There aren't many artists more closely linked to a particular song than Charlie Daniels.
The tune in question, of course, is "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." It's Daniels' signature number, comparable in that sense to Tony Bennett's "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" and Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville."
Although it was released nearly 35 years ago, "The Devil" continues to fascinate country music fans like very few other songs. It's the all-too-rare classic cut that attracts younger audiences, in a genre where basically anything that came out B.G.B. (Before Garth Brooks) is often treated like ancient news.
Nobody is more amazed about the continued popularity of the song than Daniels himself, who performs Sunday at the City National Civic (formerly the San Jose Civic Auditorium).
"You don't know when you put a song out what it is going to do," the 77-year-old country legend says by phone during a recent tour stop in South Carolina. "You may think, 'Well, hey, this is a pretty good song.' But you have no idea that this is going to transcend generations and stay as popular as it has over the years. Of course not. There is no way I could have known."
It hasn't hurt that many younger acts have embraced the song and, in turn, introduced it to new listeners. The multiplatinum Zac Brown Band routinely covers "The Devil" during its popular live shows. (The song was definitely a highlight of the Zac Brown concert in November at the SAP Center in San Jose.)
The tune is an absolute musical tour de force, featuring some of the most memorable fiddle parts ever laid to wax. Yet, Daniels believes its lasting popularity really comes down to the lyrics, which tell the story of a young fiddler named Johnny and an ill-advised challenge from the devil: "I'll bet a fiddle of gold against your soul 'cause I think I'm better than you."
And thus a myth was born.
"The story never gets old," Daniels says. "The story is always going to be topical. Everyone likes to see the devil get beat. That's as near as I can describe the reason for the success of the song. If I knew what (the reason) was, definitely, I would do it every time out of the box. But I really don't. I just have to give it my best shot and go on."
Daniels has many other worthy pages in his songbook -- including "Uneasy Rider," "Long Haired Country Boy," "The Legend of Wooley Swamp," "In America" and "Still in Saigon." Yet, the one song that basically everyone at the Civic on Sunday night will most want to hear is "The Devil Went Down to Georgia."
He'll definitely play it, for what might seem like the 713,453rd time in his lengthy career. He knows it's expected of him -- and he says he never gets tired of performing "The Devil Went Down to Georgia."
"No, I don't," says Daniels, who, like the song's hero, plays a mean fiddle (not to mention a sizzling guitar). "The reason being is that I get the chance to play it better tonight than I did last night -- and better tomorrow night than I did tonight. I have never yet played it perfect. Every night is a challenge to try and do it better."
Appearing with the Charlie Daniels Band in San Jose is Montgomery-Gentry, the Kentucky country duo known for such No. 1 hits as "Something to Be Proud Of," "If You Ever Stop Loving Me" and "Lucky Man." Show time is 8 p.m. Tickets are $45-$75 (www.ticketmaster.com).
HOMEWARD BOUND: Sheila E. can't wait to get back to the Bay Area.
"That's home," says the L.A.-based vocalist-percussionist, who was born and raised in Oakland. "That will always be home."
Thus, it's only fitting that the musician -- who is part of the legendary Escovedo musical family -- has chosen to celebrate her 56th birthday during a string of Bay Area performances. Her birthday actually falls on Thursday, but she performs Friday and Saturday at Yoshi's San Francisco. Show times are 8 and 10 p.m. each night, and tickets are $34-$39 (www.yoshis.com).
Sheila E. certainly has much to celebrate. The performer, who is still best known for her work with Prince in the 1980s, has recently put the finishing touches on a new studio album, "Icon," which is her first solo offering since 2001's "Heaven."
"It's been a long time (between albums)," she says. "I didn't realize that it had been that long, because I've been very busy -- and time flies when you are having fun."
The album was released in Europe in November, although fans in the U.S. will have to wait until February or March to get an earful of "Icon."
"It's a mixture of a lot of kind of different genres of music," she says. "But it's really just a reflection of who I am -- as a musician, as an artist, being from the Bay Area. Everybody knows what that means. We are just like a mecca of all different kinds of people and music in the Bay Area. (The record) is a little bit of everything."
Sheila E. has also found time to write an autobiography.
"It was a little challenging, because, to me, it's easy to speak about things about your life," she says. "But when you write it down, it takes a little more time, and you really do have to be precise about what you say, because you want to indulge the reader. You want them to really understand and connect with what you are trying to say. You want them to be in that moment and experience what you experienced, and to do that -- to explain that -- was a little more challenging than I thought."
The yet-untitled book, which should be released in 2014, is a project that dates back to the '90s.
"It took a minute," Sheila E. says. "I've learned a lot about myself. Every year that goes by, I just think, 'Wow, I wish I knew then what I know now.' I might have looked at things a little different, or said or done things differently. I'm glad I'm not the person I used to be. And I'm happy with the person I am now."
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