Charlie Daniels talks about latest album “Off the Grid – Doin’ it Dylan”

Charlie Daniels is best know for delivering the world with the hit song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” and numerous others. Today on April 1st, 2014, The Charlie Daniels Band is releasing their first album in 7 years called “Off the Grid – Doin’ It Dylan”, which is a tribute of songs to the great Bob Dylan. Charlie has been in the business since the early 1950s and shows no signs of slowing down.I know it is April 1st but no this is not an April Fool’s Joke, Media Mikes had a chance to chat with the legendary singer/songwriter about the new album and what we can expect.

Mike Gencarelli: This is your first album since 2007, tell us about how “Off the Grid – Doin’ it Dylan” came about?
Charlie Daniels: Actually, it came about in an rather offhand way due to a TV show called “Hell on Wheels” that takes place back in the 1800’s. We were asked to do some music for this show and we had these instruments that were around the 1800’s, which were acoustical instruments. We had never done any acoustic work before. We always used electric instruments in one degree or another. We were so impressed with the different sounds that came out of the band that we decided that we should do a whole album of acoustics. Well, we taught what better well to draw on than the Bob Dylan catalog since you can never run out of material that way. I am a big Bob Dylan fan and I just wanted to pay homage to Bob and some of his music in our way. We tried to pick songs that we could put our mark on. We didn’t want to copy anyone else’s arrangement or something. As a result we get “Off the Grid – Doin’ it Dylan”.

MG: How did you end up choosing these specific ten songs (and only ten songs) from Dylan’s library to cover?
CD: Well, we went through the common process of trying to do songs that we felt we could do totally different than they have been done before. We didn’t want to copy “Mr. Tambourine Man” like The Byrds did it or other people’s recordings of his songs. We were looking at his songs and seeing if we could make a CDB song out of it. We simply approached it like it was new music like we were doing for these songs for the first time. We came across one that we felt that we couldn’t get far enough away, which was “Lay Lady Lay”. I really wanted to do that song but we could not find a way to do it that would take us away from the version on “Nashville Skyline”, so we decided to leave it alone. The great thing about it though like I said is that with Dylan, you can never run out of material.

MG: Did you have a plan upfront to add your unique style of music to Dylan’s songs or did it just happen in the studio?
CD: Yeah, we had a plan. We knew that they were Dylan songs but we wanted them to come out as CDB songs, if you will. It’s not that they still weren’t Dylan songs after but we wanted to have people to realize that it was a Dylan song but it was Charlie Daniels Band re-doing it.

MG: You previously recorded “Country Pie” on Dylan’s album “Nashville Skyline” in 1969; how was it getting to record this song again?
CD: Yeah I recorded “Country” Pie” with Dylan back on “Nashville Skyline”. I was also worked on his albums” Self Portrait” and “New Mornings” as well. I had fun recording that song both times though [laughs]. It is such a great song.

MG: Why do you think that these songs are still so relevant in today’s times?
CD: Well, they are classics and a classic is a classic. Half the time we don’t know what Dylan is talking about anyway [laughs]. We all can draw our own conclusions for some of them. “Time They Are a Changin'” and songs like that are very clear. But there are some that he leaves up to us to find out what they are about…and that is a beautiful thing. Everyone in this generation can find their own meanings.

MG: Was there any order to the composition of these songs?
CD: No, we didn’t anything chronological or genre-wise for this album like let’s pick one from the 60’s and then from the 70’s, nothing like that. We just went through his catalog and picked the songs that we were capable of doing that, like I said, we could put our mark on. Our main criteria was to make them CDB songs.

MG: Did you find that any of these songs were more difficult to cover than another?
CD: Well some of them were to an extent. Dylan writes his songs in his own way. Some of his songs have longer verses than others. I tried to make them basically the same length. I actually cut out some stanzas in order to make that work. I did it though without violating what the song was about. It didn’t affect the tune at all. But I also did it so that the song sounded our way, which was the goal.

