Illustration: Jonathan Fehr

C&I chats with fiddle aficionado Charlie Daniels about his newly published autobiography Never Look at the Empty Seats: A Memoir and his timeless music career.

Cowboys & Indians: In Never Look at the Empty Seats: A Memoir, your newly published autobiography, you write about how important it is to leave your troubles and worries back in your dressing room before you go out on stage, to make sure you give people the show they deserve. But in practical terms, just how difficult is it for you to do that?
Charlie Daniels: An awful lot of it is attitude. If you develop an attitude that when 8 o’clock comes at night, or whatever time you play, it’s your time to shine. That regardless of what else is going on, you put it all aside. That you’re gonna spend a couple hours or however long you’re gonna be in the public eye, or however long you’re gonna be doing meet-and-greets, or whatever you’re gonna be doing. That there are a couple of hours in every day that don’t really belong to you — they belong to the people who are paying your living, who have made your life a dream. And you owe that to them.

C&I: Do you allow for any exception to that rule?
Charlie: Well, if you’re too sick to go on and do a good job, to actually be able to entertain these people who have meant so much to your life, then you’re too sick to play. You should not go on. If you’re gonna go on stage, you need to go on and do your best to give these people a show, because they’re the ones that make everything possible for you. So, yeah, if it’s bad enough to where you can’t do your job, you shouldn’t go on. You’re too sick to go on. But if you’re not, then go out there and do it. Put yourself aside, regardless of what’s happened that day. You owe those people who bought those tickets, so get out there and give ’em a show.

C&I: You were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame [in 2016]. We were very happy to hear the announcement — but at the same time, some of us wondered, Wait, it’s taken this long for that to happen?
Charlie: [Laughs.] I have heard other people say that, too. But to be honest about it, I’m really glad it happened this time in my life because I think I appreciate it more. I think I’m more attuned to the magnitude of what this is, that only three people a year are inducted. To be one of those three — and to know they’re passing over people that have accomplished tremendous things in this business to choose you as one of the three — I think the magnitude of it dawns on me as I’m more mature now and can understand the process and what this actually means. To have it just come at you out of the sky, especially when you’re 80 years old, is a very, very special thing. So I really am glad that they did wait that long to induct me.

C&I: You’ve got quite a few projects on the horizon. What world is there left for you to conquer? What’s on your bucket list?
Charlie: I wanna catch an 8-pound largemouth bass, and I wanna kill an 8-point buck. Haven’t done that yet. As far as the business is concerned, well, there is no end to this business. There’s always an opportunity. I’ve gotten into writing this last while, which is a talent I didn’t realize I had. I’ve gotten into doing children’s stories, and we’re probably gonna have some published one of these days before too long. There’s never an end to things you can do in the entertainment business. It’s just a constant, ever-changing business that goes on and on and on. And if you’ve got something that people want to hear, or something that people want to see, or something that people want to participate in, you just go on. You just keep on keepin’ on. Trying new things. Maybe redoing old things. Whatever.

C&I: And never look at the empty seats?
Charlie: That’s right.

ALIVE AND WELL: Charlie Daniels turned 81 last October, and he’s taking some precautions so he can stick around a little longer. “I had some fairly major health stumbles a few years ago,” he says. “And when that happens, you do one of two things when you reach my age — you either value your health or you lose it. I wanted to value my health, so I try to exercise on a very regular basis. And although my diet would not thrill any health expert at all, I actually do a better job of eating than what I used to. Yeah, I take a lot better care of myself now than I did when I was young.”

From the February/March 2018 issue.