Country Icon Charlie Daniels Dies at 83

The musician suffered a stroke this morning in Tennessee
Country Icon Charlie Daniels Dies at 83
Photo: Erick Anderson
Charlie Daniels — the American singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist known best for his 1979 hit  "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" — has died. Daniels's team confirmed he suffered a hemorrhagic stroke today while at Summit Medical Center in Hermitage, TN. He was 83.

Born and raised in North Carolina, Daniels began his musical career as a member of bluegrass outfit Misty Mountain Boys. A first taste of success came in in 1964 when Elvis Presley recorded "It Hurts Me," a co-write between Daniels and producer Bob Johnston.

Skilled at playing guitar, fiddle, banjo and mandolin, Daniels made a move to Nashville in 1967 to become a songwriter, session musician and producer. He would play on three Bob Dylan albums: 1969's Nashville Skyline, as well as 1970's Self Portrait and New Morning. Daniels also performed on Leonard Cohen's 1969 album Songs from a Room and 1971's Songs of Love and Hate, in addition to Cohen's 1970 concert recording Live at the Isle of Wight 1970.

"I hung on every word that came out of his mouth and every note he played on his guitar," Daniels told CMT in 2014 of his time in Dylan's Nashville Skyline sessions. "I was trying to interpret everything he was doing to the very best of my ability. I mean, I really got into it. I really concentrated as hard as I could. I played as good as I could. Evidently, I played some notes he liked."

Daniels also produced the Youngbloods' 1969 album Elephant Mountain ahead of making his solo debut with a self-titled album in 1970. The decade would see him score individual successes with songs such as "Uneasy Rider" and "Long Haired Country Boy," while also playing on albums from the Marshall Tucker Band and Hank Williams, Jr.

"The Devil Went Down to Georgia," which appeared on the Charlie Daniels Band's 1979 LP Million Mile Reflections, remains the artist's biggest hit. The song puts a twist on the classic "deal with the Devil" narrative in telling a story of how the demon failed attempt to capture a country boy's soul in a fiddle-playing contest.

Writing about the song 40 years after its creation, Daniels recalled, "I had one line in my head, a line I think was inspired by the Stephen Vincent Benét poem, The Mountain Whippoorwill, which I had read my senior year in high school, a poem about a mountain boy and his fiddle entering a fiddling contest and, being a young fiddle player, it had made a pretty profound impression on me."

It would wind up being the song's title, and "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" netted Daniels a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group in 1979. The song went on to be covered by Michelle Lambert, Primus, Blues Traveler and more.

A cover version of the song was also included in 2007 music game Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, used as the final song players perform in a battle against a virtual Devil. As Daniels would write on his website in 2008, he was "disgusted" at how the game had used his song, also pointing out the title's "dark side complete with grotesque monsters on stage with the band, strange, eerie lighting effects and all manner of weird things popping up on the stage."

"The song, 'The Devil Went Down to Georgia,' which I wrote, is supposed to be a lighthearted novelty about a fiddling contest between a country boy and the devil and the devil always loses," he explained. "That is not the case with the Guitar Hero version which comes complete with a horned, guitar-playing devil who battles the player and very often wins. I want any of you parents out there whose children have this game to know that I did not grant these people my permission to pervert my song and am disgusted with the result."

Daniels was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 1999, and became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 2008. He would be inducted into the the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016.

Daniels released the memoir Never Look at the Empty Seats in 2017 and followed that with Let's All Make the Day Count:The Everyday Wisdom of Charlie Daniels in 2018. He regularly shared right-wing political and patriotic missives on Twitter and through the "Soap Box" section of his website.