Classic Country Singles: Charlie Daniels Band, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”

The Devil Went Down to Georgia
Charlie Daniels Band
1979

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.

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7 Comments

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7 Responses to Classic Country Singles: Charlie Daniels Band, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”

  1. pselbyNo Gravatar

    For many years, I would always say that the Devil’s instrumental was better than Johnny’s. Ray Wylie Hubbard addresses this very topic in one of his songs (can’t remember title – Conversation With The Devil?). Nowdays, I realize that the Devil’s music rocked harder, but Johnny’s fiddle playing was better. Remember the sequel to this song with Mark O’Connor and Travis Tritt and Johnny Cash and Marty Stuart?

  2. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    Daniels isn’t one of my favorites, but this is one of the few songs that I really like by him. I also enjoy his duets album, Deuces.

  3. This is probably one of my favorite songs that I usually change the station when it comes on (I’ve heard it umpteen million times and only care to hear it in certain moods now). Here are the lyrics from that Ray Wylie song: “I said you know that song that Charlie Daniels did
    About how you went down to Georgia and played fiddle against that kid
    He said yeah it broke my heart but you know what are you gonna do
    I said to tell you the truth I thought your solo was the better of the two” – from “Conversation with the Devil”

  4. J.R. JourneyNo Gravatar

    Who would bet their soul against a fiddle of gold? Even in today’s market for gold? ;)

  5. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar

    Tis was the record that converted Daniels from outsider status (despite frequent appearences as a session musician – usually on guitar – on country records) to being fully accepted as a Nashville insider. Although Daniels had been recording for years and had a top ten pop hit in 1973 with “Uneasy Rider” he had not previously had a top twenty country hit.

    Charlie Daniels really wasn’t about radio hits and had only two more top ten country records; however, remained a top concert draw for at least another two decades

  6. PeterNo Gravatar

    I never really understood how “Uneasy Rider” jibed politically with CD in later years. It seemed like a bit of hippie anthem at the time and certainly not something he’d record these days

  7. PatrickNo Gravatar

    I remember this in guitar hero. Freaking awesome song

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