MG: Having been in the business for 50+ years; what inspires you to continue making music?
CD: I love what I do. I am in LOVE with playing music and entertaining people. I just love it. It is just a blessing from God that I have been able to make a living doing something that I love so very much. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

MG: Do you have any plans to tour for this album this year?
CD: Oh yeah, I am on tour right now. As I speak with now, I am in Pennsylvania. So stay tuned because we have a lot of dates scheduled in the upcoming months.


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Film Review “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”

Starring: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey and David Oyelowo
Directed by: Lee Daniels
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hour 12 minutes
The Weinstein Company

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

For me school was about teachers constantly pounding the same subjects over and over into our heads. Every year we’d go over the same material…history, English, science…but obviously it’s tweaked just a little to give us that fresh feeling even though it’s the same thing. Late middle school and the beginnings of high school is when you’re finally able to branch out and dive past the simplified textbooks handed out at school and begin to get a taste of something more in-depth. When it comes to the civil rights era, we were taught about Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. Those aren’t bad people to start out with, but what about those behind the scenes? Their stories and their influences on the times are so much more compelling and that’s what “The Butler” goes for.

Cecil Gaines (Whitaker) is a hard working man who has always done his job to a tee. Even as a young lad, while he watched his slave owner murder his father and sexually abuse his mom, he has maintained a cool demeanor and was raised as the perfect house servant. He’s exactly what the White House wants. A man who puts his job above everything else and someone who never reacts or speaks about politics. Those two things don’t sit well with his wife, Gloria (Winfrey) and his son, Louis (Oyelowo). Gloria loves the fact that he’s so successful in life, but unhappy that many of her days are spent alone at home, chain smoking and washing away her sorrows with alcohol. Louis wishes that his father, within constant contact with everyone in the White House, would speak up for civil rights.

Cecil and his son represent two different ideas during the civil rights movement and neither are wrong in their thoughts or ideals. Louis starts his journey as a Freedom Rider, moving on to Black Panther and then to an aspiring politician, spending half of his time in jail for protesting. Cecil continues gaining the admiration of those around them and impressing each and every President with his back breaking work. Both father and son’s journeys highlight specific pivotal parts of the civil rights movement. Besides the social impacts, the movie also profiles the home life of Cecil and Gloria, which is the main emotional draw of the film. It’s their life’s journey that will make you laugh, feel tense and at times tear up.

Every little intricate character is well cast but the centerpiece of this ensemble is Forest Whitaker, who puts up a top-notch performance. If there’s any weakness among the powerful cast, it’s Oprah. While she’s not terrible, she never matches the same highs that Whitaker does and is often outdone by Oyelowo in their scenes together. The actors who play the Presidents are all well suited, but never get enough time to draw upon the historic mannerisms, while the actors portraying Cecil’s co-workers in the White House are a delight to watch whenever they’re called upon.

This is an “inspired by” story, which means that you can’t take everything at face value. However, Lee Daniels and Danny Strong have penned a very good movie. There’s never a dull moment and I would almost say it’s one of the more enjoyable flicks of the year. Come Oscar time this movie will definitely be getting some nods, but it may not be strong enough to reel them in. This movie is definitely riddled with political overtones, but that shouldn’t stop you from being satisfied with this imaginary look at a key part of our nation’s history. The journey of Cecil and the journey of our country are one in the same. Tough times always lay ahead, but perseverance will overcome our struggles. If I can walk out of a movie feeling good with that message, it’s better than anything I was taught in elementary school.

John Krasinki & Greg Daniels talks about the series finale of NBC’s “The Office”

John Krasinki plays the role of Jim on the hit NBC series “The Office”. Greg Daniels is one of the show’s writers and developers. The series is set to end it eight year run this May with the last episode containing an extra 15 minutes of footage. Media Mikes had the chance to speak recently with John and Greg about their experiences and what they will miss most about working on the show.

