Volunteer Jam

Volunteer Jam

Through all of Charlie Daniels accomplishments, [he] may be best known for organizing the genre-bending musical extravaganzas known as the Volunteer Jams, 16 music events over the course of three decades.

— Pat Adams

In the early 1980s, when I was living in Nashville, I attended three of Charlie Daniels’ Volunteer Jams.

Why was it called the Volunteer Jam? Because Tennessee is the Volunteer State.

In those days the Jams were held in January, downtown at the Municipal Auditorium. The show kicked off at 6 or 7 pm on Saturday night and ran until just before dawn on Sunday. Over the ten or so hours of the concert as many as twenty acts would take the stage for two-song sets.

Volunteer Jam Ticket, 1982

My Ticket from the 1982 Volunteer Jam

Performers covered the musical spectrum. Next up might be a legend of country music like Roy Acuff, a hard-core rock ‘n’ roll band like George Thorogood and the Destroyers, a gospel choir, or  master of funk James Brown. Many Southern Rock acts were featured.  No matter who was on stage, it was two songs and they were off.

The stage crew worked miracles; they required almost no time between performances. I’ve no idea how they did it.

The performances were electrifying. Sitting in one’s seat for ten hours wasn’t an ordeal; it was a delight. Of course, my butt was much younger then.

The first Volunteer Jam took place in 1974 at the War Memorial Auditorium. The second event (1975) was filmed in Murfreesboro at Middle Tennessee State University the year after I graduated from that venerable institution; the footage was released as The First Southern Rock Motion Picture. The 1979 show, which I darn it missed, included the first post-plane crash performance by the band Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Volunteer Jam Ticket, 1983

My Ticket from the 1983 Volunteer Jam

Jams III-X were held at the Municipal Auditorium and were broadcast over radio. Some appeared on television as part of the Jerry Lewis Telethon. Jam X was produced for television by Dick Clark.

With Jam XI (or perhaps XII) the show moved to the outdoor venue Starwood Ampitheater. Annual Jams continued there, apparently, until the venue closed in 2007 (although the 1996 event, which took place on Daniels’ birthday, was held at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center). The 2007 Jam was one of only two events held in the amphitheatre in 2007.

Volunteer Jam Ticket, 1984

My Ticket from the 1984 Volunteer Jam

“Ya’ll stick around” boomed the voice of Charlie Daniels, who had just delivered a dynamic set with his own band.” We’re going to have some people come out here, that can really play.” When he reappeared with Dickey Betts and about half of the Marshall Tucker Band, there was that unmistakable feeling of good will let loose within the audience, and it snapped my head….. Joining him, his band and Betts on stage for the Volunteer Jam were Toy Caldwell, Jerry Eubanks, Paul Riddle and Sam McPherson from the Marshall Tucker Band, Artimus Pyle, who works in the studio with Lynyrd Sknyrd, and Jamie Nichol, a young Nashville percussionist. 

— Rolling Stone Magazine, 21 November, 19974

Volunteer Jams continue today, although I’m not sure if they maintain the original format. This year’s Jam will be held in Englewood, CO on May 24. Kickoff time is 5:30 pm, which suggests the Jams are indeed sticking to the old format.

The best history of the Volunteer Jams seems to be Pat Adams’, which appears on the Tennessee Concerts website. You’ll find some (clearly not hi-def) video clips. Many clips can be found on YouTube (examples are below), and there are any number of record releases of the various Jams.

I was always pleasantly surprised to hear the name of the next act, but I was absolutely blown away by the appearance of the James Brown Revue. When, after five or so minutes of opening buildup, Brown took the stage, I felt as if I were in the Apollo Theatre.

I don’t know what happened to my notes from 1983 (or if I even took any), but in 1982 and 1984 I scrawled the names of the acts I knew or could make out from the introductions. There were quite a few more performers than I was able to list:

Jam VIII: 1982

Roy Acuff / Grinderswitch / Charlie Daniels Band / Papa John Creech  / Stone Mountain Cloggers / Gospel singers whose name I didn’t get /  Leon Russell  / Crystal Gayle / Jimmy Portland & Cajun Country / Jimmy Hall of Wet Willie /  Steve Walls? /  Johnny Lee & the Urban Cowboy Band  / Duane Eddy / Dobie Gray / Oak Ridge Boys / George Thorogood & the Destroyers / China (glam metal band) / Quarterflash / Dickie Betts

Jam IX: 1983

I stupidly didn’t take notes and haven’t been able to find the lineup anywhere. This must have been the year James Brown appeared.

Jam X: 1984

Dick Clark / Winters Brothers Band / Rodney Crowell / Emmylou Harris / Byron Allen (Real People) / Crystal Gayle / Jordanaires / Marshall Tucker Band (members) / Louise Mandrell / Roy Acuff / Boxcar Willie / Carl Perkins / Papa John Creach / Eugene Fodor / John McEwen / Willie B. Dolan (of the Oak Ridge Boys) / Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble / Exile / Tammy Wynette / Dickie Betts, (David Goldflies) Hall, Chuck Leavell, & Butch Trucks Band / Ronnie Milsap / Amy Grant / B.J. Thomas / McGuffy Lane / Dobie Gray / Bellamy Brothers / Steve L. & Streets / Ray Sawyer (of Dr. Hook)

I have to say, I saw more acts in my three years attending the Jams than I may have seen everywhere else!

The Jam was a great event, and I’m only sorry I didn’t attend every single one.

I’ll close out with three videos:

Here’s So Far Away by the band Streets from Jam X (1984). I was in the audience.

Here’s Emmylou Harris singing Hank Williams’ Jambalaya and Dolly Parton’s To Daddy, also from Jam X.

And finally, here’s the reunited band Lynyrd Skynyrd playing Free Bird at the 1979 Jam (sadly, I didn’t make it to that one).


Thumbnail Photo: Charlie Daniels

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