When country music icon Charlie Daniels passed away last week at the age of 83, it brought back memories for WTWX Radio’s Kerry Jackson.
In 1977, Charlie was passing through the area to go to Atlanta for a movie premiere. Kerry had a friend, Ron Huntsman, in the music industry who worked with Charlie.
“He asked if I would like for Charlie to stop by the station,” Kerry said. “Of course I wanted him to.”
He said Charlie pulled into the Guntersville radio station, which is next door to Publix, in a big old tour bus with “Charlie Daniels Band” emblazoned on the side of it.
“He stopped by one afternoon and I remember it like it was yesterday,” Kerry said.
Charlie came in, said hello and visited a minute. A song was playing in he control room.
“He asked, ‘Want me to get my guitar?’” Kerry said. “He walked back out to the bus and got the guitar.”
Charlie ended up spending more than 20 minutes in an on-air interview with Kerry and he even played and sang live on the radio during that time. WTWX has posted the interview on its Facebook page for its fans to listen to in the wake of Charlie’s passing.
Charlie was already a big star by the time he visited Guntersville in 1977, on his way to becoming an even bigger star. But you can tell from listening to the interview that he was still at heart just a good old country boy.
“He was very much down to earth, no airs, no attitude, just very nice,” Kerry said. “He grew up in the Carolinas and he has talked about farming and his family. It was not that much different from growing up in Alabama. His roots were very similar to ours.”
Charlie’s best known song, the No. 1 hit “The Devil Went Down To Georgia,” was a year or so away still when Kerry interviewed him in 1977.
WTWX has had other famous musicians call in or even stop by. But Charlie Daniels' visit was special.
“It was pretty unusual for anyone of his stature to come to your station,” Kerry said. “He was pretty famous by then.”
In the picture that accompanies this story, you can tell that Kerry was a bit of a hippie in the 1970s. He laughed and said “I represent that,” when it was pointed out.
“One thing that had caught my eye about Charlie is that he’d played on one of my favorite Bob Dylan albums,” Kerry said. “There’s a picture of him on the back of the album with Bob Dylan. He was a session guy initially.”
Kerry said Charlie got his start writing a song for Elvis Presley when he was very young.
Charlie’s first hit of his own was something of a hippie song, “Uneasy Rider” about a long-haired fellow driving across the country in a Chevrolet with “peace signs, mag wheels and four on the floor.” The song goes on to tell the story of getting a flat in front of a “redneck bar” in Jackson, Mississippi, on a Saturday night. It’s as much humor as anything else and is sort of spoken rather than sung.
Charlie reached superstar status long before his career was over.
“He played at the White House multiple times, did a Super Bowl halftime performance and the list goes on,” Kerry said. “What really stands out about him to me now is his patriotism. He was a very big patriot, one of our greatest patriots.”
Kerry, now 68, still works every day. He’s been working in radio since he was 14 years old. His father Lavell Jackson, who passed away last year at 91, started the station and worked until his passing.
“I grew up in radio,” Kerry said.
All these years later, he added, the day Charlie Daniels stopped by the station remains one of the highlights of his long career.
About That Hair
Kerry Jackson of WTWX Radio looks like a buttoned-down businessman these days. But back in 1977, when Charlie Daniels stopped by the studio, he was a bit of a hippie.
“They wouldn’t let me walk at graduation at Marshall County High because my hair reached my collar,” Kerry said of his younger years.
The day before graduation, principal Bobby Nabors called Kerry and 2 other boys to the office and told them their hair was too long and they couldn’t go through graduation because of it.
“Graduation was going to be on the old football field at Marshall County High,” Kerry said. Today, it is known as “Alumni Field” and is the field where pee wee games are played next door to the elementary school.
“He said, ‘Get your hair cut and you can go through graduation,’” Kerry said.
After the talk, Kerry asked the other young men if they were going to get their hair cut. They said no.
“I said, ‘Well, I’m not either,’” Kerry said.
He said his parents kind of let him do what he wanted to do.
“I got to school the next day and the other 2 had gotten haircuts,” Kerry said.
Kerry stuck to his guns and did not.
Music icon Charlie Daniels, who once spent an afternoon visiting Kerry, would probably have approved of that story. After all, Charlie’s song “Long Haired Country Boy” includes the line “If you don’t like the way I’m livin’, you just leave this long-haired country boy alone.”