Monday, April 1, 2013

DVD Review: Charlie Daniels Band: Live at Rockpalast 1980

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2013
Images from the Internet

Charlie Daniels Band 1980
Directed by Christian Wagner
76 min, 1980 / 2012

I only saw the Charlie Daniels Band once, at Carnegie Hall in 1973. It was one of the first of many concerts I went to with Bernie Kugel after we became friends in high school. Why the Charlie Daniels Band, of all things, for a then-folkie (me) and a garage rock fan (Bernie)? They were opening for – and I kid you not – comic Robert Klein.

Back then, the only song of theirs I knew was “Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Okay, it’s pretty much the same now, except for a couple more. The difference is that I’m at an age when I can appreciate them now. I went through a country phase in the late ‘70s (yes, even as I was punking out; how much more punk could Hank Williams be, as he was arguably the Johnny Thunders of his day).

The CDB tends to be lumped together in the “Southern Rock” genre, but that’s not really fair. Most southern rock bands, like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Black Oak Arkansas (both of whom I interviewed in the mid-‘70s), were more Blues based, while the Tennessee-bred CDB is firmly country rock. Not the modern, crappy country of Shania Twain or Carrie Underwood (both of whom can truly sing, but are boring in their modernist style), but rather they are closer to the Grand Ole Opry than those who are appearing on particular that stage these days.

Essentially CDB is C&W with some rockin’ guitarwork, though their songs are varied in style. For example, some are quite reflective, such as, well, “Reflections,” in which Daniels remembers some close friends who are gone, such as his pal Ronnie van Zandt of the aforementioned Skynyrd. But he’s most famous for his story songs, such as “Legend of Wooley Swamp” (which sounds very similar to “Devil”), “Blindman,” another hit with “Uneasy Rider” (this has a similar patter to Charlie Ryan’s 1955 “Hot Rod Lincoln”), and of course, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

There definitely is some blues here, though, such as “No Potion for the Pain” (powerfully sung by Taz DiGregorio), but country is more prevailing.

Daniels has a strong voice, both literally and figuratively, showing why the CDB has so much clout in the country market. It makes me ponder how strange it must have been in the audience of Westfalenhalle Dortmund in Germany, on that November 28, 1980 night, and hear their jingoistic “In America.” I mean this tune is directly in Toby Keith territory. The audience seemed to enjoy it.

How country are they? Just listen to “Long Haired Country Boy.” Tom Crain’s guitar wails just right. In fact, Crain is pretty formidable, as is Daniel’s actually. The entire band is solid from beginning to end. He even takes the lead vocals on “Cumberland Mountain No. 9.” I did note, however, that it is strange there’s no slide guitar in the group.

And what better way to end the set with a long, particularly raucous and upbeat version of the bluegrass classic instrumental, “Orange Blossom Special” (with a bit of others such as “Dixie” thrown in), showcasing their heritage and bringing a bit of Americana to the Rhineland.

For a video recording from 1980, the image is quite clear, and the sound is excellent, as is usually true from the Rockpalast series. From beginning to end, this is a classic C&W lover’s dream. It certainly made me smile. And that’s even without Robert Klein.

Charlie Daniels: Vocals/guitar/violin
Tom Crain: Guitar/vocals
Taz DiGregorio: Keyboards/vocals
Charlie Hayward: Bass
Fred Edwards: Drums
James W. Marshall: Drums

Set List:
Funky Junky
Legend of Wooley Swamp
El Toreador
No Potion for the Pain
In America
Long Haired Country Boy
Uneasy Rider
Cumberland Mountain No. 9
Devil Went Down to Georgia

The South’s Gonna Do It Again
Orange Blossom Special

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