Back on July 25, 1981, I conducted my first live interview. I’d done several telephone chats, but nothing face-to-face, and the person I had the privilege to question was none other than Charlie Daniels. That evening, in his dressing room at the Cumberland County Civic Center, a nervous writer was helped by one of the most popular performers around through a situation unlike anything experienced before. Now, 34 years later, the opportunity arose again with that legendary country rocker poised on returning to Maine, this time to the Waterville Opera House, and the chance to reconnect was impossible to refuse. This singer-songwriter/guitarist/fiddler/mandolinist is responsible for a string of hits that spans decades such as “The South’s Gonna do it Again,” “Uneasy Rider,” “In America” and “Simple Man,” just to mention a few, so when he called me from South Carolina on the 15th of May. Well, I was a tad nervous all over again.

Q: I understand you are coming to the Waterville Opera House.

Daniels: We are indeed and looking forward to it.

Q: Have you played that venue before?

Daniels: You know, Lucky, to be perfectly honest with you, I’ve played so many venues over the last 50 years that I can’t remember. Usually when I get to the venue it all comes back. So, I may have and I may not have. I’ll let you know when I see it.

Q: Well, that doesn’t really surprise me, because, like you said, you have been doing this for a long, long time, and so much of it you spend on the road, too.

Daniels: Yeah, we did around 107 dates last year and we’ll do about the same this year.

Q: Are you officially touring for your latest album, “Off The Grid — Doin’ It Dylan”?

Daniels: You know, that’s always been kind of a mystery to me about touring in support of an album. We tour whether we have a new album out or not. We tour every year whether we have a new album out or not. We’re constantly touring.

Q: Who are you bringing with you in your band?

Daniels: Same guys I’ve had for years. I’ve got one guy who’s been with me for 40 years, one for 25, one for going on 16. These guys have been around for a long time. The last band member I changed was Taz (DiGregorio) when he got killed in an automobile accident almost four years ago now.

Q: I remember Taz.

Daniels: Everybody does. We were together 40 years and one day he was here and the next day he wasn’t. It was kind of a kick in the head, you know?

Q: And we lost a giant last night, too.

Daniels: Yes, we did, we certainly did. He was my all-time favorite blues player, I did love B.B. King. My son put a picture up on my website this morning of him and me back a few years ago. He was a giant in my book, too. He was very much a gentleman and nobody played the blues like B.B. King. I treasure the time that I got to be around him which was not nearly as much as I would like to have had, but at least I did get to meet him and spend a little time with him. It was a great experience.

Q: Your latest CD “Off The Grid” was based on your fondness for Bob Dylan and the work you did with him early on, too, correct?

Daniels: Yeah, I was a big Bob Dylan fan before I ever worked with him and after I worked with him I became an even bigger Bob Dylan fan. This was kind of a tribute album that I have had in the back of my mind for a long time because I wanted to play some of his songs. I wanted to play some of his music in our way. I didn’t want to do “Mr. Tambourine Man” like The Byrds did or I didn’t want to do anything like Bob had done it, but just to do it as if it was one of our songs instead of a Dylan song, and that was the criteria for doing the album: “Let’s do it different, let’s try to make the songs a little different.” Otherwise, there really is no sense in doing it exactly like everybody else did it. That takes the fun out of it for me.

Q: Back to your upcoming performance at the Waterville Opera House. How do you go about putting together a show like that, I mean you have so much material to draw upon?

Daniels: Well, you take the stuff that people have a perfect right to expect you to play and you start there. I mean, we’ve got to do “Devil…,” we’ve got to do “Long Haired Country Boy,” we’ve got to do “Legend of Wooley Swamp.” I mean, you know the songs.

Q: Oh yeah, I certainly do.

Daniels: So you start there, that’s your skeleton and then you put the other stuff around: maybe some older stuff, some things that were fairly obscure, but were still kind of popular with the concert crowds; and then there’s always a few new things like we’re doing two songs from “Off The Grid” to “Tangled Up In Blue” and “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” that’s what we’re doing right now. The first thing you know you’ve got an hour-and-a-half worth of material, and we could play a lot longer than that. Left to our own devices we may play longer than that. I’m kind of proud of my set lists, of course, I’ve put 50-some years into doing it.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to pass on to the folks reading this article?

Daniels: Just that we’re looking forward to coming up. I’m going to be in search of lobster when I get there. You can’t come to Maine without that. But, no, actually people ask me where I like to play. I like to play anywhere. When I walk on stage I just enjoy entertaining people. I mean, I’m in South Carolina tonight, but we’ll have just as big a time when we get up to your part of the country as we’ll have down here tonight because that’s what we’re about: we’re about entertaining people. I try to save the best part of myself every day for the set of music we do at night. I don’t mean anything in a bragging sort of way when I say it but we will do a good show, I hope people will come out and enjoy it with us.

Lucky Clark has spent more than 45 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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