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There’s only one place left to go

From the first time I heard him strike up his fiddle live on stage at Norfolk Scope back in the early 1970’s until I listened to an interview with him recently on AXS TV, Charlie Daniels was then and remains today as one of my favorite musicians.

His songs struck a chord in my heart…he had a knack of telling interesting stories through his style of music. Of course there are the popular songs he performed: The Devil Went Down to Georgia, Long Haired Country Boy, and his very first hit song, Uneasy Rider.

While I like those tunes, there are deeper cuts I also enjoy hearing: Trudy, Carolina, Caballo Diablo, Drinkin’ My Baby Goodbye, No Place to Go, Saddle Tramp, The Legend of Wooley Swamp, Wichita Jail, Still in Saigon, Boogie Woogie Fiddle Country Blues, and Orange Blossom Special.

America lost this multi award-winning musician and flag-loving patriot on July 6. Charlie, at the age of 83, had lived a life that most entertainers can only dream of. He performed with the likes of musical legends such as Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Marty Robbins, and Flatt & Scruggs.

But there was another side of Charlie Daniels that many didn’t know. An email I received from a friend shed a lot of light on the type of man Daniels was. I’m sharing that email…a letter he sent to the graduating class of 1996 at UNC-Wilmington. Daniels, a Wilmington native, was chosen as the graduation commencement speaker for that particular class, but his selection was questioned by some of the seniors since Daniels was not a college graduate.

A few excerpts of that letter are as follows:

“I come to you from the street, from reality, the very same place you’re all headed if you plan to make a living in this ever-changing, difficult, show-me world, and when your college days are just a memory and your diploma hangs beneath dusty glass on some office wall, you will still have to deal with that world on its own terms every working day of your lives.

My career spans almost 40 years and you don’t go through 40 years of hard work and unrelenting competition without learning a few things.

My qualifications are humble but extensive and diverse. I’ve stood at the 38th Parallel and looked across into the hostile eyes of the North Korean border guards. I’ve been catapulted from the deck of an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Adriatic Sea and ridden across the frozen wastes of Greenland on an Eskimo dog sled. I’ve taken a hammer and chisel to the Berlin Wall and performed with symphony orchestras. I’ve had conversations with Presidents and walked the halls of Congress, lobbying for legislation in which I believe.

I’ve flown on the Concorde and acted in motion pictures.

I’ve seen the royal palaces of Europe and the hovels of Hong Kong.

I’ve seen the Mona Lisa and stared in awe at the timeless works of Vincent Van Gogh.

I’ve gathered cattle in the Big Bend country of Texas and met some of the wisest people I know at campfires in the middle of nowhere.

I was privileged to have conversations with Alex Hailey and Louis L’Amour.

I’ve been married to the same woman for over thirty years and raised a son who did, by the way, go to college. I’ve kept 20 people gainfully and steadily employed for over 20 years.

I am not a man of letters, I readily admit to that. But is being a man of letters the only thing which qualifies one to speak to a group of men and women who are about to enter the real world? My world.

My address will not be delivered in the beautiful strains of poetry of a Maya Angelou or with the technical expertise of a Tom Clancy, but I can tell you where some of the land mines are hidden, the shortest path to the top of the mountain, and the quickest way down. Been there, done that.

Thank you and God bless the Class of ’96.

Charlie Daniels

February 8, 1996”

Thank you Charlie Daniels for your sincere desire to be nothing more than a proud supporter of blue collar America and our military forces who just happened to be an extremely talented songwriter and musician.

Life’s “uneasy ride” has ended. You have dug your spurs into Caballo Diablo. There’s no place left for you to go but straight into the arms of Jesus.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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