Remembering Charlie Daniels’ Volunteer Jams

“Ain’t It Great to be Alive and
be in Tennessee!” — Charlie Daniels

Charlie Daniels hosted the Volunteer Jam for decades. Here, he plays for US troops in Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Jeremy D. Crisp.)

Charlie Daniels hosted the Volunteer Jam for decades. Here, he plays for US troops in Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Jeremy D. Crisp.)

With those words, Charlie Daniels kicked off the first Volunteer Jam I ever saw. He also kicked off every Vol Jam with those words. My first Jam (I think) was Vol Jam IX back around 1980 or so. It is strange how your mind jumps around.   I was walking through the parking lot at work strategizing getting my youngest son to his violin lesson. Violin turned to fiddle which made me think of Charlie Daniels and then Bam! I was suddenly thinking about the Volunteer Jam. For those of you from the Nashville area who are over 40 years old, you know about the Volunteer Jams. Read on for a walk down memory lane. If you haven’t a clue, read on about a great musical event that will probably never be duplicated again.

Charlie Daniels started the Volunteer Jams back in 1974. As the name suggests, it was basically a jam session where he invited all of his musical friends to stop by and play. The venue changed through the years from the War Memorial Auditorium to the Municipal Auditorium, to Starwood Amphitheater. The early Jams, including the first I attended, were truly spontaneous. Charlie didn’t know who was showing up until they were backstage. Each act would come out and play anywhere from two to five songs. Even lead singers without their bands would play with whoever was backstage. Charlie would typically open up the Jam with a set of his own. I noticed through the years that the length of his set depended upon how deep the lineup was backstage – the more people backstage, the shorter the set. It was fun between acts to try & guess who would be showing up next. Once my friend Joe & I saw a flute being brought out with the electric guitars. We immediately thought it might be Jethro Tull. Wrongo – Marshall Tucker Band. The number of acts was typically in the low teens, so the show typically ended around 2:00 a.m. The show would close with all acts (who were still around) coming back on stage to play a couple of songs together. Throughout the night, Charlie would introduce each act and come out and play with them.

The acts spanned all aspects of music and locale. There were gospel acts (Jordanaires), country (Roy Acuff), and rock (Ted Nugent). Some of the acts I saw were Billy Joel , Roy Acuff , Leon Russell , The Jordanaires , Jimmy Hall (Wet Willie), The Marshall Tucker Band , James Brown, Molly Hatchet , Crystal Gayle , George Thorogood , Bill Monroe , Papa John Creech (90 year old fiddle player), The Outlaws, Delbert McClinton , Quarterflash, and Ted Nugent – who actually bear-hugged Charlie and picked him up.

The latter Jams were broadcast on a radio network so they weren’t as spontaneous due to commercials, promotions, etc.  Also, I seriously doubt in today’s world that you could get acts schedules coordinated, egos checked, and waivers waived to pull off a concert event like the Jam.

However, all the Jams were great and allowed me to see a wide range of acts that I probably wouldn’t have gone to see by themselves. To answer Charlie’s question – Yes, it is good to be alive and to be in Tennessee.

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