FREDDIE EDWARDS: THE CHARLIE DANIELS BAND
by Michael Buffalo Smith
As one of the two drummers for The Charlie Daniels Band for fourteen years, Fred Edwards was a part of the Southern rock scene during it’s very peak of popularity. Now working in a costuming department in Hollywood, Edwards still holds close his Southern rock dreams.
How did you first become interested in music?
My brothers and sisters played r&b and gospel a lot. Being the youngest of a family of ten in the 1950’ s I had teenagers playing Fats Domino, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and James Brown in my ears all day long. I would park myself in front of the record player and beat my hands on the floor keeping time to the music. It was years later that I got my first drum set, around 1966, when I was in High School.
Who were some early influences?
When I really started playing, they were The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Traffic, The Dead, The Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, Electric Flag, and Tower of Power. I left home at eighteen because the draft wanted to send me to Vietnam. Then my brother Rik was killed on his way back from St. Louis, in an auto accident at 19 years old. That turned my life around. Then in 1969, Duane Allman died. That was when I started listening to The Brothers. My brother was a great songwriter and guitar player, so his death inspired me to do something for our family. The remaining members of Rik’s band called me to move to Santa Barbara and join there band. They said, “We need your blood.” That’s when I played with Jim Marshall for the first time.
How did you meet Charlie Daniels?
I first met Charlie in Berkley, California in 1970. I sat in with the band at the New Monk. They liked my drumming, and of course the look -my hair was down to my ass. (Laughing) So, three months later Charlie calls me and says “You have a ticket waiting at the San Francisco airport to Nashville. “That was August 12, 1971.
How long were you a drummer for Charlie?
From August 12, 1971 until October, 1985. This was right after the Te John Grease and the Wolfman album. I learned all of that album and was ready to play the songs, but when I got to Nashville, we only played three of the songs from that one. Charlie was starting a new band with myself and Buddy Davis, a friend of Charlie’s from the clubbing days before he did his Nashville session career with Bob Dylan. Then there was Earl Grigsby on bass, Taz DiGregorio, and Charlie.We played all around. Locally at first. We used to travel in vans back then. After six months of this, from the East to the West coast, It was time to do Honey in the Rock, my first recording session. Seems like back then Neil Wilburn was the engineer. An old friend of Charlie’s from the Dylan sessions.
Out of these sessions came our first regional hit called “Uneasy Rider.” After we toured this record for a year, Earl Grigsby left the band. Charlie called Billy Cox, the former Jimi Hendrix band member. Billy had played on Charlie’s first solo album.When Billy came, everything was hunky dory as far as I was concerned. Billy liked my drumming. To me he was a legendary fellow. I asked him a lot of questions about Jimi. He was delighted to answer. After Billy left, Buddy Davis spit. Then Charlie had to form a new band.
So you were the only drummer in the band during this time?
The two drummer phase lasted 12 years, and the last two years it was just me.
Who was in the band at this time?
A guitar player named Barry King was with us during the Cox era. Barry King was a friend of Buddy Davis, from Louisville, Kentucky. I think those two were with us for about a year. After all three of them left, we had a session player out of Nashville, Ted Reynolds. Ted was with us just a few months. Then Charlie had to hire three new players. Still loving the sound of two drummers, he hired three guys that played together for a time. Taz and I found this guy that lived down the street from us when we all lived in a house in Donaldson, Tennessee, Barry Barns. Barry brought in his drummer friend Gary Allen, also from Nashville, then Mark Fitzgerald from Salisbury, Maryland. We rehearsed six hours a day until we were ready to go on the road. This band was together for two Records. Fire on the Mountain and Way Down Yonder. That was when Charlie got his first bus- a Scenic Cruiser. That old bus left us on the side of the road more than got us to gigs.(Laughs) With this band we had our first gold album. “The South’s Gonna Do it Again” and “Long Haired Country Boy” were hits. Well, these guys left and I was still there, waiting to see what was going to happen next. At this point, Charlie, Taz and I were very tight brothers. Charlie told Taz and I to go out and find a new band, so we did. We went to a bar called Mickey Finn’s and that’s where we saw Tommy Crain playing in a band with his brother Billy. They were playing all of the Allman Brothers material. They were so good! They had all of the licks down man. Taz looked at me and said “these are the ones we need in our band.” Well, Billy was only 16 at the time, but he played just like Duane Allman.So we took Tommy. He was delighted to join us. Out of the previous band came Don Murray, drummer also from Salsberry. A friend of the previous band. Don and I clicked good for a few albums. Night Rider, and High Lonesome. We didn’t have a bass player, and Charlie brought in Charlie Hayward. Now we had a band!
