Charlie Daniels - guitar, fiddle, vocals; Tom Crain - guitar, vocals; Taz" DiGregorio - keyboards, vocals; Fred Edwards - drums, percussion; James W. Marshall - drums, percussion; Charles Hayward - bass; Guests: (in order of appearance); Dobie Grey - vocals; Henry Paul - guitar, vocals; Jim Fish - guitar, vocals; Bill Crain - guitar; Wally Dentz - bass; Barry Rapp - keyboards; Bill Hoffman - drums; Judy Van Zant - speech; Theresa Gaines - speech; Gary Rossington - guitar; Allen Collins - guitar; Billy Powell - piano; Artimus Pyle - drums; Leon Wilkeson - speech; Carl Perkins - guitar, vocals; Vassar Clements - fiddle; Toy Caldwell - guitar; Stephen Miller - guitar
By 1979, Charlie Daniel's Volunteer Jam had become a major musical event in America. The fifth in his series of annual concerts took place at Nashville's Municipal Auditorium and featured a veritable who's who of southern rock, country, and bluegrass musicians all on the same stage. Volunteer Jam V will long be remembered as one of the greatest and one of the most emotionally-charged nights in the history of Southern Rock music, and this King Biscuit Flower Hour broadcast, featuring choice highlights from that memorable night, makes the reasons for this abundantly clear.
The Charlie Daniels Band were at the top of their game in 1979, previewing material from their soon-to-be-released Million Mile Reflections album, which would feature "The Devil Went Down To Georgia," soon to become a smash crossover hit. Fittingly, the KBFH broadcast kicks things off with several choice excerpts featuring the Charlie Daniels Band. They warm up the audience with the goodtime country flavored rock of "Trudy," followed by the rebellious spirit of "Long Haired Country Boy," setting the tone for things to come. The first emotionally-charged moment occurs next, as the Daniels Band publicly unveil what is essentially the title song and centerpiece of their forthcoming album. "Reflections," a touching tribute to Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin, and most significantly in this context, Ronnie Van Zant, this new song resonates deeply with the Nashville audience. Capping off this initial Charlie Daniels Band portion of the broadcast is the spicy Mexican flavored ballad, "Caballo Diablo," a highlight of the group's popular Fire On The Mountain LP.
At this point, the broadcast jumps to highlights from later that evening, beginning an impressive stream of special guests joining the Daniels Band on stage. First up is the soulful singer Dobie Grey belting out an engaging version of "Drift Away," the biggest hit of his career. Next, Daniels introduces Tampa Florida's Henry Paul Band, an offshoot of the Outlaws. Like Daniels in the previous set, the Henry Paul Band previews a new heart-tugging song that directly relates to the loss of Ronnie Van Zant. The title song of their forthcoming album, Grey Ghost is a tour-de-force that not only serves as a fitting eulogy for Van Zant ("The man is gone but his spirit will remain") but also proves what a profound effect Lynyrd Skynyrd had on these musicians. "Grey Ghost" is quite obviously an homage to Skynyrd, with a similar structure to "Free Bird" that begins with a somber vocal section and then transforms into a soaring triple lead guitar jam. This serves as the perfect precursor for what is to come next.
At this point Charlie Daniels introduces Judy Van Zant and Theresa Gaines, who briefly speak as the surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd take the stage for the very first time since the plane crash. With Daniel's keyboardist, Taz Digregorio, taking lead vocals and his bass player, Charles Hayward, filling in for Leon Wilkeson (who was also present, but unable to perform), the musicians sink their teeth into J.J. Cale's "Call Me The Breeze." The intensity of this moment is quite palpable on the recording and the musicians waste no time getting down to business. The vocals are kept to a bare minimum, allowing Gary Rossington, Allen Collins, Billy Powell, and Artimus Pyle to take flight. The performance has plenty of bite and these musicians are obviously inspired to be on stage again, delivering a highly charge performance. However, the most emotional moments of the entire night are next as a lone spotlight focuses on a solitary microphone stand at center stage and pianist Billy Powell embarks into the opening notes of "Freebird," Skynyrd's most revered number. For the first time since the tragic deaths of Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and Cassie Gaines, the surviving band members tackle this magnum opus of Southern Rock and by all accounts, there were few dry eyes in the house. Performed instrumentally, the initial slow section serves up an emotional wallop, with wailing slide guitar and poignant piano work, displaying a beauty that is even more apparent in instrumental form. When they finally take off into the soaring jam, it is with a vengeance that never falters. This remarkably intense version of "Free Bird" serves as a fitting eulogy for the lost band members and no doubt left everyone both on and off stage emotionally drained. Daniels then introduces Leon Wilkeson, who briefly relays a thanks to the highly-charged audience, followed by Daniels proclaiming, "Long live the Lynyrd Skynyrd Band!" to deafening applause.
Serving as an audio sorbet of sorts, cleansing the pallet with more lighthearted fare, Charlie Daniels next introduces Carl Perkins, a seminal figure in the early days of rock 'n' roll and one of the first musicians to merge country and rock 'n' roll elements into hit records. Perkins, backed by Daniel's band, delivers an engaging take on "Blue Suede Shoes," featuring several tasty guitar breaks compressed into four minutes of fun. The show concludes with Daniels' celebration of southern music, "The South's Gonna Do It Again," featuring a remarkable roster of guests each taking a brief solo spot. Helping out Daniel's band during this thoroughly engaging romp are, in order of appearance, guitarist Bill Crain (Henry Paul Band), bluegrass fiddler extraordinaire Vassar Clements, keyboardist Barry Rapp (Henry Paul Band), guitarist Gary Rossington (Lynyrd Skynyrd), guitarist Toy Caldwell (Marshall Tucker Band), and guitarist Stephen Miller (of Grinderswitch). Needless to say, this becomes one serious blowout once all the musicians are onstage, and the sound of so many unison guitars blends into a horn section-like sound, adding power and punch to this swinging number which brought this monumental night to a celebratory close.