Adam Lawton: What do you think you are going to miss most about playing Jim.
John Krasinski: You’re trying to get tears and I appreciate it. I’m saving my tears for Barbara Walters. There’s so much to miss. I was a waiter before this show, so what I miss most about this character is way too complexly entwined in my real life. So to me, this was a winning lottery ticket, except with a winning lottery ticket you just get money, and with this you get a whole change of your life. And everything about my life has changed and become better, and I feel so lucky to be where I am. So, it’s hard to separate the two, because I’m so sort of meshed in the experience. I will say, and I don’t know if this a good answer or a bad answer, but I think the thing I’ll miss most is playing a character that people believe in so much and attach themselves to in various degrees. There are some people who think they are Jim. There are some people who are looking for Jim. And, you know I think to me, and I know to Jenna playing the Jim/Pam relationship and realizing how important it became to so many people was such an incredible honor. I felt like I was given a tremendous responsibility and that responsibility I really will miss because it’s just so much fun to play a character that people are watching and rooting for and loving. I really appreciate that.

AL: Will Steve Carell be involved in the series finale at all?
Greg Daniels: I think that Steve felt, which I agree with that that Goodbye Michael episode was his goodbye, and that he didn’t want to overshadow the endings that the other characters deserved after all these years, you know, and so I think he made a good call. Obviously, it’d be wonderful to have him back, but you know.

AL: What has “The Office” fan base in general meant to you over the years?
JK: I think there’s a lot of shows that can say, they owe it all to their fans. But, we actually technically can say that we owe everything to the fans, because I for one think that, you know our show is so fan-driven in such a specific way, as evidenced by iTunes. I mean, I think that when we first came out the only reason, in my opinion, that we made it past just, you know these pickups that Greg and I were talking about is because people actually decided they liked the show so much, and it was such a small group at the beginning, that they would pay money to see the show, rather than just wait for it on Tuesday or Thursday, whatever time it was back then. I remember that was life-changing for me to see, because you know to be part of something like that was incredible. I was walking down the streets of New York and someone would just stop on their way to work and say, “Oh, my God, you’re on my iPod.” And I was like two things, “What’s an iPod? Also, what are you talking about?” And they just held up this thing. I also think that during the early speculation of what our show would be when people were, you know obviously being really hard on the show without seeing it, because everybody thought that it was going to be terrible because the English one was so good, as soon as that first – I remember Diversity Day hitting and just every other person on the street would come up to me and say, “The show is awesome. The show is awesome.” I think we owe absolutely everything to the fans.
GD: I completely agree with that.

AL: Can you describe for us what the last few days on set were like?
JK: I don’t think there were any tears. There was just a celebration that this thing was finally over, right Greg? I think for so many people this wasn’t just a job, and there’s no way it could be just a job. This was a huge incredibly emotional family and connection that we all had. I mean, to say it was emotional would be a complete understatement. I think that, you know knowing what that we’ll see these people still in our lives, and it was still that emotional, it says a lot about how much we are all defined by this show and how much we honor how defined we are by the show. I just think that we know that this will – I think no matter what any of us go on to do, I think that this show will probably be, you know what we’re most known for, and that’s incredible. And I think for people to feel so good about that and feel that they were a part of something so special, not only in the television world, but in their personal lives, was massive. I’ll never forget, we were all joking around. I was, as per usual, crying laughing as we exited the – I’m a crier laughter  which is a bummer, but I was crying laughing with Craig and we were all joking around waiting in the hall every time we exited. And then, one of the times we came back, instead of saying, “Going again,” Greg randomly appeared and just said, “Ladies and gentlemen, that’s the end of The Office.” And it was – it really was, I mean even talking about it now, it’s – you know it was a gut punch. It’s a life-changing event and there’s just no way to describe it. It’s not like ending college. It’s not like anything, really. It’s a part of your life that defined you, and to have it go away is so incredibly bittersweet. I think the only thing that helped us all is that we’re so proud of the work, and that we’re so proud that we got to have a Series Finale. You know, I think that we – you know that’s a very rare thing. And growing up I remember the “Cheers” Finale and, you know “M*A*S*H”, and all these amazing Finales, and I remember them being very, very important. For us to be a show that even got there is incredible, and I think that we’re just all so proud of the work. And that’s, I think, the only thing that prevented us all from just having a complete meltdown.
GD: Yeah, very special. There’s the lot that we shot it in is all by itself in Van Nuys, and we had lunch with each other every day and there was nobody here who didn’t work on the show on this little lot, and so we did get very close. One of the hard parts about the Finale, I think, is that, you know you have to be professional and you have to act and you have to, you know try and keep the tone a certain way when you’re on the set and everything, in terms of like writing and directing. It’s very difficult if it also means that, you know you’re going to say goodbye to everybody you’ve been hanging out with for eight years, and you’re – you know you’re going to have to find a different place to have an office in. And so, there is like a lot of weird overlap between the end of your personal work experience and, you know what’s going on on screen, so it was very sad.