Would you share your thoughts on the various band members?
As you know Charlie, Taz and I loved playing together. We went through so much trying to make one of the best bands out of the South. We will always be brothers When you spend 14 years of your life with men with a purpose in life, It’s almost like being in the Military. You watch out for your buddies, respect them and some come and, some go. But the ones that try hard and are loyal you never forget. I’ve got to say the last CDB was the best. I got my old friend Jim Marshall in the band after Don Muray left. Jim was in my brother’s band. I met Jim when I was in high school, and Jim had studied in Boston at the Berkley School of Music. After Jim came into the band we had nothing but great music. I told Charlie that I wish I’d told him about Jim earlier. See, Jim and I had played together in a band that was part of my brothers band in 1970, so when he came into the band it was like old times again.
Tell me about the Volunteer Jam.
Our first Volunteer Jam was at the old Nashville War Memorial Building. Our special guest was Dickey Betts. We jammed until the cows came home. We did a few gigs with The Allman Brothers.The one I’ll never forget was in San Francisco at the Fillmore West on New Year’s Eve. I stood onstage to watch the Brothers play after we played. The energy was so much fun, they liked us a lot and we liked them. We met all of their road crew, a good bunch of fellas. Red Dog and Joe Dan Petty, to name a few. Later we would find out Joe Dan Petty had a band called Grinderswitch. We played quite a few gigs with them. There are ten Volunteer Jams under my belt, so, how can I explain all of them. Let’s see- I backed up a lot of artists, because it was a three day event. In 1975 we had Chuck Leavell,
Jimmy Hall, The Marsall Tucker Band, Dickey Betts.Volunteer Jam 3 there was Wet Willie, Sea Level, Willie Nelson, The Winters Brothers,Toy Caldwell and Paul Riddle, Bonnie Bramlett, Papa John Creach, and Mylon LeFevre. It was one of my favorite Jams because I made a lot of new friends.But all of the Jams were just great.
I really liked Jam # 7 too. This was while we were doing the Full Moon tour, so we had a 5-piece horn section, four female singers, The Stony Mountain Cloggers. Then all of the artists to backup. Well, it was a hoot. Since there were so many bands, we could not do a set change for everyone, so, the artist without their musicians we backed up. What a great opportunity for the CDB. Ted Nugent,Crystal Gayle, Mylon LeFevre- hell even Gary Busey was backstage hangin’ out. Willie Nelson, John Prine, Greg Allman, Dobie Gray, Ray Price, Papa John Creach, Delbert McClinton. Gee... Johnny Gimble, Bonnie Bramlett, Dickey Betts.
Tell us about Fire On the Mountain.
, Capricorn Records, Fire On The mountain, was really special because, it was our first recording session at Capricorn Studios in Macon, Georgia. The home of The Allmans and The Marshall Tucker Band recorded.We had finished one day and I was walking out of the studio when this lady said “Hi, Gregg.” It was Bonnie Bramlet, I said “Oh no, I get that a lot I’m Freddie and I play drums for Charlie Daniels.Then I said I heard Jaimoe was here. She said “yea, right through that door.” So, I knocked and he said come in. I introduced myself and he said “Fred do you know your rudiments?” I said “a few.” Jaimoe says “learn them, they will help you.” About this time he takes this big hit of smoke holds it in his lungs until I see his veins about to pop. Then he says “want some?” Well, I’m thinking to myself, this is the master drummer I respect so much, and here we are burning one together. Cool. I was only 24 years old if that.
Tell me your favorite all time CDB memories.
I guess playing at the White House for Jimmy Carter’s Inaugural Ball. This was with The Marshall Tucker Band. Quite an experience. Then later we were Invited back for his daughter Amy’s pool party. I’ll never forget all the security standing around. Then Tommy Crain jumps into the pool with her. We all stood back and said “damn Tommy.” Anyway, we all got photos with Jimmy and wife in cowboy hats. I display them in my house still today. Also, playing Carnage Hall- the best sounding Hall I can remember. All of the East coast fans, from New Jersey up to Cape Cod, they were our best man... those people loved us. Thank you guys.
When did you first meet The Marshall Tucker guys?
