The Devil Went Down to Georgia

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"The Devil Went Down to Georgia"
Single by Charlie Daniels
from the album Million Mile Reflections
B-side "Rainbow Ride"
Released May 21, 1979
Genre Bluegrass, country, country rock
Length 3:37
Label Epic
Writer(s) Charlie Daniels
Tom Crain
"Taz" DiGregorio
Fred Edwards
Charles Hayward
James W. Marshall
Producer(s) John Boylan
Certification Platinum
Charlie Daniels singles chronology
"Trudy"
(1978)
"The Devil Went Down to Georgia"
(1979)
"Mississippi"
(1979)

"The Devil Went Down to Georgia" is a song written and performed by the Charlie Daniels Band and released on their 1979[1] album Million Mile Reflections.

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". 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. chant or Sprechstimme), 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.[2] It is featured in the 1980 movie 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.

Content[edit]

The song is a country music ballad about the Devil's failed attempt to "steal" a young man's soul through a fiddle-playing contest that involved enticing the young man's participation using a worldly prize. The song begins with a disappointed Devil arriving in Georgia, having stolen far fewer souls than expected, when he comes upon a fiddle-playing young man named Johnny. At that moment, Johnny happens to be playing his fiddle impressively "hot." Out of desperation, the Devil, who as it turns out also plays the fiddle, offers Johnny the wager which involves challenging the young man to a fiddle-playing contest. The Devil offers to give Johnny a golden fiddle if the young man plays better than he does; otherwise, the Devil will gain Johnny's soul. Although Johnny believes taking the Devil's bet might be a sin, he wagers his soul without fear, confidently boasting he is "the best that's ever been."

The Devil plays his fiddle first, to a contemporary, harsh rock music theme with the backing of demon musicians. When the Devil's performance ends, Johnny compliments him and responds by playing four songs (see the section that follows). Two are traditional songs of Appalachia -- "Fire on the Mountain" and "Granny Does Your Dog Bite?" (the latter traditionally known as "Granny Will Your Dog Bite?"). The third is an unnamed square dance melody that includes the patter, "Chicken in the bread pan pickin' out dough." The last is a traditional American southern folk song "The House of the Rising Sun." The four songs are not performed but are only mentioned by reference. The Devil is impressed, admits defeat, and lays a golden fiddle at Johnny's feet. Johnny repeats his claim to be the best player ever and dares the Devil to a rematch in the future.

Johnny's final boast was originally written as, "I done told you once, you son of a bitch, I'm the best that's ever been" but was initially recorded as "'Cause I told you once, you son of a gun, I'm the best that's ever been" for airplay on country music radio.[3] Thus, Johnny maintains his virtue, keeping his soul from the Devil, by displaying his musical virtuosity in performing traditional songs of America's South.

Musical references[edit]

The ballad's story is a derivative of the traditional deal with the Devil motif. Charlie Daniels has stated in interviews, "I don’t know where it came from, but it just did. Well, I think I might know where it came from, it may have come from an old poem called 'The Mountain Whippoorwill' that Stephen Vincent Benét wrote many, many years ago (1925), that I had in high school. Either that or Jersey."[4]

The songs Johnny plays are mentioned in the lyrics by reference only. In the order presented in the lyrics they are as follows:

  • "Fire on the mountain, run boys run" is from "Fire on the Mountain", a traditional bluegrass fiddle tune dating to at least the early 19th century.[5] According to the Library of Congress' American Folklife Center Traditional Music and Spoken Word Catalog, "The tune seems to be associated with a cluster of playful rhymes and jingles used in children's songs, play-party songs, and courting songs across the early frontier."[6]
  • "The devil's in the house of the rising sun" refers to "The House of the Rising Sun", a traditional American southern folk song.
  • "Chicken in the bread pan pickin' out dough" refers to a well-known square dance patter that can be followed by another rhyming patter such as "Big pig rootin' up a little tater row."[7][8] The patter logically belongs to an unnamed square dance song Johnny played.
  • "Granny does your dog bite? No, child, no" is a corruption of an old folk rhyme that starts "Granny will your dog bite? / Your hen peck, your rooster fight, / Your turkey walk a fence rail? / No child, no." [9] Like "Fire on the Mountain", "Granny Does Your Dog Bite?"[10] is a traditional folk song recorded as early as 1938.[11]

