Rock Tails: Charlie Daniels Jams with Dylan and Harrison


Charlie Daniels arrived in Nashville in the late 1960s with hopes of securing steady work as a session musician. As the leader of the Charlie Daniels Band, he pioneered American sound and helped create a genre. His song “Devil Went Down to Georgia” is a pivotal landmark in modern music. But in 1967, the future architect of Southern Rock was making a living doing one-nighters and had grown weary of sawdust joints. “I was playing a lot of clubs, and I wanted to get off the road”, stated Charlie. On the advice of his old friend Bob Johnston, Daniels made the move to Music City.     

In addition to being a songwriter in his own right, Bob Johnston was the producer for Bob Dylan. By the mid-60s, Dylan had already revolutionized popular music, cementing his place in history. He was just coming off his critically acclaimed masterpiece album, Highway 61 Revisited, but was feeling stagnant. Typical Dylan, he felt the urge to musically reinvent himself yet again. Johnston suggested recording in Nashville because he knew that the session musicians there were some of the best in the world. Dylan eventually warmed to the idea.

C.D. studio
Dylan (left) and Daniels (right) in studio

Charlie infamously detested session work. He felt he could never reach his maximum ability because a studio could never replicate the passion that a live crowd produces. However, when Johnston called Daniels in February of 1969 to do one session with Dylan, Charlie could not pass it up. The decision would change the trajectory of Daniels’ career and put him on the path to superstardom.   

The name of the album was Nashville Skyline and Daniels played bass and guitar on most of it. It was a huge hit and put Charlie on the radar as a serious sideman. Due to Daniels’ newfound demand, he was asked to backup Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen on his 1970 world tour. This was two years before the formation of the now legendary Charlie Daniels Band. It was also during this time that Charlie would participate in one of the greatest jam sessions in history with two music immortals. These are Charlie Daniels’ reflections of the jam session he had with Bob Dylan and George Harrison.    

 Leonard Cohen, 1970

“I was on tour with Leonard Cohen in 1970, and we were going to Amsterdam. The rest of the band had gone ahead, but [producer] Bob Johnston and I had stopped in New York for the night and were leaving the next day. I can’t remember what we stopped for. We had a day off and Johnston called me and said, ‘You want to come down here and play bass with Bob Dylan and George Harrison?’”

Bob and George

“We went to the Columbia studio in New York, and it was just the four of us — George, Bob, me, and Russ Kunkel on drums. And Johnston and an engineer in the control room. I don’t remember anyone else even dropping by. I was playing bass, maybe a bit of guitar. I had never met George before, but he was a really nice, humble guy. He had long hair and a beard and blue jeans. He could be dapper at times, but this was during his hippie-look years. There was a great mutual respect between Bob and George”.

Bob George
Harrison and Dylan performing at The Concert for Bangladesh, 1971

“Just a day of jamming”

“George didn’t have a green card or work permit or whatever it is you have to have, so they couldn’t call it an official session and release the stuff. It was basically a jam session. I have no idea how many songs we did. It was just a day of jamming. We turned the tape machines on and just went for it. It was four people in the studio playing music and having a good time. No pressure, no hurry. Very relaxed, which is something you usually don’t equate with being in a recording studio. We could’ve been sitting on a rocking chair on a porch in West Virginia”.

“You want to be a Beatle?”

“I was playing bass and at one point George said to me, ‘You want to be a Beatle?’ Of course, it was in a facetious sort of way. He was just making a joke. He wasn’t the guy who broke the band up, by a long shot. I have no way of proving this, but I bet from the kind of guy he was, I would think he was the one who was most sorry it broke up”.

“He couldn’t remember the words”

“Bob was singing anything you wanted. He couldn’t remember the words to all of them. He also did some of the stuff that ended up on New Morning, but not those versions”. In 2020, Dylan released a collection of recordings from 50 years ago. Entitled Bob Dylan – 50th Anniversary Collection 1970, the album contains random works from March through August of that year. Among the captured sessions, from May 1st, 1970, features George Harrison with Charlie Daniels playing backup. One of the highlights is a stripped-down rendition of the Beatles classic “Yesterday”, with Dylan singing lead. 

The 1970 impromptu meeting between Charlie, Bob and George was more than just an elevated jam session. It was a convergence of three like souls and genius musicians. No tension. No egos. Just the feel of the music. Certainly, a beautiful thing. The kind of thing that will seldom be seen again in this day in age.

Sadly, Daniels and Harrison have both passed away. At age 82, Bob Dylan continues to tour and release new material.   

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