In this song, Satan himself pays a visit to Georgia and challenges a boy named Johnny to a fiddle duel: If Johnny can play the fiddle better than the devil, he gets a golden fiddle, but if he loses, the devil gets his soul. After a sinister performance by the devil, complete with histrionics like fire and demon backup singers, Johnny plays as if he was possessed, nailing a performance inspired by his roots in the Deep South and winning the golden fiddle when the devil concedes defeat.
Charlie Daniels told Songfacts that the idea for this song came from a poem he read in high school called The Mountain Whippoorwill by Stephen Vincent Benet. Said Daniels: "We had gone in and rehearsed, written, and recorded the music for our Million Mile Reflections album, and all of a sudden we said, 'We don't have a fiddle song.' I don't know why we didn't discover that, but we went out and we took a couple of days' break from the recording studio, went into a rehearsal studio and I just had this idea: 'The Devil went down to Georgia.' The idea may have come from an old poem that Stephen Vincent Benet wrote many, many years ago. He didn't use that line, but I just started, and the band started playing, and first thing you know we had it down."
It was Daniels who played the fiddle for both the Devil and Johnny, and it was also Daniels who dreamed up what they both would sound like. He explains, "The Devil's just blowing smoke. If you listen to that, there's just a bunch of noise. There's no melody to it, there's no nothing, it's just a bunch of noise. Just confusion and stuff. And of course Johnny's saying something: You can't beat the Devil without the Lord. I didn't have that in the song, but I should have."
Daniels has had people tell him they 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."
Stephen Vincent Benet is best known for his American Civil War narrative poem for which he won the 1929 Pulitzer Prize. He wrote The Mountain Whippoorwill after reading an article in the Literary Digest describing how a young Lowe Stokes had defeated the elder statesman of Georgia fiddlers, Fiddlin' John Carson, at the 1924 Atlanta Fiddlers' Convention. In March 1925, Century Magazine first printed Stephen Vincent Benet's literary ballad The Mountain Whippoorwill: How Hill-Billy Jim Won the Great Fiddler's Prize. The poem's narrator is an orphan child who pictures his father as a "Fiddle made of mountain laurel wood" and his mother as a whippoorwill. He enters and wins the Essex County Fiddlers' Show, after fiddling all night and believing he lost when the crowd goes completely silent. He wins a new fiddle.
This song took The Charlie Daniels Band out of a southern rock music style and into the world of pop music. The song was a #1 hit on the Country chart, but also crossed over to the pop chart. The song drove the album to a status of multi-platinum, but the band had trouble following up until 1989. The years after the song was released, The Charlie Daniels Band spent more time on the rock-crossover charts then on the Country chart where they began.
Suggestion credit: Aaron - Twin Cities, MN
This song won the 1979 Grammy for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.
The Charlie Daniels Band performed this in the 1980 movie Urban Cowboy. The scene took plays at Gilley's, which was a real club owned by the country singer Mickey Gilley.
A rap duo called the KMC Kru released a hip-hop version in 1991 where the devil comes to Michigan and battles the KMC DJ with a golden turntable as the prize.
This famous country song appears in the video game Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock as the last song in the game. In the game, it's a heavy metal version performed by Steve Ouimette. The fiddle playing is performed on electric guitar, though the lyrics and general premise remain the same. In the video game, The Devil is the final boss you have to beat, which didn't go over well with Daniels, who has stated his opposition to this video game: "To tell you the truth the whole thing bothered me and struck me as something that is not the healthiest thing in the world for young, impressionable minds to be exposed to, but the thing that really got me was what they had done with my song. The song, 'The Devil Went Down To Georgia,' which I wrote, is supposed to be a lighthearted novelty about a fiddling contest between a country boy and the devil and the devil always loses. That is not the case with the Guitar Hero version which comes complete with a horned, guitar-playing devil who battles the player and very often wins. I want any of you parents out there whose children have this game to know that I did not grant these people my permission to pervert my song and am disgusted with the result."
Daniels shared the composer credit on this song with his entire band: Tom Crain, Joel DiGregorio, Fred Edwards, Charles Hayward and Jim Marshall.
Bruce from San Jose, Calif.This is so classic! When I heard it as a young kid at the end of the song when the devil lays the golden fiddle on the ground in defeat at Johnny’s feet and Johnny taunts him “I told you once you son-of-a-*** I’m the BEST that’s EVER been!” — I was teary-eyed and punching the air with my fist and yelling with pride, “Yeah, way ta go Johnny! You kicked the Devil’s ASS!” —Great Memories!!!
Seventhmist from 7th HeavenRegarding the alternate "son of a gun/son of a bitch" line, I'm sure that was just to accommodate stations in different markets. Earlier examples were Steve Miller's "Big Ol' Jet Airliner," with the line "funky s--t/funky kicks goin' down in the city" or Blondie's "Heart of Glass," which often omitted the verse containing "Once I had a love and it was a gas, soon turned out to be a pain in the ass."