Parodies and covers[edit]

  • It is parodied by Cledus T. Judd as "Cledus Went Down to Florida," by a Christian parody group called ApologetiX as "The Devil Went Down to Jordan," and as "Devil Went Down to Jamaica" by Travis Meyer (the song is frequently misattributed to Weird Al Yankovic, and David Allan Coe has also been cited as the performer).
  • The Muppets performed a cover version in 1980 during the Alan Arkin episode of The Muppet Show.
  • Alvin and the Chipmunks recorded a cover for the 1993 rerelease of their country album Urban Chipmunk. In this version, Alvin bets his and his brothers' souls in a harmonica contest.
  • Tenacious D's song "Tribute" effectively recasts the theme of the song, but the devil and the band play guitars rather than violins. Rather than a reward or loss of soul, the demon instructs them to "Play the best song in the world, or I'll eat your souls." They then play the first thing that came to their heads, which "just so happened to be" the greatest and best song in the world. Although this saved their souls, the band are unable to remember it, hence the song is a Tribute to the Greatest and Best Song in the World, which from some versions of the song played live suggests that they are referring to Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven. The theme of "Tribute" is revisited with different emphasis in Tenacious D's later The Pick of Destiny
  • Futurama: In the episode "Hell is Other Robots", Bender loses his soul to the Robot Devil. When Fry and Leela try to get his soul back, the devil refuses but tries to get them to sign a "Fiddle Contest Waiver". When pressed, he admits that the "Fairness in Hell Act" states that they may engage in a fiddle battle to save Benders soul, and win a solid gold fiddle. If the Robot Devil wins, the loser will receive a runners-up prize of small silver fiddle, plus he will kill one of them. Leela agrees, arguing that she is musical since she once played the drums. The Devil plays first, delivering a technically flawless performance. Leela then plays extremely poorly, but announces that it is "Time for the drum solo" and smashes the Robot Devil over the head with the gold fiddle. In the confusion, Bender, Fry and Leela escape.
  • Swedish techno/folk/bluegrass band Rednex covers the song on their 2000 album "...farm out!".
  • The song was covered by Australian punk/hardcore band Rex Banner as a bonus track on the re-release of their EP "The Good Times are Killing Me".
  • The mexican country band Caballo Dorado recorded a spanish version called "El Diablo bajó a Georgia" in his album debut in 1994.

Toy Dolls version[edit]

English punk band Toy Dolls recorded a version of the song entitled "The Devil Went Down to Scunthorpe", released on their 1997 album One More Megabyte.[12] In their version the fiddle is replaced by a golden guitar.

Primus version[edit]

Rock/metal band Primus recorded a version of the song, which was released as a claymation music video on their 1998 Rhinoplasty EP and its companion Videoplasty video album, and also re-released on their 2003 EP Animals Should Not Try to Act Like People.[13] The video was directed by Mike Johnson.

KMC Kru version[edit]

Rap/Hip-hop group KMC Kru recorded a version of this song entitled "The Devil Came Up to Michigan". In this version, the devil challenges a DJ named "The Butcher" to a scratching contest. Up for grabs in this version is "turntable of gold". True to the original, the Devil is bested and leaves in disgrace with his minions.

Levellers version[edit]

The Levellers recorded a live version of this song and released it on a re-issue of their album Levelling the Land. The devil and the band of demons is represented by the band in hard rock mode, with Jonathan Sevink's violin featuring as a jarring shriek. Johnny (or perhaps Jonny) then plays in a traditional style as would be expected.

Music video[edit]

A live music video was released in September 1979. It was directed by Corlew & Grimes.