AL: Do you have a favorite episode that sticks out for you?
JK: That’s a really hard question. To me, it’s like saying, what’s your favorite movie? You’ve got to have more of like a top ten. For me I have favorites for so many different reasons, again personally and professionally, I think that there’s so many important moments, some having to do with my characters and others not. I think the first moment that I can remember the most was shooting the first day of “Diversity Day”, because the pilot was pretty much word for word the British show, which I know we weren’t all super excited about, but we could understand why we had to do it to see how it stacked up against the other show. And then, our first sort of running at our own pace was “Diversity Day”. I actually remember people looking around the room at each other, you know as if you do when you saw something incredibly special and important. We all knew that something very, very special was happening, and that this show tonally and from a writing perspective was just really, really incredible. I remember that moment feeling like it set the tone for what this show is.Personally for me, two episodes that I’ll never forget is, “Casino Night”. I remember shooting that last scene and Greg had the set cleared and the lights were low and there was like an importance put on this, and you realize that it wasn’t an importance because of us, like you know that the actors needed it necessarily. It was more like, “We’ve got to get this right for the people that are watching.” People, like Greg was saying earlier, are so invested in a way that you never thought people would watch TV and be so invested that you can’t just at the end of the episode say, “I love you,” and kiss. It has to be very real and very special and exactly how they think the characters would do it, and that was amazing. That was an amazing night. And then, the other thing that I remember defining the show was “Booze Cruise”. That will always be one of my favorite episodes on many levels. I think it’s hilarious and one of my favorite episodes.
GD: I loved that episode too but I would also have to add that “The Job” and “Business School” were great episodes as well. There’s just so many. I mean the first season had all these very comical episodes, I thought, where we weren’t really too concerned with the likeability of anybody, but I kind of loved them just – for the comedy sake. And – you know, and then we had some very good mixes of touching episodes, I think. It was good. We had some good stuff.


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Anthony Daniels reflects on his role of C3PO in the “Star Wars” saga

Anthony Daniels is known best for playing the role of droid C3PO in the “Star Wars” franchise. He is only the actor to act in all the original six films and all the following spin-offs. Anthony recently attending “Star Wars Celebration VI” in Orlando, Florida and took out some time to chat with Media Mikes and reflecting on his role in the “Star Wars” universe.

Mike Gencarelli: How does it feel to be the only actor to act in all of the original six films?
Anthony Daniels: It is very odd, because many people know that I didn’t want to be in the first “Star Wars” film and refused to meet George (Lucas). It is really weird to be the only actor to work on the set of all six movies. Cause I never wanted to work on a low budget sci-fi movie. So the rest is history after “Episode IV”, as it then became, fans just took George’s little film to heart and they ran with it. Then we made another and another one. It was really hard work. After being dressed up in that suit, it wasn’t something you wanted to do a second time. Then after those three films, all of the other spin-off projects happened. Suddenly you realized after 37 years, you are immensely proud of you are apart of something that is completely phenomenal. It took being the narrator of “Star Wars: In Concert” for me to really get “Star Wars”. I narrated the whole show from “Episode I” through “Episode VI” with no jiggling about on a stage with a symphony orchestra with specially edited clips being displayed on this HUGE screen. I have done it 151 times now and I think I am finally getting it right. The thing I like most about the concert is that the audience is live and you can see the audiences excitement and affection for a tiny bit for me, a huge amount for John William’s music and an enormous about for George’s films. You don’t get that time of energy in the studio. So, I have lived long enough to go through a time when I thought that “I shouldn’t be doing “Star Wars” stuff anymore” to thinking “Wow, am I lucky”.

