Long before he became a country music legend, Charlie Daniels often traveled in the same musical circles as Ron. They played alongside some of the hottest names in music, touring with Leonard Cohen and working with Bob Dylan. Like many other touring musicians, Ron Cornelius and Charlie Daniels found ways to liven up their time on the road. Usually, the practical jokes they played worked out well, but there was that one time in New York City that sent them running for their lives.

Ron Cornelius and Charlie Daniels: When Jokes Go Bad

In his new book, The Guitar Behind Dylan and Cohen, Ron Cornelius describes the first time he met Charlie Daniels. At 6’2″ and 350 lbs, Charlie was an intimidating figure. It’s no surprise that, in spite of Charlie’s friendly nature, Ron held off on pulling his first practical joke on Charlie until they were on the road.

Practical jokes were part of life on the road. They were a great way to break up the mundane rituals of finding yourself in a strange town, often in even stranger company, on a regular basis. As luck would have it, both Charlie and Ron were called in to work with Bob Dylan on a studio project that would become known as The New Morning Sessions.

Ron Cornelius and Charlie Daniels

Michael Ochs, Getty Images

Their first night in NYC, Ron, Charlie, and a few friends got together for dinner at a local Spanish restaurant. While eating, they couldn’t help but notice a droning sound coming from a corner of the restaurant. For the most part, they ignored it as part of some strange background cacophony, but that all changed when Ron got up to use the restroom.

On his way to the restroom, he found the source of the odd sound: a man speaking through a hole in his throat, using an amplifier. Immediately, a new prank began to form in Ron’s mind and he knew the perfect target: Charlie Daniels.

Charlie was known to have a great sense of humor, so Ron had no reason to think his prank would result in anything but some great laughs. Unfortunately, as Ron shares, “This night, the joke played on him by me almost got us shot.”

The Set Up

By the time Ron returned to the table, he’d already decided on the set up. He told Charlie that the droning noise that was, by now, beginning to be more disturbing than it was before, was coming from a man in the back of the restaurant who was faking it. Yes, an elaborate hoax, complete with a fake hole in his throat, all designed to irritate those around him.

Who knows exactly what Ron was thinking. Perhaps he just thought that he’d rustle Charlie’s ire a bit and then clue him in to the truth. In any case, Charlie did not respond how Ron anticipated.

Incensed, Charlie immediately rose from the table and, before Ron could stop him, he was on his way to the man’s table, ready to share some choice words.

Ron Cornelius and Charlie Daniels

Charlie Daniels, Leonard Cohen, Bob Johnston, and Ron Cornelius, at Paris Olympia, 1970

The (Failed) Delivery

Ron and Charlie never did discover who that gentleman with the voice amplifier was but it was quickly apparent that others in the restaurant knew. “Get that stupid tube out of your mouth you phony S.O.B.!” Charlie demanded. “I’ve listened to that shit as long as I’m going to!”

Rather than respond directly to Charlie, the man simply stepped back. In one motion, 2 men in expensive suits stepped forward brandishing guns, hammers cocked.

There are times when the truth is your best defense and this was one of them. Ron rushed into the scene and quickly explained the joke he’d tried to play on his friend. Guns still at the ready, the men listened as Ron spewed apologies and promised that, if they would just let them go unharmed, they would never be back again.

“Go NOW!” one of the suited men commanded, his voice deep and menacing. They didn’t argue. They hurried to settle their bill and then left, never to be seen in that establishment again.

Fortunately, that was the only time Ron almost got Charlie Daniels shot. The rest of their times together on the road, some of which are written about in Ron’s new book, garnered the laughter intended and the good music that flows when good friends work together.

For more great stories from the road, check out Ron Cornelius’ new book, The Guitar Behind Dylan and Cohen. Autographed copies are available exclusively on the Gateway Entertainment website.