While the focus both in the music world and out right now is and should be on fighting the COVID pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s still important to honor the lives of musicians, especially pioneers like Charlie Daniels and Ennio Morricone. These two musical legends both passed July 6, 2020 from a stroke and cancer, respectively. They have more in common than that sad date, however, being legendary in their respective fields and even having some crossover work in common. Here are the legacies of two musical greats.
Charlie Daniels may be the more recognizable out of this pair, as he was a fixture in both the country music and classic rock scenes for almost three quarters of a century. Born in North Carolina in 1935, Daniels had a strong connection to bluegrass and folk country which would color his work for his entire career. A proficient songwriter, guitar, bass and fiddle player, before he reached his first charted hit, Daniels played guitar and bass for Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Hank Williams Jr. and the Marshall Tucker Band.
In 1979 after nine albums and a lukewarm Billboard top ten hit called “Uneasy Rider,” Daniels released the song he would be most known for universally on his Million Mile Reflections album. “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” hit number three on the Billboard top 100, number one on the country charts and earned Daniels a Grammy. Easily among the most recognizable country & western songs ever written, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” was also a crossover hit and is still played on rock stations. It’s been covered by numerous other artists including Primus, who made a claymation video for the epic storytelling song.
Daniels and his music have also been featured heavily in pop culture, movies and films. Almost right up until his death, Daniels was still regularly invited to play rock festivals. The films and TV series his music has been featured on is endless, from The Dukes of Hazzard to Saturday Night Live. He’s also done cameos and appeared in movies and shows as himself, such as King of the Hill and a movie adaptation of Tom Sawyer. Daniels’s proudest moment, however, was his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016, saying about the honor, “I’m so glad it went this way. This is the cherry on top of the icing. It doesn’t go any further. That’s where the cake stops.”
Daniels was just as proud of his work to support American troops and his work with The Journey Home Project, which stemmed from a number of charity concerts to raise money and awareness that Daniels did at Lipscomb University. To learn more and help, visit The Journey Home Project’s website.
Italian composer Ennio Morricone may not have been as well known as Charlie Daniels but he’s no less prolific and had just as much influence on the popularity of country music in his own way. As a studio composer and producer, Morricone scored some of the world’s best known Westerns, most notably The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. This single movie soundtrack is considered to be one of the most influential in history and has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Having been born in Rome in 1928, Morricone grew up under fascist Italy and the films produced during this time, both the fascist propaganda films and those rebelling against it, influenced his musical and composition style. Some of his first scores in the 50s and 60s were stark commentaries on that period of Italian history, like Luciano Salce’s Il Federale (The Fascist) and later Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1988 crossover epic Cinema Paradiso.
Morricone continued to work on Italian films as passion projects throughout his career, and many Italian directors have said he was instrumental in making the Italian film scene as prolific as it is. It was difficult to contain his talent, however, and American directors and scorers soon began pilfering the composer for their own films. With The Good, the Bad and the Ugly starring Clint Eastwood being the most popular Western Morricone scored, he also worked on Once Upon a Time in the West, Guns for San Sebastian starring Charles Bronson and Anthony Quinn and 80’s cult classic, The Hateful Eight.
Morricone’s filmography is so wide it would be impossible to name everything he’s done unless you’re IMDB (and even then it’s a long read), but his involvement in some of the most important films of all time is more than worth noting. With the 80s and early 90s being the height of his Hollywood career, Morricone scored big budget movies like Bugsy, The Untouchables, Casualties of War, Disclosure, Mel Gibson’s adaptation of Hamlet, the original 1981 Italian film The Professional, The Exorcist sqeuels and La Cage Aux Folles series.
There was a time that almost any film worth watching, American or Italian, had some bit of Morricone in its soundtrack. One off songs and songs from his laundry list of movies have appeared in everything from Tarantino movies to The Simpsons, making him possibly the most prolific songwriter in film on top of one of the best composers for film.
While on first glance, it would seem Charlie Daniels and Ennio Morricone have very little in common musically, but they both left an indelible mark on how the world sees American country and western music and, indeed on all music in the 20th century and beyond. While Daniels was born right in the heart of it and Morricone came from far away in Italy, these legends each did their part to influence and change the landscape of music and what can be done with it forever. Rest in peace to two musical legends; their work will live on.