BEST OF TIMES

Charlie Daniels has a family he loves, a home he adores and a bold idea about what this world really needs -- a few more rednecks

I had a perfect day the other day," declares Charlie Daniels with a warm smile as he relaxes in the kitchen of his hilltop log home just east of Nashville. "I rode a horse, fished a little bit with my grandson, shot rifles. To me that's a perfect day."

That comes as no surprise. Family and country lifestyle are two great passions in Charlie's life. When he can combine the two, it's a safe bet he'll view it as perfection.

And why not? He's worked hard for a lot of years -- the Charlie Daniels Band recently celebrated it's 30th anniversary -- to build a career and a comfortable home for his family. Now that he's succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, he's enjoying it as much as ever.

And, at a spry 66, he shows no signs of slowing down.

Charlie's got a new album, Freedom and Justice for All, and a new book, Ain't No Rag -- Freedom, Family, and the Flag, comprised entirely of columns he's written for his website. And, a life-long road warrior, he still loves playing and touring as much as he always has.

But the thing that still makes him the happiest is being around his wife, Hazel. "Hazel's my best friend," he proclaims. "A lot of days we're together 24 hours. She's on the road with me full-time now. I can't imagine my life without Hazel. I love her more today than the day I married her." They'll celebrate their 40th anniversary later this year.

Charlie and Hazel moved to Nashville in 1967 and have been in their beautiful two-story home since the late '70s. It sits on approximately 200 acres, with an incredible view of the surrounding countryside, horse arena and pond -- full of bass and catfish -- just down the hill.

"See those two big pine trees over there on top of that hill above the pond?" asks Charlie. "Those are the pines we named this place after -- Twin Pines Ranch."

"We bought this place, and it was 51 acres or something like that," he recalls. "Then the place next door came for sale, and we bought it. Then my neighbor over here sold me about 150 acres over the years. And then we got 60 acres at a place across the street. And then down the road we've got another, almost 70 acres. So, where the house is located and elsewhere, we've got about 400 acres.

"We've pretty much settled in here for the long run," he chuckles. And they've made the home their own by surrounding themselves with the art and personal items that mean so much to them.

"I'm very passionate about Southwestern art," declares Charlie. "I love Charles Russell, Frederick Remington things. Of course, I can't afford those. I've got several by an artist friend named Gary Morton. He's not as recognized as he should be, because he's a very good painter."

One of Gary's pieces has a familiar-looking cowboy or two sitting astride horses in a dusty western scene. "That's me and my manager, David Corlew, when we went on a cattle drive out in the Big Bend country in Texas," smiles Charlie, whose face has also been worked into a few other pieces.

"I have a lot of the original art on our album covers," he proclaims as he points out the paintings lining the wall of the front staircase. "I just enjoy art. Might as well have something you enjoy. "

Charlie feels the same way about the music he listens to, but he wishes there were more options on country radio.

"I think country music needs at least one more format," he declares. "All the country stations in town are playin' the same thing, tryin' for the same audience. Let's do something different. Let's get Travis Tritt's album or Garth's album and play a song that wasn't a single.

"And the people who used to be the staunchest fans of country radio are now listening to talk radio. Because they want to hear George, they want to hear Merle. I do! I want to hear Johnny Cash. I just think we need another format."

Some of Charlie's hard-core fans think we also need another Country Music Hall of Fame member to join Jones, Haggard and Cash -- perhaps a Wilmington, N.C., native named Charles Edward Daniels. One fan even made a strong case for Charlie's inclusion in the country and rock 'n' roll halls of fame.

"The fact that somebody feels that way about me is just incredible," admits Charlie. "I love gettin' awards. But if you look at those platinum albums hangin' on the wall in there, that's the thing. And when you got to do a show and you've got a sold-out crowd or a big crowd, that's what I'm after. The awards are just the icing on the cake. And being in the Hall of Fame would be icing on the cake. It would be a tremendous, tremendous honor."

While Charlie is modest in assessing his own musical achievements, he doesn't hesitate to voice his opinion about the state of the world these days. In many respects, that view is captured by "(What This World Needs Is) A Few More Rednecks" from his new CD.

"Redneck has been used as derogatory term," explains Charlie. "I see it as condescension. The reason they call people rednecks is because they work out in the sun. Well I've been there and done that. It's the kind of stock I came from.

"Everybody has something they're good at. The good Lord didn't make any of us alike. So I kind of take the term redneck as a badge of honor. I love NASCAR races. I love NFL football. I love shootin' guns and ridin' horses and fishin'. All the stuff that people associate with people they look down on, I do."

As frustrated as Charlie can be with those who look down on the rednecks of the world, he feels truly blessed for the family that's supported him through the years. He dedicated his book to Hazel and their son, Charlie Jr., now 38.

"I can talk about what they've meant to me, but I can never adequately express it," declares Charlie quietly. "Family is everything to me. My life is centered around my family. God and Jesus Christ are the only things that come ahead of them."

It's obvious that Charlie is a man at peace with himself and his life.

"This is a wonderful time in my life," he declares with a smile. "Every day is valuable. And I value time and the things that mean the most to me, more than ever. Of course, that's my faith, my family, my country, my career, my people that work with me. That kind of puts it all in a basket for me.

"I'm just really enjoyin' life. I'm havin' a wonderful time."

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