Admittedly, one of the reasons it was so cool was because of Daniels’ flagrant use of the phrase “you son of a bitch” in the unedited version, which he sneered in deliciously defiant fashion as the song began heading to its conclusion, but that’s the sort of thing that would impress a nine-year-old boy. Plus, it was effectively a country-rock opera, with its saga of Johnny competing against Satan himself, his very soul in the balance, to determine which of them was the best fiddle player. Why no one turned the song into a two-hour TV movie, I’ll never know. (Don’t laugh: Kenny Rogers managed to turn “The Gambler” into a five-movie franchise.)
Unfortunately, Daniels’ crossover from the country charts to the pop charts was relatively short-lived: after 1982’s “Still in Saigon,” he never hit the Billboard Hot 100 again, and for those of us who weren’t venturing over to country radio, Daniels’ profile effectively shrank to nil.
In 1991, though, Daniels found his way back onto my radar. Not because I’d gone country, but because a promo copy of Renegade, his then-new album, turned up at the record store where I was working at the time. I still have it, but I haven’t listened to it in years because it’s on cassette. I did, however, stumble upon it a few days ago when I was in the midst of straightening and reorganizing my office, and I immediately thought of the track that, when I first heard it, completely blew my mind.
I can understand if the thought of Daniels delivering a cover of Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla” is one that might cause to you to groan, “Gimme a break,” but keep in mind that this was pre-Unplugged on the Eric Clapton calendar of events, so the song’s profile wasn’t as high as it would end up being in a few years. It’s also kind of amusing to note that Daniels has a connection to Clapton: check out this 1976 concert review, which describes an evening when Daniels opened for Clapton and – at least according to this particular critic – blew the headliner off the stage.
Seriously, though, Daniels shreds on this thing, and I’m not alone in this opinion. I can’t claim that it served as a gateway drug into his catalog and turned me into the biggest CDB fan of all time, but I will say that my respect for him as a musician has never wavered since I first heard it.
Charlie Daniels plays pretty good fiddle, boy. Give him his due.
To purchase a copy of Charlie Daniels’ Renegade, click right here!