Chart performance[edit]

The original version of the song spent fourteen weeks on the Hot Country Singles charts in 1979, peaking at number 1 and holding the position for one week. It spent two weeks at a peak of number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.[14]

Since it became available as download in the digital era, it has sold 1.9 million digital copies in the US as of October 2013.[15]

In June 1998, Epic Records re-released the song to country radio, but accidentally sent out the version in which the line "son of a bitch" was uncensored. This error was quickly corrected, and the song re-entered the country charts at number 62 for the chart dated June 20, 1998.[3] It spent seven weeks on the chart and peaked at number 60.[14]

Chart (1979) Peak
position
Australia (Kent Music Report) 12
Canada Country Tracks (RPM) 1
Canada Top Singles (RPM) 5
Ireland (IRMA)[16] 14
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40) 25
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[17] 13
UK Singles (The Official Charts Company) 14
U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks 1
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 3
U.S. Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks 30
Chart (1998) Peak
position
U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks 60

Sequel [edit]

A sequel to the song, titled "The Devil Comes Back to Georgia", was recorded by Daniels and fiddle player Mark O'Connor in 1993, featuring guest performances by Travis Tritt (as the devil), Marty Stuart (as Johnny) and Johnny Cash as the narrator. In the sequel, the now-adult Johnny is married and has a child. Hoping to take advantage of Johnny's sinful pride, the Devil challenges him to a rematch. The Devil snatches the Golden Fiddle from Johnny, and demands that he practice with his old fiddle to play against him.

The ending does not state the victor outright, though the music video suggests Johnny won, as does the line "Johnny's still the best that's ever been". In addition, Daniels objected to the Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock version of "The Devil Went Down To Georgia" on the grounds that the devil often wins the contest, which he referred to as "violating the very essence of the song".[18] This further suggests that Daniels intended the devil to lose in the sequel as well.

The song can be found on Mark O'Connor's album, Heroes.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Million Mile Reflections."[dead link] Allmusic.
  2. ^ Whitburn, Joel: "The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits", p. 92, ISBN 0-8230-7518-4
  3. ^ a b Jessen, Wade (20 June 1998). "Country Corner". Billboard 110 (25): 34. 
  4. ^ "www.songfacts.com/int/2007/05/charlie-daniels.html". 
  5. ^ "www.traditionalmusic.co.uk/bluegrass-songbook/003470.HTM". 
  6. ^ "Fire on the Mountain / Henry; fiddle Reed [sound recording]". 
  7. ^ "National Barn Dance WLS". Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  8. ^ "http://www.ceder.net/choreo/patter_sayings.php4". Retrieved 26 November 2012. 
  9. ^ Milnes, Gerald (1990). Granny Will Your Dog Bite And Other Mountain Rhymes. August House Little Folk, Little Rock, AR. p. 12. 
  10. ^ "http://desertdulcimers.com/sheetmusic/2009January.pdf". 
  11. ^ "Granny, does your dog bite / Warde Ford [sound recording]". 
  12. ^ One More Megabyte lyrics on TheToyDolls.com (consulted on 04/03/2014)
  13. ^ Primus' discography on LesClaypool.com (consulted on 04/03/2014)
  14. ^ a b Whitburn, Joel (2008). Hot Country Songs 1944 to 2008. Record Research, Inc. p. 114. ISBN 0-89820-177-2. 
  15. ^ Matt Bjorke (October 30, 2013). "Country Chart News - The Top 30 Digital Singles - October 30, 2013: Eric Church "Outsiders" #1; Cassadee Pope, Blake Shelton Gold, Scotty McCreery and Chris Young Notables". Roughstock. Retrieved October 31, 2013. 
  16. ^ "Irish Singles Chart – Search for song". Irish Recorded Music Association. Retrieved July 6, 2011. 
  17. ^ "Charts.org.nz – {{{artist}}} – The Devil Went Down to Georgia". Top 40 Singles.
  18. ^ "2008 Soapbox Archives". 
Preceded by
"Coca-Cola Cowboy"
by Mel Tillis
Billboard Hot Country Singles
number-one single

August 25, 1979
Succeeded by
"Heartbreak Hotel"
by Willie Nelson and Leon Russell
Preceded by
"Suspicions"
by Eddie Rabbitt
RPM Country Tracks
number-one single

September 8-September 15, 1979
Succeeded by
"'Til I Can Make It on My Own"
by Kenny Rogers and Dottie West