Country music legend had deep Chatham ties

Posted 7/17/20

GULF — Chatham County lost its “simple man” when country music legend Charlie Daniels passed away on July 6 at the age of 83.

Daniels, who was born in 1936 in Wilmington, spent a few …

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Country music legend had deep Chatham ties

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GULF — Chatham County lost its “simple man” when country music legend Charlie Daniels passed away on July 6 at the age of 83.

Daniels, who was born in 1936 in Wilmington, spent a few formative years in Chatham County, attending Goldston High School. Though those years may have been brief, they arguably had an immense impact on his fate: it was while living in Chatham that Daniels picked up a guitar and was taught his first chords by his friend, Chatham native Russell Palmer.

That moment cemented Daniels’ history in Chatham County and lifelong friendship with Palmer and began his rise to music stardom and fame.

Rayvon King, the owner of JR Moore & Son in Gulf and a childhood friend of Daniels, reminisced on his friend’s passing last week.

“He lived in or around Gulf two times,” King said. “His dad worked for the creosote plant and he moved a lot — South Carolina, Georgia. But he graduated from the high school when it was in Goldston.”

Daniels was one of the “older boys,” King said, four years older than himself.

“He was a big ole boy, played football,” King said. “He was a good player, too. And he played when it was six-man, when it was a wide open game. He loved football.”

But it was music that really got Daniels moving.

Daniels — whose hit songs included “Simple Man” and “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” — always stated in interviews that Palmer had taught him how to play the fiddle, but Palmer, on numerous occasions clarified saying it was just the guitar. King said Daniels was “very interested in string music,” learning to play guitar, mandolin and the fiddle. The two started a local band called the Misty Mountain Boys, playing together and doing “fundraisers,” according to King.

“The first money he made was there at the store — JR Moore’s,” King said. “Charles and Russell would sit on that porch, back when it had gas pumps, pickin’ and playing. From time to time, someone would drop a dime or a quarter in the bucket.”

What started on that front porch led to an incredible friendship for Daniels, Palmer and the Goldston-Gulf area.

“He traveled up and down the east coast playing at beer joints, just getting started,” King said. “But he would come by. His parents moved away, but he would come by to visit Russell. And even in the past few years, if he happened to be traveling near 421, he would stop by.”

King’s daughter, Julie King-McDaniel, recalled one such time.

“The Bethany Baptist Vacation Bible School would have a parade,” she said. “They would decorate their bikes and have a parade. Well, Charlie showed up on his bus right in the middle of the parade. He let everyone on, signed autographs for everyone. It just shows you how he was.”

“He talked to all the kids,” Rayvon King said. “He was a very friendly person. I doubt he ever met a stranger.”

Throughout his career, Daniels played with greats like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Hank Williams Jr. He won a host of awards and was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame. But regardless of how great he became, friends say Daniels always had time for Gulf and the friendships he had here, including having Palmer on stage with him at the Grand Ole Opry.

And Gulf will not forget him.

The town of Goldston has a mural and a plaque honoring Daniels, a gift made by Paul Owens, another childhood friend of Daniels and Chatham native who passed away in December. Owens also installed similar gifts honoring Daniels at JR Moore & Son.

Casey Mann can be reached at CaseyMann@Chathamnr.com.

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