin, trading licks with Daniels now on lead guitar. As great as this is, it is merely a warm-up exercise for the set conclusion of "Fireball Mail." Originally a frenetic banjo number written by Floyd Jenkins and popularized by both Acuff and Earl Scruggs, here "Fireball Mail" becomes one fantastic example of highly charged electrified bluegrass that sends the audience into a total frenzy. Afterwards, Acuff thanks everyone and encourages the audience to return next year, before Daniels announces a brief intermission and a promise of more great surprises to come.
When the Volunteer Jam resumes, Daniels invites one of the hot country-rock bands of the time up on stage: McGuffey Lane. Co-founded by guitarists Terry Efaw, Bobby Gene McNelly and keyboardist Stephen Douglass and named after the street in Athens, Ohio where Douglas lived, McGuffey Lane had established themselves as one of the hottest young bands in Ohio. By the early 1980s, the group was nationally touring as openers for CDB, The Allman Brothers Band and Marshall Tucker. Equally appealing to country and Southern Rock fans, the group kick things off with their hot new single at the time, "Making A Living's Been Killing Me," followed by "Doin' It Right," the song destined to become the follow-up single that same year. Both of these numbers were featured on the group's new (their 3rd and most popular) album at the time, Let The Hard Times Roll and both songs convey solid musicianship and the group's knack for tight harmony singing. They conclude their stage time by dipping back to their first album, with "Green Country Mountains," a celebration of country living that showcases the dual lead guitar work of McNelly and Efaw, as well as Douglass' skill on harmonica.
One of the true country music highlights of the evening follows, as Daniels promises that the audience will next be treated to "some of the finest harmony my ears have ever had the privilege to hear." This is no exaggeration and the audience goes wild when one of the most popular country groups of the decade take the stage - Larry Gatlin and The Gatlin Brothers Band. Led by the soaring falsetto of Larry Gatlin, who had established himself as a solo star throughout the 1970s, this group delivers on Charlie's promise and then some. In the span of the previous four years, The Gatlin Brothers' infectious harmonies had become a crossover phenomenon, popular with country, rock and pop fans alike. Beginning in 1979, when they released their first album together, Straight Ahead, the group experienced enormous success. That album's #1 hit, "All The Gold In California," would begin a long string of hits and Larry would be awarded "Top Male Vocalist" at the ACMs that year. Along with brothers Rudy and Steve, the Gatlins' music featured some of the most compelling vocal arranging in all of country music and the touring unit they had at this point in time was second to none, thanks to the extraordinary musicianship of pianist Ralph Geddes, lead guitarist Steve Smith, pedal steel guitarist Mike Smith and a truly fantastic drummer, Shannon Ford.
With Ford cranking up the tempo right off the bat, The Gatlin Brothers Band launch right in with a spirited "I Got Texas In My Soul." With Larry handling vocals alone and calling out for solos, this immediately conveys what a hot band this is (in addition to being great singers!) and all of these musicians shine brightly. The Gatlins' recent smash hit and the title track off their 1982 Sure Feels Like Love album is up next. If anyone ever doubted the Gatlins' vocal strengths outside a studio, this clearly proves they could deliver the goods on stage. This is a soulful performance fueled by a potent lead vocal from Larry and the sweet harmonies of Steve and Rudy Gatlin. Next they dip back into Larry's catalogue for a performance of his mid-70s hit, "Broken Lady." Awarded a Grammy for "Best Country Song" in 1976, this is another stirring performance that also features Charlie Daniels singing a few lines and adding subtle fiddle nuances toward the end. Daniels adds fiddle more prominently on the set closer, "All The Gold In California," which becomes one massive sing-a-long, with the audience joining in to conclude the set.
Following the Gatlins, the Charlie Daniels Band return to the stage to serve as the backup band for the next two performers. This section of the festivities begins with Daniels inviting Texan Johnny Lee to the stage. Lee had spent nearly a decade working with Mickey Gilley, both on tour and at Gilley's Pub, a legendary music hotspot in Pasadena. Since then, his solo career had really taken off and this was his third appearance at a Volunteer Jam. Lee was near the peak of his career at this point, thanks in large part to being featured on the monumentally popular Urban Cowboy movie soundtrack, which launched his song "Lookin' For Love (In All The Wrong Places)" right into the stratosphere. Lee would experience an impressive string of hits in the early 1980s and he kicks off this set with his current hit at the time, "Cherokee Fiddle," a song penned by Michael Martin Murphy, which for obvious reasons serves as a fine vehicle for Daniels' talents as well. As an added treat, Rosemary Butler, whose voice also graced the hit studio recording, joins Lee. With Taz DeGregorio adding some great honky tonk piano, Lee and Butler close with a fine cover of Willie Nelson's "If You Got The Money (I've Got The Time)" before turning over the stage to the next surprise that Charlie has up his sleeve.
At this point, Daniels invites another true iconoclastic figure in American music to the stage, Carl Perkins. Guitarist, singer, songwriter and one of the seminal figures in rock and roll, Perkins delivers a three song set that is a killer performance from beginning to end. With the CDB still serving as his band, this set is a real treat, beginning with one of the finest performances of "Boppin' The Blues" one could ever hope for. The musicians are obviously enjoying themselves immensely here and Perkins proves himself an adept lead guitarist in addition to all his other talents. A forceful version of "Honey Don't" follows, a song covered by countless artists including The Beatles. Perkins' style and musicianship has had an immeasurable impact on rock and roll and modern country music and with every passing second of this set that becomes more and more apparent. He wraps it up with the song that made him a household name nearly three decades prior, "Blue Suede Shoes" which gets a perfectly appropriate ecstatic response from the audience.
Ending these recordings with a bang, Daniels next introduces BHLT, a group that never released an album, but that for the brief time they were together, featured three former members of The Allman Brothers Band, which was on an extended hiatus at the time. Featuring Dickey Betts, Chuck Leavell, Butch Trucks and Wet Willie frontman, Jimmy Hall, in addition to guitarist Danny Parks and bass player David Goldflies, BHLT is, as Daniels eloquently puts it, "one kick-ass band." Favoring tight rollicking performances over extended jams, they open with an excellent cover of Bobby Blue Bland's "Ain't Nothing You Can Do." This is infectious Southern Rock at its best, with Betts, Hall and Leavell all trading vocals. Hall provides his trademark gritty sax work, Leavell's fingers are flying up and down the piano keys and Betts' soaring lead work has never sounded more focused. The recording concludes with a steamrolling road song, "I'm Rollin'," that cooks from beginning to end. This final number showcases the dual slide work of Betts and Parks, bringing these 1983 Volunteer Jam IX recordings to a sizzling conclusion.
-Written by Alan Bershaw