Charlie Daniels is probably as well known for sociopolitical commentary as for music these days. But he has scaled the music industry’s mountaintop a couple of times, from several different directions.
Four decades after first cracking the Top 10 with “Uneasy Rider” in 1973, Daniels was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame last year. That followed his 2008 induction into the Grand Ole Opry, and he’s got a wall-full of gold and platinum records, too. The Wilmington native also has four books to his credit, including the new career-spanning memoir “Never Look at the Empty Seats.”
The book-writing is a natural extension of the “Soap Box” column on Daniels’ website, which finds him opining on issues of the day – gun control, the NFL’s national anthem protests, creeping socialism – from a perspective of conservative-leaning populism.
We caught up with Daniels in advance of the Charlie Daniels Band’s Oct. 21 appearance in Cary – and just a few days after the Las Vegas shooting that shook up the country-music and live-concert industry. The conversation was edited for clarity.
Q: You’ll turn 81 years old this month. How many more years do you reckon you’ll be touring?
A: I don’t know. However long the good Lord gives me, that’s how long I’ll be out. I have no plans in the direction of retirement. I mean, I will one day if I have to. But I love what I do, which is why I keep doing it. Until He calls me home, I’ll be out here pickin’ and grinnin’ same as always.
Q: Are you still writing new songs at this point?
A: Oh yeah, I’ve always got songs in mind, songs in the works. Right now, I don’t have a lot that are titled yet. I’m planning to go into the studio in November to solidify and refine some things. I’ve been so busy the last little while with different projects, I just have not had time to get into it.
Q: Do you ever get back to your original hometown of Wilmington?
A: Wilmington is the kind of place where if you’re not going there, you’re not going through there on the way to anywhere else. So no, I don’t get there very often. I still have one aunt there who’s 93 years old, who I try to go by and see every time I can. But I’m working so much, there just aren’t very many opportunities.
Q: In the wake of Las Vegas, where a gunman’s attack with high-powered weapons left 58 dead and hundreds more wounded, have you found yourself worrying about that?
A: No, I haven’t. I feel like this is an anomaly. I think this guy was a nut, a problem waiting to happen. I think if we let ourselves be made afraid of these kind of things, we’re done and the bad guys have won.
I’ve been to Iraq three times (to perform). I know it’s a war zone and there are IEDs, people shooting. But I decided before I went, you can’t go and be scared all the time because that takes all the fun out. So I decided to just trust in the good Lord, did my thing and had a great time. I feel the same way about this. There could be danger anywhere, but we cannot let those guys win, be afraid to get onstage.
Things happen, you know. I’m not much of a what-if guy. What if a piece of an airplane falls on you out of the sky? Well, that’s probably not gonna happen. Same way with these things. You can’t worry about it.
Q: There’s been a pretty vigorous debate in country music about guns. Do you think country artists have a responsibility to weigh in, either pro or con?
A: I think it’s a personal choice. People can talk about it if they want to. I just wish people who actually knew something about guns would say something. Some of the politicians talking about gun control don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. A lot of things they call assault rifles are just deer rifles with a bigger magazine.
Most don’t know anything about bump stocks, and I actually didn’t myself, either. But there’s no use for those things. Bump stocks, conversion kits, anything that translates a semi-automatic into an automatic weapon should be outlawed. Nobody except the military or the police need that. Even the NRA came out and took that stand.
If you want to see what the gun control politicians talk about would do, look at Chicago. Chicago has some of the strictest gun laws in the country and it’s a damn slaughterhouse. That’s what would happen in America if the kind of gun-control laws Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi want were to take place. You would leave people defenseless.
Background checks, every time I buy a gun in Tennessee, I get one. These same people who want to be so stringent about guns sure aren’t that way about who they let into the country. They don’t want you to have to have an ID to vote. Unfortunately, it doesn’t dawn on them.
Q: You had some pretty harsh words in your column for football players protesting the national anthem by kneeling. Are you still not watching the NFL?
A: Nah, I’m watching it. I think that was blown completely out of proportion, as things are. You have to watch what you say on Twitter, I guess. But I’ve got season tickets for the (Tennessee) Titans, so yeah, I’m watching again.
As far as whether or not I agree with the people who don’t stand for the anthem, I very much do not. A lot of times, the guy or gal holding the flag out there has been overseas, under fire, and they resent it. People who say vets don’t care, I’m in very close touch with a lot of veterans. I have a foundation called The Journey Home that takes care of veterans, so I stay close to a lot of them. And I know for a fact that they don’t like it and are insulted. People can do that if they want, but they’re losing a lot of fans.
What: Carolina Uprising with Charlie Daniels Band, Marshall Tucker Band, Outlaws, Pure Prairie League, Poco featuring Rusty Young, Scooter Brown Band and Super Grit Cowboy Band
When: noon Oct. 21
Where: Booth Amphitheatre at Regency Park, 8003 Regency Parkway, Cary
Info: 919-462-2052 or boothamphitheatre.com