Charlie Daniels to sing at RiverCenter Nov. 18

The devil went down to Georgia, according to Charlie Daniels’ famous hit, and odds are good he’ll play it here Nov. 18.

“Of course. We’ll do it or we’ll get lynched,” Daniels said in a recent interview.

The Charlie Daniels Band, led by legendary musician Charlie Daniels, is giving a benefit concert for Laughing Child International, a ministry operated by Columbus native Shane Clark. Camp Laughing Child in Mexico is for children with HIV-AIDS. Worldwide, 2.3 million children are afflicted. Jonathan and Lisa Moore, a Columbus-based Christian duo, will open for the event at RiverCenter for the Performing Arts.

Earlier in the day, Daniels will be part of a barbecue lunch auction featuring music by Eastwind Bluegrass with auctioned items including Daniels’ autographed fiddle. Mayor Jim Wetherington has declared Nov. 18 “Charlie Daniels Day,” and Maj. Gen. Michael Ferriter, commanding general of Fort Benning, is scheduled to appear at the auction.

Columbus connection

Daniels and Clark met more than a decade ago, when Clark was working for Georgia-based Habitat for Humanity International and Daniels performed an occasional benefit for the housing ministry.

“He’s one of my favorite people,” Daniels said of Clark. “He’s a great guy and he’s got such a great heart. He’s spent time in India, and all over the world. He could do anything but he chooses to spend his life caring for children under the radar. My hat’s off.”

Clark’s India connection was initially with Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity. Before founding Laughing Child in 2002, he led ecumenical and inter-religious affairs on behalf of Habitat. In 1991, Clark founded Word Made Flesh, a non-profit that serves the world’s most vulnerable poor. He was the organization’s international director until 1995. Word Made Flesh is believed to have established the first pediatric AIDS care home in India.

Clark has a saying: “If the Church will learn to cry, the children will learn to laugh.”

“The answers are not more organizations or more institutions but healing relationships,” he has said.

Clark enjoyed a six-year learning/serving relationship with Mother Teresa of Calcutta. In 1999, Clark published a photographic book, “When I Grow Up,” for which Mother Teresa wrote the foreword. (The world-famous nun died in 1997.) Clark dropped out of Hardaway High School at age 16, then passed the GED. He is a graduate of Asbury College in Kentucky and completed master’s-level study with a mentor, Sam Kamaleson of World Vision International. He’s had one year of Ph.D. studies in Oxford, England. A musician himself, Clark teamed up with Daniels on a duet on Clark’s album, “Deep Blue Hymns.”

Charlie Daniels was born on Oct. 28, 1936, in Wilmington, N.C., and raised on a musical diet that included Pentecostal gospel, local bluegrass bands and the rhythm and blues and country music from Nashville’s radio stations WLAC and WSM, according to Wolfman Jack Entertainment. He graduated from high school in 1955. Already skilled on guitar, fiddle and mandolin, Daniels formed a rock ’n roll band and began touring.

While en route to California in 1959, the group stopped in Texas to record “Jaguar,” an instrumental produced by the legendary Bob Johnston, which was picked up for national distribution by Epic. It was also the beginning of a long association with Johnston. The two wrote “It Hurts Me,” which became the B-side of a 1964 Presley hit. In 1969, at the urging of Johnston, Daniels moved to Nashville to find work as a session guitarist.

Among his more notable sessions were the Bob Dylan albums of 1969-70: “Nashville Skyline,” “New Morning” and “Self Portrait.” Daniels produced the Youngbloods’ albums of 1969-70, “Elephant Mountain” and “Ride the Wind,” toured Europe with Leonard Cohen and performed on records with artists as diverse as Al Kooper and Marty Robbins.

Daniels broke through as a record maker himself with 1973’s hit hippie song “Uneasy Rider.” His rebel anthems “Long Haired Country Boy” and “The South’s Gonna Do It” propelled his 1975 collection Fire on the Mountain to double-platinum status.