We met the Marshall Tucker Band for the first time in Kansas, John Hammond opened the show, just him and his guitar. Playing his blues. He kicked ass. Then it was us, and we kicked ass. Then it was time for Tucker. Wow. After they played, it became a new era for us. They wanted to tour with us because they liked us so much. So we did thirty-days with them, back to back. Paul T. Riddle, their drummer and I became buddies. This was when we had the Fire on the Mountain band, so, Gary Allen and I used to stand behind Paul Riddle every night to watch him play. When Paul got off the drum stool he would always say “I sucked tonight.” And we would always say “no, you were great.” Tommy and Toy Caldwell were always hanging out with Charlie and David Corlew, our road manager, so we all partied every night. You come to my room, I’ll meet you in your room, whatever.Then the shit hit the fan. We got a hit called “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” After this we started doing gigs with Lynyrd Skynyrd headlining.
Tell me about Skynyrd.
What a bunch of good friends. We played with them in a bar in Jacksonville, Florida. We became buddies Their drummer Bob had just left the band. Then Charlie said to them “we know this guy that we met at the Warehouse in New Orleans. His name is Artimus Pyle, from Spartanburg, S.C. - do you want to give him an audition? Well, the rest is history. God Bless my friend Arti. This guy was the first one on the scene of the plane crash to get help. The former Marine ran for 4 miles to get help for the victims. All this with broken bones. My Pyle. My friend Forrest Gump. (Laughs) This is a drummer who will do anything to serve. Drummers are a different breed of musician.
When did you leave the CDB?
I left the band October, 1985.
What did you do next?
I just sat in with people at first. First in local bars, then in a hard rock band called the Dalton Gang. We backed up several country artists. But ya know, I didn’t have much luck with music after I left the Band. When I got here in 1985 I worked at Guitar Center. After I locked up the register a few times they let me go. I was playing bass with some friends from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Every Sunday afternoon we would play. It was like a bluegrass thing. That’s how I learned how to play bass guitar. It was mandolin, two guitars and, me. It’s a sad thing here in L.A. It’s “drum machine city.”
Tell me about some of the bands you remember touring with in the CDB.
The Winters Brothers Band were friends of Taz’s out of Nashville. Taz found them and produced their first Record. We had them open for us for a lot of nights,just like Grinderswitch. The Winters Brothers’ father used to play on the road with Marty Robbins. So this is where they got there chops - from dad.
We loved Wet Willie too. Wow, they played a lot with us in the early days of touring. They were the Southern funk blues band that always made us work harder every night. They would have Jimmy Hall with his harmonicas in a belt ready for any key. His brother Jack on bass.
The Allman brothers Band. I think the ABB was Charlie’s inspiration at this time. We had two drummers two guitar players and a keyboard. We played their songs in our set. But they never played our songs in their set.
Tell us about what you are doing nowadays?
I work at Warner Brothers Studio Costume Facilities. The department is the size of a football field. Four tears high of clothing. My job is mainly working with costumers, keeping the place in order. A lot of restocking, sorting, sizing, as the clothes come back from TV, music videos features- It’s all a rental thing and you must be on some kind of production to use the facility. We do not rent to the public. We have a web site. We are used by folks like ER, West Wing, Drew Cary, Everybody Loves Raymond, Gilmore Girls. We just picked 28 new TV shows for next season so, things look good right now. Then we have our blockbuster features Like The Matrix, Harry Potter, etc. Also a complete tailoring shop. It’s a forty-hour work week with weekends off. I’ve been there for seven years now. Another position I have is safety warden of our building. It is voluntary, and I give safety meetings every ten days. I carry a Red Cross card, know CPR, First Aid. Try to keep them all safe as well as me. In case of a disaster, I’m the last guy out of the building. Cool huh? Check this out, we are in the lower level of a parking structure,with 500 vehicles sitting on top of us. That is something I do not think about, especially with California being a disaster theme park. Earthquakes, mudslides, seasonal fires, floods, blackouts, terrorist attacks- that’s the new one. Anyway, our department also has some fine relics from classic movies. Seventy-five years of them. All of the costumes that were worn by the principal actors goes to the archive building. Some of the clothing we have is from movies like Robin Hood from 1938 starring Errol Flynn. Hey I forgot to tell you, I was in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves in 199I. I was one of the woodsman. I spent four months in England on that Film. My ex girlfriend was assistant to the Director Kevin Reynolds. I had a great time learning how the whole thing works. I was on the set with Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Costner every day. I loved it. We have all of the Batman movies stuff. Ben Hur, Bonnie and Clyde,The Dirty Dozen, Demolition Man, and The Fugitive to name a few. It’s a multi-million dollar corporation, and I am just a small part of the big wheel. All things considered, I’m happy with the decision I made at the age of 35. I was able to , try something elsewhere, and it worked. But still, I miss the band, the music and all.