Music DVD Review: The Charlie Daniels Band Volunteer Jam
Back in the early 1970's there was a rebirth of sorts that happened in Rock and Roll music in the United States. Rock and Roll got its birth in the United States in the South when people like Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis started to combine the country music they grew up listening to, with the Blues music that Black people were playing all around them.
The resulting Sun Records recordings were nothing short of revolutionary in the impact they had on popular music in the States. In those days the business of Rock and Roll was still pretty innocent. There weren't many marketing executives around then packaging performers and pasting label on their music. I mean how could you have a cross over hit between Country and Rock and Roll when that's exactly what you're playing, Country and Rock and Roll.
I don't think those original Sun Record touring shows of Elvis, Jerry Lee, Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, Johnny Cash, and whoever else they crammed into the cars and buses that took them around, were even called Rock and Roll shows. If anything they toured under the banner of Sun Records and the name of the sponsor.
Even though all of them were from well below the Mason Dixon line, calling what they did something like Southern Rock was as alien to them as calling it Afro-Cuban. Twenty years later one could see how much the industry had changed when a group of bands who had far less in common musically then the groups from Sun Records did, were lumped together as Southern Rock.
Charlie Daniels, of The Charlie Daniel Band, in an interview done this year for the release of the DVD of his 1975 Volunteer Jam, made the same point. He said that while they may all have been born in the same part of the world, The Marshall Tucker Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers, and Z. Z. Top never played music that could have been call similar. He could never understand why they were all called Southern Rock.
That being said, because they were all from the same part of the world, friendships struck up between the bands. So when the Charlie Daniels Band was doing its second "Volunteer Jam" in 1975 the invited guests included The Marshall Tucker Band, a couple of friends from the Allman Brothers and a variety of friends from other bands like Wet Willie.
In 1974 the Charlie Daniels Band had needed to record a couple of songs for an upcoming album in a live situation, so they rented a small hall in Nashville Tennessee, invited some of their friends along to have fun after they had laid down the tracks they needed for the album. They called it Volunteer Jam in honour of the state of Tennessee whose slogan is, The Volunteer State.
That first one was so successful, that they decided to do it again in 1975, this time in their hometown of Murfreesboro Tennessee. The concert was made into a feature film and released in 1976 called Volunteer Jam. Now twenty – one years later it is being released on DVD for the first time.
In 1975 Charlie Daniels and his band were riding high on the strength of their hits "Long Haired Country Boy", "No Place To Go", and "The South's Gonna Do It (Again)" and were able to attract large audiences, especially in the South. So when the Volunteer Jam was announced it quickly sold out a 14,000-seat arena
For anybody who wants to see the epitome of good classic 70's rock roll, watching the DVD Volunteer Jam should be required viewing. Multiple guitars, keyboards, elaborate bass playing, and lots of drum, were all staples of the period. The music is loud, rowdy, and live; you won't see any sign of a drum machine or tape loops on this stage.
The only costume anybody is wearing is blue jeans and the occasional cowboy hat. There's no elaborate stage show, only stacks and stacks of speakers. The music is being played by people who love what they're doing and it shows in how much they appreciate each other's efforts and the amount of pure fun that they're having.
What was even better was that nobody fell into the Rock God trap that was too common in those days and went off into twenty-minute solo. Everybody, including the special guests, played like they were members of a band, and the band's performance was the priority not their own egos.
It doesn't mean that these people aren't gifted players, because they are, in fact I had forgotten how good the members of The Charlie Daniels Band are. From the bass player who can play any style demanded of him, the guitarist who can somehow make his instrument sound like a fiddle without a synthesizer so he can do a fiddle duet with Charlie, the piano player who plays piano not keyboards, the drummers who can keep time and be elaborate, and Charlie who plays an amazing violin and not bad slide guitar.
If there's a drawback or an unfortunate part of this disc it's the fact that it was originally shot on film back in 1975. There's only so much you can do with digital transfer techniques for sound and picture quality, so occasionally neither are what you'd what them to be. But considering the fact that it was a live concert twenty-two years ago you can't really complain.
The one thing that did bother me was that nowhere on the packaging, or on the disc are there band credits. They list the names of all the performers, but I couldn't have told Dru Lombar from Jimmy Hall if my life depended on it. At the least they could have supplied a song-by-song breakdown of who did what in the liner notes, or added on credits at the end of DVD to that effect.
But aside from that there isn't much to complain about with Volunteer Jam; it may not be Southern Rock, but it sure is a great example of classic 1970's Rock and Roll.