Charlie Daniels' "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" Turns 40

Country Music Hall of Famer Charlie Daniels is celebrating big this month as his hit song "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" reaches its 40th year of being one of the the most impactful fiddle-centric song to ever be released. 

"People ask me if I imagined 'The Devil Went Down To Georgia' would be the success it has been," says Daniels. "My answer is I had no idea that forty years after the fact we would still be talking about it almost as if it was a new release."

 

A worldwide phenomenon, the track became a household name as no one had ever released a song with a storyline so colorful or with the fiddle as the star. Daniels' aggressive yet strategic performance launched The Charlie Daniels Band into stardom upon the song's release in May of 1979.

 

The song is written in the key of D minor. Vassar Clements originally wrote the basic melody an octave lower, in a tune called "Lonesome Fiddle Blues" released on Clements' self-titled 1975 album on which Charlie Daniels played guitar. The Charlie Daniels Band moved it up an octave and put words to it. The song's verses are closer to being spoken rather than sung (i.e., recitation), and tell the story of a boy named Johnny, in a variant on the classic deal with the Devil.

 

The performances of Satan and Johnny are played as instrumental bridges. The song was the band's biggest hit, reaching number three on the Billboard Hot 100, prevented from further chart movement by "After The Love Has Gone" by Earth, Wind and Fire and "My Sharona" by The Knack. It is featured in the 1980 film Urban Cowboy, whose choreographer, Patsy Swayze, claims that she set the song's tempo. "How fast can you dance it?" Daniels asked. "How fast can you play it?" Swayze replied, but considering that the song was recorded in December 1978 and Urban Cowboy was filmed in 1979, it would have been impossible for Swayze to set the recorded song's tempo.

 

Lyrics

 

The Devil went down to Georgia. He was lookin' for a soul to steal

He was in a bind 'cause he was way behind. He was willing to make a deal

When he came across this young man sawin' on a fiddle and playin' it hot

And the Devil jumped upon a hickory stump and said "Boy, let me tell you what"

 

"I guess you didn't know it, but I'm a fiddle player, too

And if you'd care to take a dare I'll make a bet with you

Now you play a pretty good fiddle, boy, but give the Devil his due

I'll bet a fiddle of gold against your soul 'cause I think I'm better than you"

 

The boy said, "My name's Johnny, and it might be a sin

But I'll take your bet; and you're gonna regret 'cause I'm the best there's ever been"

 

Johnny, rosin up your bow and play your fiddle hard

'Cause Hell's broke loose in Georgia and the Devil deals the cards

And if you win you get this shiny fiddle made of gold

But if you lose the devil gets your soul

 

The Devil opened up his case and he said, "I'll start this show"

And fire flew from his fingertips as he rosined up his bow

And he pulled the bow across the strings and it made an evil hiss

And a band of demons joined in and it sounded something like this

 

When the Devil finished, Johnny said, "Well, you're pretty good ol' son

But sit down in that chair right there and let me show you how it's done"

 

"Fire on the Mountain." Run, boys, run

The Devil's in the house of the rising sun

Chicken's in the bread pan picking out dough

Granny, does your dog bite? No, child, no

 

The Devil bowed his head because he knew that he'd been beat

And he laid that golden fiddle on the ground at Johnny's feet

Johnny said, "Devil, just come on back. If you ever wanna try again

I done told you once — you son of a bitch — I'm the best that's ever been"

And he played

 

"Fire on the Mountain." Run, boys, run

The Devil's in the house of the rising sun

Chicken's in the bread pan picking out dough

Granny, will your dog bite? No, child, no

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