“The Devil Went Down To Georgia”- Charlie Daniels’ Biggest Hit Is A True American Classic
Daniel’s Recent Passing Leads To A New Round Of Covers By Nickelback and Korn
On July 6th, the music world lost a legend with the death of Charle Daniels, a beloved singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. Born in Wilmington, North Carolina, Charlie encompassed a love of music at an early age with Gospel and bluegrass roots that would serve him well over the course of his professional career. Uniquely blending country, southern rock, and bluegrass, Charlie’s music had a vast appeal to music fans everywhere. Earning many accolades and awards, Charlie was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2008 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016. He is probably most known for his 1979 smash hit “The Devil Went Down To Georgia,” a song that has been covered and performed live by many artists. Most recently, after Charlie’s passing, both Korn and Nickelback released their own versions of this famous song so I decided to delve a little deeper into the background and history of this world-renowned tune and the many artists that have paid it homage over the years.
The song was released in 1979 and appeared on the Million Mile Reflections album. The basic melody was originally written by Vassar Clements, an American fiddle player who was known as the Father of Hillbilly Jazz, in the key of D minor and became “Lonesome Fiddle Blues” on his self-titled debut album.
FUN FACT: How did Daniels’ factor into the equation? He was playing guitar for Clements at the time.
Charlie moved the melody down an octave and put words to it telling the story of young Johnny and his duel with the Devil. It’s a variation on the classic tale of making a deal with the Devil, coming to a crossroads, and the ultimate battle between good and evil. Johnny tempts his fate by battling it out with Satan on the fiddle. If Johnny wins, he gets the Devils’ golden fiddle, but if he loses, the Devil gets Johnny’s soul.
Johnny’s solo features a classic country, southern rock fiddle while the Devil sounds eerie and nasty, a much heavier rock sound. The Devil admitted his defeat as Johnny was clearly the winner of the epic battle.
FUN FACT: The fiddle solos in the song are the most recognizable ever in popular music.
“The Devil Went Down To Georgia” would go on to become the band’s biggest hit reaching number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and a much-deserved number one on the Hot Country Singles Chart. In 1979, the song won the Country Music Association Award for Single of the Year and earned a Grammy in 1980 for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group.
FUN FACT: The Devil’s evil hissing sound was creating by combining a nasty sounding note on fiddle with the sound of a guitar pic running across piano strings.
Along with its numerous awards, the song has become a part of American music history and has been performed and covered by a bevy of musicians over the years. Recently, the rock band Nickelback released their own version of the song with Canadian guitarist Dave Martone playing the dueling fiddle parts on guitar.
The kings of nu-metal, Korn, have released their cover of the song featuring rapper Yelawolf which was recorded during the sessions for last year’s album The Nothing. Proceeds from the song will benefit co-founder and Korn guitarist Brian “Head” Welch’s charity Awakening Youth which helps youth cope with the loss of a parent whether it’s from death, divorce, addiction, or other reasons. Korn’s version is available exclusively on their bandcamp page and can be found here.
If funk metal is more your speed, you can check out the version that Primus did.
As a throwback to my youth and because we all could use a little fun, it appears that even the beloved Muppets paid tribute to this classic song.
Charlie Daniels may be gone, but his legacy lives on. Johnny rosin up your bow!
“The Devil Went Down To Georgia”
(“Million Mile Reflections” Version)
The Devil went down to Georgia. He was lookin’ for a soul to steal.
He was in a bind ’cause he was way behind and 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; 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, old son,
But sit down in that chair right there, 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 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!
Devil’s in the house of the rising sun;
The chicken in the bread pan picking out dough.
Granny, will your dog bite? No, child, no.