Photography: Webster Public Relations
Photography: Webster Public Relations

The country music icon is proud of his new live album and his NFR anthem, but he's already working on his next studio project.

Charlie Daniels was on the line from Branson, Missouri, calling before the evening show to chat about his new release: The Charlie Daniels Band – Live At Billy Bob’s Texas. Recorded last February at the world’s largest honkytonk, it's the latest in the ever-growing Billy Bob’s catalogue of full-concert recordings. And rest assured: It offers a satisfying mix of longtime favorites (“The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” “Long Haired Country Boy”) and relatively recent additions to Daniels’ playlist.

(Chief among the latter: “Tangled Up in Blue” and “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” two Bob Dylan songs Daniels recorded for his well-received 2014 album Off the Grid — Doing It Dylan.)

Daniels also was eager to talk about “It Don’t Get No Better Than That,” a song he wrote and recorded for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, and his next studio project. Here are some highlights from our conversation.

Cowboys & Indians: So what made you decide it was time for another live album?
Charlie Daniels:
Actually, we were approached by the folks at Billy Bob’s. I’m sure you’re familiar with what's been going on at Billy Bob’s — in just the past few years, they’ve been doing a lot of live albums. And so they asked us about doing one. It fit in with our plans, and it didn’t conflict with anything else that we'd be releasing at any time soon, so we just decided to go and give it a shot.

C&I: Are you ever nervous about knowing a live performance — even one in a familiar environment — will be preserved for posterity?
I don’t really look at it like that at all. What I do when I do a live recording, or I play live on TV, is try to forget that we’re doing stuff live. Just go in, do a sound check, go back that night, play our set — and just ignore that there are recording machines backstage that are catching what you do. I just try and forget about it, and I think I do a better job when I do. I just go ahead and perform for the people, for the crowd. And there were a lot of people in the crowd when we recorded at Billy Bob’s.

C&I: Did you tinker with your playlist for the occasion?
No, we just did our set, the same set the people in Branson, Missouri, are going to hear tonight. It’s the set that we’re doing for 2015.

C&I: Are there some songs you feel you simply must perform during every concert?
Absolutely. There are songs I feel that we are beholden to play for people. I hate to go see a band play, and they do a medley of their hits — and then try to sell me their new album all night long. I did not go to see them to hear their new album. I went to see them to hear familiar songs that they have done. Not that I have no interest in their new album — I want to hear it, too. But I expect them to play the songs that I paid the money to hear. So I feel that we are beholden to people to play “Long Haired Country Boy,” and “Legend of Wooley Swamp,” and the other songs that we have been playing regular over the years. We are cheating people if we don't do this, so we do that every night. Then our newer stuff, we put in between.

C&I: How many live shows do you do every year?
We did 107 last year. Somewhere in the same neighborhood this year, plus we’ll do 10 Grand Ole Opry appearances and a few charity things. We keep a pretty busy schedule, actually. We’re always doing something. I like it that way.

C&I: You recently recorded a terrific new song — “It Don’t Get No Better Than That” — for the National Finals Rodeo. How did that come about?
We play in Las Vegas every year doing the National Finals Rodeo — along with about half of the rest of the Nashville acts. [Laughs] We’ve been doing it for a lot of years, and we were approached by some of the folks from the National Finals Rodeo and the outfit called Las Vegas Events. They came and had a meeting with my manager and myself, and said, “We want a song that can be identified with the National Finals Rodeo, and we’d like you to write us one.” I said, “Well, what do you want me to write about?” So they told me, and I said, “I think I can handle that.” My writing is a God-given talent, and it just takes something to set it off. So I went back home and started thinking about all the elements they wanted in it and everything. I had plenty of time to write it, and took off and took the band to the studio to record it.

C&I: When do you think you’ll be heading back to the studio?
I am in the recording studio right now. [Laughs] Well, not specifically right now. But I am in the middle of a project. I’ve always wanted to do an album with cowboy songs. The songs that — well, I’m not particularly talking about riding down the canyons or something like that. There are some obscure songs, and not all of them are necessarily old. But they’re songs that people have basically not heard that are great, great cowboy songs, and I’m going to do several of those that I’ve been saving up through the years. So we’re finally getting around to doing it. And we’re doing it stripped down. We’re not using drums or keyboards, we’re just doing it with guitars and harmonicas and mandolins and fiddles and stuff. It’s like sitting on the front porch, doing cowboy songs. I don’t have a title for the album yet or anything, but it will be released sometime in the spring, I think. That’s my current project.

Here is Charlie Daniels’ new NFR anthem, “It Don’t Get No Better Than That.”