September 14, 2008
Written by Charlie Daniels
A work of great electricity, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” is one of the most rousing songs in country music’s history, crossing genre lines and generating career-high milestones for the Charlie Daniels Band. With a wicked instrumental setting and a growling vocal from Daniel, it is an energetic story that continues to captivate audiences.
The song is the story of the devil, “way behind and “willin’ to make a deal” as he searches through Georgia in desperate need of his latest victim. He meets a young fiddle player named Johnny and challenges him to a fiddle duel. Johnny’s soul is the Devil’s possession if he were to lose, but a win would guarantee Johnny the Devil’s gold fiddle. Johnny accepts the Devil’s offer, proudly telling the Devil that he is “the best there’s ever been.”
The duel begins with the Devil performing a rapid-fire piece; however, Johnny matches him fiddle stroke by stroke. After a few rounds, The Devil is squarely defeated by the more talented Johnny after Johnny performs his last spectacular number, “Fire on the Mountain.” The Devil acknowledges being bested and, true to his word, presents Johnny with a gleaming, golden fiddle. As he turns to leave, Johnny tells the Devil that he can return for another battle at any time.
The Devil’s and Johnny’s performances are played as instrumental bridges during the song. Daniels has been approached by fans who felt the Devil played a better piece, and to this he says, “If you dissect it and listen to it, that’s the smoke and mirrors thing about the Devil. There’s just nothing there. I mean, there’s nothing. There’s no music involved.”
“The Devil Went Down to Georgia” was released on the band’s 1979 album Million Mile Reflections, which was prompted to multi-platinum status in the wake of the song’s success. It was the band’s biggest pop hit, reaching #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the country singles chart in August 1979. It was named the CMA Single of the Year at the 1979 ceremony, and also earned a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group in February 1980. Although Daniels (a Grand Ole Opry inductee in 2008) experienced even more radio and retail success in the 1980s and continues to perform and record today, his defining moment is this storming sensation of a song, equal parts devilish and divine.
“The Devil Went Down to Georgia” is the the latest in a series of articles showcasing Classic Country Singles. You can read previous entries at the Classic Country Singles page.