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Forty years ago this year, Charlie Daniels assembled what he thought would be a once-in-a-lifetime concert, a southern rock covenant with the genre’s luminaries at the height of its popularity and creative abundance. The Volunteer Jam was a somewhat secretive show at Nashville’s 2400-seat War Memorial Auditorium, its name taken from the Tennessee state nickname. It sprang from the recording sessions for Fire on the Mountain, Daniels’ breakthrough 1974 hit that introduced a multitude of songs into the classic rock canon. Daniels and his band went out on stage with the intention of playing a full show to cut the album’s two live songs — “No Place to Go” and “Orange Blossom Special” — but he kept to himself the fact that a few of his friends were milling around backstage to join him. A few, however, turned out to be enough that it would turn into an eight-hour affair.
“That first year, I kind of casually invited some friends to come and sit in with us that particular evening once we got done recording. Dickey Betts was in town, the Marshall Tucker guys, both bands were incredibly hot in Nashville at that time,” Daniels said from his Nashville offices. “I didn’t tell anybody they were there, I just brought them out on stage. It was obvious from the get-go that this would be a happening.”
The CDB backed Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, and the Marshall Tucker Band took over the stage entirely for an extended spell. The finale came with Gospel legend Mylon LeFevre (fresh from his work with Ten Years After’s Alvin Lee), Jimmy Hall of Wet Willie, Roni Stoneman and everyone else who happened to be in the house. It was a massive accomplishment that spawned a movie, an album and many more Volunteer Jams to come. Alabama would take part, so would Willie Nelson and even James Brown.
Today, the Volunteer Jam persists, not as the same Herculean feat of logistics, but as a nostalgic commemoration that pays tribute to that day 40 years ago. Just like a volunteer — the tree, not the soldier — it’s taken to popping up in the most unexpected places. Jomeokee Music Park will play host to the next one on Saturday, June 21, when the Charlie Daniels Band joins country great Travis Tritt for an evening of retrospection.
It’s not just a chance to remember a monumental concert from 40 years ago for Daniels, but a chance to revisit his own origins in the music business. Daniels pre-breakthrough work including playing bass or guitar on three Bob Dylan albums — Nashville Skyline, Self Portrait and New Morning — and Daniels’ most recent release, Off the Grid: Doin’ It Dylan, pays homage to the master via reworkings of a set of classics through the CDB filter.
“I wanted to do Dylan songs but I wanted to make our mark on them. If I felt like we couldn’t do it in our style, then we didn’t do it,” Daniels said. He laid aside recordings of one of his all-time favorite Dylan songs, “Lay Lady Lay”, simply because he couldn’t make breathe new life into it within the framework of the CDB. The album also wasn’t a reason the focus on the three records on which he performed — he only recorded a single song from those, “Country Pie”, where he traded his lead guitar for lead fiddle.
“With Dylan you never run out of material. It’s like an endless well,” Daniels said.
“We also didn’t want to overthink this album. It was just a way to look at music I like how I see it.”
The Charlie Daniels Band will perform with Travis Tritt at Jomeokee Music Park on June 21. Tickets are available at jomeokee.net. !