The truth about Charlie Daniels and Bob Dylan’s relationship

As country music fans mourn the death of revered singer-songwriter Charlie Daniels, tributes to the prolific musician continue to flood social media. While country music’s latest crop of hitmakers remember Daniels’ achievements, it’s his early affiliation with another industry legend, Bob Dylan, that helped the “Simple Man” singer skyrocket to superstardom. Before Daniels formed his eponymous band in the 1970s, he played electric bass for three of Dylan’s albums — Nashville Skyline, Self Portrait and New Morning — thanks to his friend Bob Johnston.

“[Johnston] had just taken over Columbia Records in Nashville, and said: How would you like to move to Nashville? And it took all of about six seconds to say: Yes, we do want to move to Nashville. So, in 1967, we moved to Nashville,” Daniels told CNSNews in 2017. However, it wasn’t until 1969 that Daniels caught his big break. “I was and still am a big Dylan fan and admirer, so I asked Bob Johnston if there was any way he could let me play on just one session,” Daniels wrote in his memoir Never Look at the Empty Seats (via CNSNews).

As fate would have it, the scheduled guitarist for one of Dylan’s sessions couldn’t make it, allowing Daniels to fill in. Daniels wrote in his memoir that after the session, Dylan talked to Johnston, telling him (via Rolling Stone), “I don’t want another guitar player. I want him.” Daniels added, “My career needed a shot in the arm and knowing that Bob Dylan said that meant a great deal to me.”

Charlie Daniels' first session with Bob Dylan was a 'defining moment' in his career

Although Charlie Daniels will be forever remembered for 1979’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” the legendary country star credits fellow musician Bob Dylan with launching his early career to new heights. “I was only supposed to play one session,” Daniels told CNSNews. “I was filling in for somebody and it ended up that he wanted me to stay, and asked — actually said when I was leaving: ‘Where’s he going. I want him to stay’ — type thing. And I stayed around for not only that album, but two others.”

Daniels added that Dylan’s decision to keep him was a “defining moment” of his decades-long career in country music. “Because Bob is always putting the names of the recording musicians on the back of his albums,” he explained. “And being the kind of artist that he is, that everybody wants to know as much about him as they can, they actually read the liner notes and they would see my name on there. It leant some validity to me in my career.”

Daniels, who was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2008 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016, per CNN, added that the Dylan he came to know defied “his reputed persona as anti-social, moody and humorless,” telling Rolling Stone, “I didn’t find him that way at all.” Daniels added, “He was funny, down-to-earth and a very nice guy.”

Bob Dylan helped Charlie Daniels find something he could 'really sink [his] teeth into'

For country music star Charlie Daniels, landing his first studio session with the iconic Bob Dylan was all about knowing the right people at the right time. At that point in his career, Daniels wasn’t “studio savvy” but his time with Dylan “was something [he] was able to really sink [his] teeth into and was certainly not out of [his] field of expertise,” he told Billboard in 2019. 

“I came out to Nashville originally to produce records and write songs,” Daniels continued. “But I soon found out that’s not where my heart is. My heart has been, and I come to find it will always be, out here playing music and walking on stage in front of a crowd of people. And with the Dylan stuff, I definitely felt that same energy.” Dylan recognized Daniels’ talent, too, as he wrote (via Billboard) in Chronicles: Volume One: “When Charlie was around, something good would usually come out of the sessions.”

Daniels also noted that Dylan “represented that kind of creative freedom to [him] as to somebody who was not concerned so much with how long it took to get a song done,” which “made for some great creative music and being able to get stuff played on the air just because it was good.” And while Daniels passed away on July 6, 2020, from a hemorrhagic stroke, per People, the “Long Haired Country Boy”‘s timeless classics will surely live on for generations to come.

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