Charlie Daniels, the legendary folk-rock musician who helped pioneer modern country music, has passed away at 83. The famed singer of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” is survived by his wife of 57 years, Hazel, his son, Charlie Jr., and a worldwide fanbase who will continue to enjoy his prolific collection of albums for decades to come.
A multi-instrumentalist with a renowned country voice, Daniels was a fixture of the Nashville community for nearly 50 years. He got his start as a session musician on three of Bob Dylan’s albums, and went on to launch a solo career that yielded 32 studio albums — nine of which went gold or platinum — and landed him inductions into the Grand Ole Opry, the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, and the Country Music Hall of Fame.
While his early music tended to be on the rowdy side, in his later years Daniels really delved into the Christian faith in which he was born and raised. In an interview, he stated that “God, family, country and work” were his biggest priorities, and he went on to muse:
“I want to see people understanding the Gospel message,” he said. “I think sometimes the reason they don’t is because of the simplicity. There’s nothing you can do but repent and believe. You can’t earn it. You can’t be good enough. … [Salvation] is a free gift. I think that’s really hard for us to understand.”
In 2002, Daniels released a collection of his favorite hymns and Gospel songs. titled How Sweet the Sound, that peaked at #40 on the American charts. The album is a wonderful crossover from secular country songs to a foray into faith-filled tunes that Daniels accents with his lively folk style and expressive vocals.
We’ve brought together some of our favorite of Daniels’ Christian works to honor the life’s work of the esteemed country singer.
1. Somebody Was Prayin’ for Me
Extolling the virtues of prayer, “Somebody Was Prayin’ for Me” is a great song supported by a great male Gospel choir. The video looks like it was a whole lot of fun to make, as all present seem to be having a blast.
2. I Saw the Light
A classic country tune that Daniels infused with a frantic drum beat and a bluesy guitar. Daniels was often surrounded by the best soloists in Nashville, who were never in short supply in Music City, U.S.A.
3. Just a Closer Walk with Thee
Charlie turned “Just a Closer walk With Thee” into a soulful ballad with a mid-20th-century twang. Here he shows off way more range than we ever expected from his voice. We especially like the breakdown towards the end, when it goes from Gospel to classic rock.
4. Nothing but the Blood
“Nothing but the Blood” is a 19th-century hymn that Daniels completely transformed. With a roadhouse rhythm and a Gospel choir around him, it offers an all together unique take on a classic church song.
5. I’ll Fly Away
The fastest version of “I’ll Fly Away” that we’ve ever heard. In the intro fiddle solo we were surprised the violin didn’t burst into flames, or at least break a few strings. Each verse is followed by incredible solos from the members of the Charlie Daniels Band.
6. Amazing Grace
No list of great Christian folk songs would be complete without “Amazing Grace,” to which Daniels added quite a bit of bombast. We’ve never heard such a rocking version of this classic Gospel tune. While it may not be the greatest version, it is certainly the most original.