To celebrate Dylan’s 80th birthday, we look back at Daniels’ tribute to the artist he credits for an early career boost.
Back in 2014, country music icon Charlie Daniels tipped his Stetson to another legendary artist, Bob Dylan, by recording Off the Grid — Doin’ It Dylan, a well-received and irresistibly entertaining album featuring The Charlie Daniels Band’s unique takes on ten Dylan-penned songs. To celebrate Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday, we’ve gone back in our archives to retrieve some highlights from the conversation we had with Daniels shortly before the album’s release.
Cowboys & Indians: Off The Grid – Doin’ It Dylan isn’t just a pleasant surprise – it’s one of your finest albums ever. At what point did “Hey, I’ll record a whole album of Bob Dylan songs!” pop into your head?
Charlie Daniels: [Laughs] It didn’t happen quite that way. We did a tune for a TV show called Hell on Wheels, which takes place back in the 1800s. So we had to use instruments that were around in the 1800s, which were like acoustical instruments – which was something we’d never done before. And we just loved the sound. It was unique to us. And we decided we wanted to do an album. That’s when I started casting around for something to do. I think I’d had it in my subconscious for a long time to do some Dylan stuff. And this just seemed like the perfect time to do a Dylan album. So there we went.
Charlie: Well, our intention in this whole thing was to do it differently than how Bob did it. So we actually were very picky about the songs we did, because we wanted to do songs without copying Bob’s arrangements. And my guys are just great about creating stuff. Like my guitar player came up with that riff in “Gotta Serve Somebody.” Everybody just kind of added onto that, and away we went. That’s how we do it, that’s how we create music.
We really didn’t have a single song that was challenging. The challenging thing about it was – well, some of Bob’s songs are so long. And the verses are different lengths – sometimes, one’ll be longer than the other one. To make them all kind of fit together, I had to go through them and decide which lines I was going to do in a verse, and whether I’d have to leave a line or two out.
Charlie: That’s correct. I did three albums with him – Nashville Skyline, Self Portrait and New Morning. And it was one of the biggest things that had ever happened to me at the time. Because he would always put the names of the studio musicians who worked with him on the back of the album covers. And at the time, he was billed as a prophet and a poet laureate, that kind of thing. I don’t know if he wanted to be. I don’t know if that was his choice. But people did look at him that way anyway. And they wanted to know everything about Bob Dylan. They’d look at the back of his albums to see who played on them. So if you played on a Dylan album, there was a certain amount of recognition you got from it. And it helped me out career-wise. Definitely.