RW Hampton remembers his longtime friend and the lesson “Big Charlie” taught a cowboy.
On July 5 America sadly said farewell to an icon — a country-rock giant! Yes, Charlie Daniels was that and more. I was fortunate to be able to call Big Charlie friend. What brought us together was our mutual love for the West, Western music, and our cowboy way of life.
The music business kept Charlie close to Music City but just east of Nashville. He carved out his own piece of the West called Twin Pines Ranch. It was there that Charlie raised fine cow horses and Corriente cattle.
And it was there that I found a warm, dry camp when I was in Nashville trying to get my foot in the door. Charlie and his manager, David Corlew, always had the coffee on and a place to unroll my bed.
I was blessed to spend many a happy hour roping at Charlie’s place and even once in a while, playing a little music. While it was all about the music for me, Charlie always wanted to talk about “cowboy stuff.”
When the phone rang on that early July morning, the call was from my publicity agent, Lance Cowan. I listened as he told me “Charlie’s gone R-Dub, Charlie’s gone.”
In a voice choked with emotion I said, “Oh, no, Lance. It just can’t be!” Oh, but it was. Yes, there comes a time when even giants must rest, and so it was that time for Charlie.
Later that day, as I sat looking out to our endless blue New Mexico sky, I smiled and brushed away the tears as the memories came rushing in. Giants like Charlie leave tracks in the sand that won’t soon blow away, tracks full of memories. Here is one of my favorites.
The year was 1986. My wife and I had just welcomed our first child into the world and the wages from my cowboy job were just not quite enough to keep us caught up with the doctor bills coming in.
I called good friend David Corlew who was Charlie Daniels’ road manager back then, explained the situation, and asked him if there was something I could do.
“There sure is!” he said. So I packed my gear and headed to Nashville.
My job was to drive the T-shirt truck, as David called it, and follow the three buses and three tractor-trailer rigs that made up the Charlie Daniels Band road team on an intense East Coast run of one-night stands. These shows also included various other acts like Alabama, the Marshall Tucker Band, and the Allman Brothers Band.
The T-shirt truck was a step van that carried all of the band’s CDs, coffee mugs, posters, books, and, yes, T-shirts too.
The money was real good. I got to see a lot of new country I hadn’t seen before, and I got to go out at the end of the show and sing on the gospel medley that Charlie always closed with.
One afternoon during the sound check at the venue, David said, “Hey, R-Dub, when Charlie’s through he wants to talk to you a sec.” “You betcha!” I said, although I couldn’t imagine what for.
I waited in the wings, and when they got the sound dialed in, Charlie unplugged his guitar and handed it off to one of the road-crew guys.
I’ll always remember how Charlie looked around, and when he saw me, he walked right toward me like a man who had something important to say.
I swallowed hard, wondering what was coming next.
All of a sudden I noticed the band and road crew had vanished and it was just me and Charlie. Nose-to-nose and with our hat brims almost touching, Charlie said, “Son, this is ’tween you and me now. I know things are a little thin right now back on the ranch and cow punchin’ don’t pay a whole lot anyway. I want you to take this and don’t tell no one."
As he squeezed two folded $100 bills into my hand, he concluded, “All I ask, is that someday, somewhere, sometime in the future, you’ll do the same for somebody else.”
Stunned, I tried to say thank you, but before I could get it out, he just smiled, gave me a bear hug, then turned and walked away.
Since then, the opportunity that Charlie talked to me about that afternoon has come my way on several occasions, and I have learned the joy that comes with private, no-strings-attached giving.
This is the lesson Charlie taught a cowboy.
This was the Charlie Daniels I knew.
RW Hampton’s Charlie Daniels Playlist
“We Had It All One Time”
This is my all-time favorite of Charlie’s and the perfect farewell.
“Wyoming on My Mind”
Having lived and cowboyed in Wyoming back in the younger days, this tune really takes me back there.
What can I say? I’m a proud TexSon!
One of Charlie’s timeless story songs! It’s also the song he chose for me to sing on the Charlie Daniels Volunteer Jam for 12,000 people. What a rush. I was scared to death, but I had the time of my life!
“My Beautiful America”
Charlie expresses his love for a land that gave him so much.
“Still in Saigon”
As the father of a USMC combat vet, this song, although about Vietnam, really hits close to home.
“The Old Rugged Cross”
The perfect song to take it back home. Ya just couldn’t be around Charlie very long before he would tell you about ‘His Jesus’!
About RW Hampton
Since growing up in a small Texas town, RW Hampton has drifted all across the American West, working cowboy jobs punching cattle, riding young colts, shoeing horses, and even leading trail rides and guiding hunters in the high country. But perhaps his favorite thing and the through line of all his kicking around the West was singing around the campfire while out with the wagon. Never glamorous, ranch work instilled in him a positive approach to life. Hampton’s rich baritone voice brings an honest quality whether he’s performing live or on record. He writes and sings about what he knows and lives. Hampton’s music has earned numerous honors from such prestigious organizations as the Academy of Western Artists and the Western Music Association, which inducted him into their Hall of Fame in 2011.
Listen to previous editions of Cimarron Sounds …
Photography: Images courtesy RW Hampton