Dag from HereDid I miss something? I did not see where Vassar Clements, or his song "Lonesome Fiddle Blues" are mentioned in all this.
Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn June 17th 1979, "The Devil Went Down To Georgia" by the Charlie Daniels Band entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #81; and on September 9th it peaked at #3 (for 2 weeks) and spent 18 weeks on the Top 100 (and for 7 of those 18 weeks it was on the Top 10)... And on August 19th, 1979 it reached #1 (for 1 week) on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart (also peaked at #1 on the Canadian Country chart)... Between 1973 and 1982 the band had eight Top 100 records; with two making the Top 10, their other Top 10 entry was "Uneasy Rider", it peaked at #9 in 1973 (just missed having a third Top 10 record when "In America" peaked at #11 in 1980).
Esskayess from Dallas, TxJohnny Cash narrated a relatively unheraled sequel song for Daniels, 'The Devil Comes Back to Georgia' in the 9os. Everyone does their best, but it doesn't come close to the original.
Terry from Colchester, VtCheck out the Zac Brown Band cover of this that they did at the 2009 CMA's. It is really good.
Astrid from Guaynabo, Puerto RicoThe song is also played in "Coyote Ugly" when the bartenders and some other girls dance on top of the bar
Paul from Evansville, InI like the original but since I'm a metal head I like the metal version a bit better :)
Stan from Dearborn Heights, MiI've seen Blues Travler cover this song in concert at a neck breaking speed as John Popper played the fiddle parts on harmnonica.
Stan from Dearborn Heights, MiOkay to markus in houston, there was a small time rapper in the early 90's from Detroit who did make a rap version of this song, he called it The Devil came up to Detroit, it's basically the same song except for the location and instead of a fiddle they both played turn tables.
Breanna from Henderson, NvThis is an awesome song! I always stop to hear it when ever it's played.
Marcus from Houston, TxI might get a lot of flak for saying this but do you think this song could technically be considered a "rap' song? it has a nice drum beat. most of the verses are spoken with a rythmic rhyme.
Dylan from Charlotte, NcA student in my 9th grade honors English class observed that "...fire on the mountain, run boys run" might be an allusion to Lord of the Flies (William Golding). It seems to fit!
Joshua from La Crosse, WiOne thing I never got about this song: Just who was judging this fiddling contest, that Old Nick was apparently unable to tempt, intimidate or otherwise corrupt?
Briar from Hazard, KySimply a great tune
Valerie from None Of Ur Buisness!!, Bcomigosh i LOVE this song soooo much! :D
Kevin from Memphis , Tnlove the "Southern Baptist" version where the last line is changed from "I done told once you son of a gun/ I'm the best that's ever been" to "I done told you once you son of a bitch/ I'm the that's ever been"
Jessie from Dallas, Txgreat song
Logan from Troy, MtStephen Colbert and Paul Dinello played their version on stage once.
It's the Devil Went Down to Georgia with Bassoons.
Landon from Winchester, OhEmerson Drive have a cover-up for this song. Hek!
Dylan from Bethlehem, PaWhenever the Devil seems to challenge anyone, he always seems to lose miserably. Its kind of sad really...
V-starr from ?????????, MiSteve Ouimette did a metal version for Guitar Hero III as the last boss song aganst your band's manager aka the Devil.
Jevon from Houston, Txit sounds just like the beezleboss story in the tenacious d movie!!!!!
Sandy from Warsaw, InI love this song even if it is old! Good songs never die!!!
Greg from Shelbyville, KyAaron says the CDB started as country until "Devil." The actual breakout song was "Uneasy Rider," which hit in 1975 or 1974. I had a buddy at Univ of KY who had played with Charlie, before "Uneasy Rider" hit. He got tired of all the time on the road, not making much money. "Uneasy Rider" was a rather rebellious song for mid-70's radio, including a couple of off color words, and a openly risque situation, but it was FUNNY, and the pot smoking programmers loved it, as well as their audiennces. "I was taking a trip out to LS, tooling along in my Chevrolet, tokin on a number and grooving on the radio."
Charlie's still the man, he doesn't mind speaking his piece. Google "Charlie Daniels" to check out his website. Greg, Shelbyville, KY
Jay from Brooklyn, NyThere is an episode of Furturama in which Fry and Leela travel to Robot Hell to save Bender. The Robot Devil (a.k.a. Beelzebot) tries to make them sign a Fiddle Contest Waver. The Fairness in Hell Act requires him to challenge people to a fiddle contest in order to win back a soul.
Jay from Brooklyn, NyBaseball Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean once said "It ain't braggin' if you can do it." If the devil had challenged Dean to a pitching contest, Ol' Diz would have had the arrogance and skill to put Satan in his place.
Dustin from Whitehouse, TxAlso, a band called the "Toy Dolls" did a version called "The Devil Went Down To Scrunthorpe." It's a metal version of the song and all the "fiddle" references are replaced by "guitars" instead.