After recording for the Capitol and Kama Sutra labels, Epic Records signed him to its rock roster in New York in 1976. The contract, reportedly worth $3 million, was the largest ever given to a Nashville act up to that time. In the summer of 1979, Daniels rewarded the company’s faith by delivering “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” which became a platinum single, topped both country and pop charts, won a Grammy Award, earned three CMA trophies, became a cornerstone of the Urban Cowboy movie soundtrack and propelled Daniel’s Million Mile Reflections album to triple-platinum sales.

The album’s title was a reference to a milestone in the Charlie Daniels Band’s legendary coast-to-coast tours, which including two drummers, twin guitars and a flamenco dancer. The CDB often toured more than 250 days a year and by this time had logged more than a million miles on the road. Transported in a convoy of buses and tractor-trailer rigs, the band now included a full horn section, backup singers, a troupe of clog dancers and sometimes a gospel choir. By 1981, the Charlie Daniels Band had twice been voted the Academy of Country Music’s touring band of the year.

Daniels’ annual Volunteer Jam concerts, musical extravaganzas that served as a prototype for many of today’s annual day-long music marathons, feature a variety of current stars and heritage artists and are considered by many as his most impressive contribution to Southern music. He also has an annual benefit in Nashville called Christmas for Kids.

More recently, Daniels was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame, a gala held Oct. 12 in Nashville.

More than a singer

Music isn’t his only hobby. On his Web site, Daniels shares his writing. “The Soapbox” is a mix of reflections and political commentary.

“It was somebody else’s suggestion. They said, ‘You’re very opinionated; why don’t you write your opinions?’ ” he told the Ledger-Enquirer. “It’s an outlet. I try to do it twice a week. There are a lot of like-minded people out there who don’t have a chance to express their opinions. ... One of our biggest problems is people are not expressing themselves and so you don’t hear the other side of the story. Like the Bible says: ‘My people perish for a lack of knowledge.’ People need not go along, just to be part of the crowd. They need to think for themselves.”

Presently he’s concerned with the country’s $11.4-trillion debt. “How in the hell are we going to pay that? Every program ends up costing two or three times what they say. I’m disgusted with all (politicians). They’re a bunch of hypocrites and midnight cowboys.”

In an interview, and in his writings, it’s clear he reserves his strongest loathing for Democrats. “(U.S. Sen.) Harry Reid is a mealymouth; Nancy Pelosi is an idiot. How did she get to be Speaker of the House?” he said.

In a recent “Soapbox,” Daniels takes on the Obama administration. He places blame for shortage of the H1N1 flu vaccine squarely on the President’s shoulders, in part because he thought President Bush was unfairly blamed for Hurricane Katrina.

“You’ve known for over six months that the epidemic was coming, why haven’t you done something about it?” he wrote. “Why wasn’t it made available sooner, why wasn’t it ready to go, (and) why isn’t there an all out effort to get it to the public?” Daniels wrote.

“Why are there long lines outside the clinics where people wait in line for hours only to be told that they’ve run out of vaccine?

“I’ll tell you why, Mr. Obama, you have no focus on anything except your massive socialistic programs. You’re so obsessed with a government takeover of the private sector of this nation that you don’t have time to see to something so mundane as inoculating of the citizens who put you in office in the first place.”

And on the proposal of a public option in health care reform: “There will be no option if this thing is passed, (and) it is nothing more than a strategically planned government takeover by a bunch of Ivy League hacks that can’t even supply enough flu vaccine to go around.”

He did play for a Democratic President, though. Daniels performed for President Jimmy Carter’s inauguration. “I haven’t seen him in years,” he said, “but it’s not by design.”

Another part of his heart is clearly reserved for children. The “Soapbox” post dated Nov. 2 is about a recent visit to a Hong Kong orphanage.

Caring for vulnerable children is one reason he’s lending his name and voice to Clark’s mission. One of the buildings at Camp Laughing Child outside Mexico City is named for Charlie Daniels, and another for Daniels’ wife, Hazel. It is scheduled to be built next year.

“I’m afraid of Mexico. He’s not afraid of anything,” Daniels said of his friend Shane Clark. “He’ll go anywhere.”

Call Allison Kennedy at 706-576-6237.