Valdosta Daily Times


May 26, 2013

Charlie Daniels returns to Wild Adventures and a childhood home

VALDOSTA — Charlie Daniels may have made more stops at Wild Adventures than any other musical act through the years. Next weekend, the Charlie Daniels Band makes another Wild Adventures stop.

Maybe Daniels returns so often because of his biggest hit, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” You can’t get much further down to or into Georgia than Valdosta and Wild Adventures; after all, a few more miles south and you’re in Florida.

He’s been a friend to the park. There’s the story of his first visit. The park was awash with a storm: rain, thunder and lightning, back in the years when the park’s show venue was almost completely outdoors. With lightning all around, Daniels said he wouldn’t take the stage and endanger his band; he noted accurately, too, that given the weather, there would be few fans attendng. Though many musicians would charge their fee, or at least a portion of it, rain or no rain, the story goes that Charlie Daniels didn’t charge the park a penny and re-scheduled the concert for a later date.

Or maybe he keeps returning for a more personal reason. What some may not know is that Charlie Daniels spent part of his childhood in Valdosta.

In a past Times interview with Daniels, he said, “You know, I used to live in Valdosta. We moved there at the end of the second World War. My dad got a job there and we stayed at the Daniel Ashley Hotel because there was a housing shortage at the time. I remember it well because the day we arrived, World War II ended and everyone was in the streets celebrating.”

Daniels was born Charles E. Daniels on Oct. 28, 1936, the son of William Carlton Daniels and LaRue Hammonds Daniels. William Daniels was in the timber industry and, in Charlie Daniels’ biographies, William is often referred to as a lumberjack, which would make him right at home in the timberlands of South Georgia.

In the mid-1940s, it was not uncommon for people to live at the Daniel Ashley Hotel, which still stands in Downtown Valdosta today as the Ashley House, an apartment building on the corner of Hill Avenue and Ashley Street.

The late Edith Smith, who was a second-generation member of The Valdosta Daily Times staff, often noted how her father lived in the Daniel Ashley Hotel in the 1940s during the week while working as the newspaper’s circulation director then he returned to their Brooks County home on weekends.

Given that World War II ended in 1945, Charlie Daniels was 8 years old when his family moved to Valdosta, one of many stops already with more to come related to his father’s work.

In past interviews, Daniels recalled attending part of first and second grades in Valdosta, but he didn’t recall the name of the school.

He recalled moving out of the hotel eventually and moving into a house, but he didn’t recall the name of the street.

He recalled being invited to someone’s house while still living in the Daniel Ashley and having homemade biscuits. After eating restaurant food for several weeks, those homemade biscuits made an impression on the young Daniels, one that lasted for decades. Otherwise, his memories of living in Valdosta were vague.

“It was a pretty long time ago,” Daniels said several years ago. “It’s hard to look back and remember everything from when I was 8.”

And if you’re Charlie Daniels, you have a lot to look back on.

As a musician, Daniels has covered many bases. You can hear his old stuff (like the funny story song “Uneasy Rider”) on classic rock stations; the songs that made him famous (“Devil Went Down to Georgia,” “Long Haired Country Boy,” etc.) were cross-over hits on country and pop charts; his more recent albums (such as “Songs from the Longleaf Pine”) can be heard on gospel radio.

Though he co-wrote a song for Elvis Presley (“It Hurts Me”) and played as a session fiddler for Bob Dylan on “Nashville Skyline,” Ringo Starr, Marty Robbins, etc., his being 76 may surprise many fans. Why?

Because he was unknown to the general public on those earlier works. Charlie Daniels didn’t come into his own as a star until he was in his 40s in the mid to late 1970s after a few solo recordings.

Some of those recordings, or at least the songs, have changed. Daniels is still a long-haired country boy, but not the same one mentioned in the original recording of the song, but more like the one in the re-recording of the song with Brooks & Dunn on the duet CD “Deuces” a few years ago.

In the original 1970s version, Daniels would sing, “People say I’m no good, crazy as a loon, cause I get stoned in the morning, get drunk in the afternoon …” Nowadays, Daniels’ character in the song does milder things like joking in the morning, and goofing off in the afternoon.

Charlie Daniels remains a man who isn’t easy to figure.

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