PITTSBURGH -- As usual, all roads lead back to Pittsburgh, even for late country star Charlie Daniels.
Daniels, probably most well-known for his hit 1979 song "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," died Monday in Hermitage, Tenn., after suffering a hemorrhagic stroke. The County Music Hall of Fame inductee was 83.
He was born in Wilmington, N.C., and lived most of his life in Nashville, Tenn., and isn't connected to Pittsburgh via his roots in any way. But, like many folks who were consuming sports in the late 1970s and early '80s, Daniels seems to have developed an affinity for Pittsburgh and its people due to the success of the Steelers.
In May 1980, the Charlie Daniels band came out with a song called "In America," the lead single for his album "Full Moon." The song was a reaction to the issues the U.S. was facing during that time period and featured a curious line: "You just go and lay your hand/On a Pittsburgh Steelers fan/And I think you're gonna finally understand."
One could just shrug that line off as a reference to the Steelers dynasty that would have just won its fourth Super Bowl in six years a few months before that song was released. But there seems to be a deeper meaning to why he referenced Steelers fans specifically, as Daniels explained in a March 30, 2007, interview with Songfacts' Shawna Ortega.
"I've gone to ball games at different places, but I've always felt the Pittsburgh Steelers fans, especially in the old stadium, they were just ... I used to go do the national anthem there sometimes," Daniels told Ortega. "I mean, they're steel workers and they're good old guys with blisters, or calluses on their hands. The salt of the earth, the finest, just the greatest people, the strength of America.
"The strength of America is not in Washington, D.C.," he continued. "It's in our people, it's on the farms, in the factories. It's the people out here that make this country work. The truck drivers, the farmers. And these people -- that's what they were, and I just felt like if you want to go to war, let me take some of these guys with me. Go lay your hand on a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, and you're going to find out what American anger is, because it's the kind of people they are."
It's clear that Daniels appreciated Pittsburgh's reputation as a gritty, blue-collar city, and like so many others, he believed the concept of a "Steelers fan" was synonymous with those values.
This is the second time over the last few months a country singer's seemingly random connection to Pittsburgh was uncovered upon the news of their death. When Kenny Rogers died in late March, a photo began circulating of him at Three Rivers Stadium in October 1980 with the likes of Terry Bradshaw, Joe Greene and Lynn Swann that turned out to be from a "slapstick scrimmage" for his third CBS television special, "Kenny Rogers' America."
A little more than a year after that Songfacts interview dropped, Daniels returned to Pittsburgh to play the national anthem at the Steelers' Sept. 7, 2008, season opener against the Houston Texans. The Steelers wound up crushing the Texans 38-17 in their first game of a season that ended with the franchise's sixth Super Bowl ring.
It turns out Daniels was tangentially involved in the end of the Steelers' dynasty and the beginning of a championship season almost three decades later. Who knew?
(c)2020 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Visit the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at www.post-gazette.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.