Charlie Daniels Spent 20 Years Writing His New Book, ‘Never Look at the Empty Seats’
Charlie Daniels just celebrated his 81st birthday on Saturday (Oct. 28), but the veteran entertainer shows no signs of slowing down. His new book, Never Look at the Empty Seats, just hit shelves and he also released a new album, Memories, Memoirs and Miles – Songs of a Lifetime, available exclusively at Walmart.
“I wrote on this thing for over 20 years,” he tells Sounds Like Nashville of the new book. “I just kept writing and my career kept going. I wasn’t even a member of the Grand Ole Opry until I was in my 70’s, so just things kept going on that I thought were interesting. But when I found out I was going to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame [in 2016] I thought this is the place to end it, or pause it at least, and that’s what I did.”
Unlike some celebrities who have a ghostwriter pen their memoirs, Daniels wrote his autobiography himself and it reads like a warm conversation with the North Carolina born performer. “I’m laying it out there for people to see what I’ve been doing for the last 80 years. The hardest chapter for me to write was the chapter on my faith,” the devout Christian confesses. “I kept putting it off. I didn’t know how I was going to go about it and the thing that was bothering me about it was this was something that once I put it down, I couldn’t change it. It had to be real. It had to be my thoughts on my faith and how I felt about it. It was by far the hardest thing I wrote and that’s something I want people to know, but I got it done and I’m pretty happy with it actually.”
The title of the book, Never Look at the Empty Seats, is advice Daniels wants to share with young artists on their way up. “It’s basically about accentuating the positive because when you first start playing, you will find a lot of empty seats,” he says. “And if you are serious, you get out there and go for it. Play wherever you can and whenever you can, and we did. Nobody knows who you are until you build somewhat of a following. You are going to be playing to a bunch of empty seats. If you walk in every night and say well, ‘We’ve only got half of a house or a third of a house’ or whatever and say, ‘I don’t really want to put all of myself into this tonight. I just want to slough off and have a couple drinks and just play and jam around,’ or ‘Do I want to go ahead and try to impress everybody?’ You can’t be concerned with the empty seats. You have to be concerned with the ones that have people in them. Go ahead and impress those people and have them come back to see you the next time and bring some other people with them.”
In addition to chronicling his career achievements and family life, Daniels’ book also acknowledges the people who he has worked with along the way, from producer Bob Johnston who recruited him to play guitar on Bob Dylan’s legendary album, Nashville Skyline (and other Dylan discs) to the staff he works with daily at his offices, including longtime publicist Paula Szeigis.
“I couldn’t write a biography without bringing in those people because I have never been alone,” he says. “I like working with people. I like having people around me that I enjoy. . . I realize, and have for a long time, the importance of everybody’s job. Everybody’s job is the most important job in the outfit at one time or another. When I go to bed at night, it’s the guy who is driving me. He’s got my life in his hands. There are no unimportant jobs and I appreciate the people who work for me. Just giving everybody their due is a natural thing for me.”
Daniels’ book is very inspiring as he shares the obstacles he faced and how he overcame them to enjoy one of the longest running, most successful careers in country music. “Once I learned three chords I never wanted to do anything but be a musician,” he says. “That’s all I wanted and I was willing to do whatever, to go wherever, or do whatever it took to get to where I wanted to go. Not everybody is really ready to do that. If you want to do it, prepare yourself and grow you some thick skin. You have to just say, ‘I’m going to accomplish what I’m going to accomplish, even if I have to work twice as hard as everybody else.’”
And Daniels has more sage advice that could be applicable to any career path. “Never ever compare your career to somebody else. You just can’t do it,” he says. “Someone is going to have a hit record before you do. They are going to sell more records than you do. They are going to sell more concert tickets than you do. Everybody has their own time. I’ve always been a late bloomer. I was in my 70’s before I joined the Grand Ole Opry and when I came to Nashville I was almost 30-years-old. I was 37-years-old before I had my first sniff of a hit. A lot of people would say, ‘You’re getting up there in age to be in this business,’ but I refused to believe that. I refused to let anybody tell me what I qualified for… Heck I was in my 40’s when “Devil Went Down To Georgia” came out. I was 43-years-old. Think outside the box. Don’t let conventional thinking hold you back from doing something that you really want. Find something that you want to do. It might not be playing music. It might be doing anything. Whatever it is, whatever you like, whatever you love, whatever you need to devote our life to, whatever you need to sacrifice for, go do that! Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it because the only person who can make sure you can’t do it is you.”
Never Look at the Empty Seats will also be available as an audio book with Daniels reading. He is also excited about the new album, being released through WalMart. Memories, Memoirs and Miles – Songs of a Lifetime is a musical companion to his new book that features such Charlie Daniels Band classics as “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” “Drinkin’ My Baby Goodbye,” “The South’s Gonna Do it (Again)’ and “In America.”
Daniels is hoping the book will be inspiring. “I want people to get an uplifting feeling from reading it,” he says. “This is not some expose’ type of a book. It doesn’t talk about the seedy side of the industry, the sex, drugs and this and that. This is a book about a guy that loved the music industry and tried to make a living in it, and the ups and downs that are involved in that. I want people to know, if I can do it anybody can do it.
“It’s my life and what I’ve been doing over the last 80 years,” he continues. “And it’s a lot of my philosophy on life and how I feel about some very deep and very meaningful things—my faith, family and my country. It’s pretty open and out there. Everything you want to know about Charlie Daniels and some things you didn’t. It’s all there.”