MG: Tell us about working on the new series “Star Wars: Detours”?
AD: It is amazing. I had to keep that show a secret for about a year or so. Some of the scripts I recorded are absolutely hilarious. It was some much fun to do such a strange yet ridiculously humorous script with this character than talking about hyper-drive motivators which is very serious. So finally “Star Wars” is coming to a part of its life that people love it so much that you can poke fun, tease and humiliate in a friendly way. So there I am still being “C3PO, Human Cyborg Relations” (spoken in character) but allowing all sorts of variance to the storyline.

MG: When “Star Wars” has an event like “Star Wars Weekends” or “Star Wars Celebration” you are there; what do you enjoy most about still reflecting on these character after all these years?
AD: With an event like “Celebration”, you get to see all the people that love this. The word fan can be used rather rudely sometimes. I do not have a problem with fans, without them we wouldn’t have this “Star Wars” saga. Then you have the 501st, now the first time I saw then I thought “now that is a little weird, isn’t it?” Then I saw what I did, which was dressing up for a living…at least they do it for fun. They are such a phenomenal group of people literally around the world. They bring the movies off the screen to events. There is even a c3PO walking around this convention right now. It is such huge affection and I get to be a part of it.

MG: Since we are in FL, besides being in the films; how is it being immortalized in “Star Tours” at Hollywood Studios?
AD: Ok, there is the six movies, the radio series, the various cartoon series like “Droids and “Clone Wars”, there is the LEGO series, which I am about to record another movie for that this year, then of course there is “Star Tours”. We did that 20-something years ago and then came back to me about three years ago and said they were re-doing it. Tom Fitzgerald, the producer, told me all about the new story lines and that there was also another change they were making, which that C3PO was going to be the star. Well it was one of the toughest jobs that I have ever done. It took 2-3 days just recording the lines alone. Since they are all in high intensity, I was just exhausted. I literally spent the following day in bed literally from being exhausted. We also did some live filming for it also, so I was back in the suit for that. So then we get to go the ride and it was just “Wow”. For people that haven’t been on it, it has 54 variations, which is so clever. People ask “how can I get on stage in front of 25K people” and I saw I don’t know but I can. But then I do to Disney and ask how can you make things like that. They just saw it is kind of their jobs, so everyone has these jobs. So long after I am dead, that ride will be there will C3PO chirping away and being funny, bossy and silly still. And who knows maybe my foot print will also still be in front of the Chinese Theater (home of the “The Great Movie Ride”). Not long ago, I was in a deli in New York and they had the tin-man from “The Wizard of Oz” and I thought one day that would be me. The one thing about the business is that these characters are forever now and iconic. It is so big that you can’t compute it.

MG: What is your favorite character in the saga…and you can’t say C3PO?
AD: Well curiously [laughs], I have no problem saying that it is Darth Maul. He is a wonderful creation, whether it is that he was here and then left you wondering who was that strange creature. But I am sorry that Ray Park got chopped in half because not only was he was lovely guy but Darth Maul is just so purely evil that you can’t help but think “Oh that is kind of cute” [laughs]. You know Darth Vadar…Yeah Yeah Yeah. Boba Fett, no idea what that is about. There is nothing secret about Darth Maul. Well everyone has their favorites. Some people love Jar Jar Binks, the younger generation, who are usually under 10 years old. Some people like Ewoks for heaven sakes. [Note, Warwick Davis, who played Wicket the Ewok in “Return of the Jedi, was sitting right next to us during the interview]. Everyone has a following. So there we are. So it has recently occurring to me when I see 3-4 year old children in line in meet me and they are my future. In 10 years, they will be 15 and I will be….YEAHHHH. So it seems to be I see three generations and they younger generation is still going to be new to this series. What is lovely is that they are able to taker the whole of George’s sandbox and take it always into new directions.


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