Country music star Charlie Daniels dead at 83

Charlie Daniels, who went from being an in-demand session musician to a staple of southern rock with his hit The Devil Went Down to Georgia, has died at 83 after suffering a stroke.

He went from playing on sessions for Dylan, Cohen to his own recording career

Charlie Daniels, left, is shown performing his signature hit The Devil Went Down to Georgia at the Country Music Association Awards in 2016 in Nashville with his band and Brad Paisley. (Harrison McClary/Reuters)

Charlie Daniels, who went from being an in-demand session musician to a staple of southern rock with his hit The Devil Went Down to Georgia, has died at 83.

A statement from his publicist said the Country Music Hall of Famer died Monday at a hospital in Hermitage, Tenn., after doctors said he had a stroke.

He had suffered what was described as a mild stroke in January 2010 and had a heart pacemaker implanted in 2013 but continued to perform.

Daniels, a singer, guitarist and fiddler, started out as a session musician, playing on sessions for albums, such as Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline and Leonard Cohen's Songs of Love and Hate. He also played on albums by Marty Robbins, Claude King, Flatt & Scruggs, Pete Seeger, Al Kooper and Ringo Starr.

Beginning with a self-titled release in 1970, Daniels embarked on his own career, with his five-piece band, touring endlessly, sometimes doing 250 shows a year.

"I can ask people where they are from, and if they say, 'Waukegan,' I can say I've played there. If they say, 'Baton Rouge,' I can say, 'I've played there.' There's not a city we haven't played in," Daniels said in 1998.

WATCH | The Charlie Daniels Band performs The Devil Went Down to Georgia:

Daniels performed at the White House, at the Super Bowl, throughout Europe and often for troops in the Middle East.

He played himself in the 1980 John Travolta movie Urban Cowboy and was closely identified with the rise of country music generated by that film. Some of his other hits were Drinkin' My Baby Goodbye, Boogie Woogie Fiddle Country Blues and Uneasy Rider.

Devil a crossover smash

No song resonated more than The Devil Went Down to Georgia — about a fiddling duel between the devil and a whippersnapper named Johnny — which was No. 1 on the country charts in 1979 and crossed over to the pop charts, landing in the Top 5 in both Canada and the United States. It was voted single of the year by the Country Music Association and earned his band a Grammy for best country vocal performance by a duo or group.

"There are few artists that touched so many different generations in our business than Charlie Daniels did," said Sarah Trahern, Country Music Association CEO, in a statement. "Today, our community has lost an innovator and advocate of country music. Both Charlie and Hazel had become dear friends of mine over the last several years, and I was privileged to be able to celebrate Charlie's induction into the Opry, as well as tell him that he was going to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame."

Musicians Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Darius Rucker and Wynonna Judd were among those to pay tribute to Daniels on social media.

"What a hero. A true patriot, Christian, and country music icon. Prayers to his family," said Bryan in a tweet.

Daniels, right, poses with the Pioneer Award he received at the 33rd Annual Academy of Country Music Awards in 1998 in Los Angeles alongside Garth Brooks, who presented him the honour. (Reuters)

Played 'anywhere with a good crowd'

Later in life, Daniels wrote frequently about his conservative political views on his website and on Twitter, issuing daily tweets aimed at Hillary Clinton about the 2012 attack on an American diplomatic compound in Libya but also bringing attention to veteran suicides. He co-founded a veterans charity called the Journey Home Project.

Daniels hosted regular Volunteer Jam concerts in Nashville in which the performers usually were not announced in advance. Entertainers at these shows included Don Henley, Amy Grant, James Brown, Pat Boone, Bill Monroe, Willie Nelson, Vince Gill, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Alabama, Billy Joel, Little Richard, B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eugene Fodor and Woody Herman.

Eventually, at the age of 71, he was invited to join the epitome of Nashville's music establishment, the Grand Ole Opry. He was inducted in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016.

He said in 1998 that he kept touring so much because "I have never played those notes perfectly. I've never sung every song perfectly. I'm in competition to be better tonight than I was last night and to be better tomorrow than tonight."

Daniels said his favourite place to play was "anywhere with a good crowd and a good paycheque."

He is survived by his wife, Hazel, and his son, Charlie Daniels Jr.

With files from CBC News


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