The Devil Went Down to Georgia

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"The Devil Went Down to Georgia"
The Devil Went Down To Georgia cover.jpg
Single by Charlie Daniels Band
from the album Million Mile Reflections
B-side"Rainbow Ride"
ReleasedMay 21, 1979
Genrecountry, country rock, southern rock, bluegrass
Length3:34
LabelEpic
Songwriter(s)
  • Charlie Daniels
  • Tom Crain
  • "Taz" DiGregorio
  • Fred Edwards
  • Charles Hayward
  • James W Marshall
Producer(s)John Boylan
Charlie Daniels Band 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 album Million Mile Reflections.[1]

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 young man 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.[2]

Content[edit]

The song is an uptempo bluegrass song about the Devil's failed attempt to gain a young man's soul through a fiddle-playing contest that involves enticing the young man's participation with a worldly prize. The song begins as a disappointed Devil arrives in Georgia, apparently "way behind" on stealing souls, 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 that he is "the best that's ever been."

The Devil plays his fiddle first, to a contemporary rock music theme with the backing of demon musicians. When the Devil's performance ends, Johnny compliments him and takes his own turn, making reference to four songs. Two are traditional songs of Appalachia – "Fire on the Mountain" (also the name of Daniels' 1974 album) 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 country music standard "Ida Red", as most famously recorded by Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, includes the lyric "Chicken in the bread pan pickin' out dough / Granny will your dog bite, no child no."[3]) 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 the 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, as originally recorded for the Million Mile Reflections album, goes "I done told you once, you son of a bitch, I'm the best that's ever been." To accommodate radio airplay (both Country and Top 40 formats), the 45 RPM single release overdubbed that portion of the lyric as "'Cause I told you once, you son of a gun, I'm the best that's ever been." (The uncensored album version appears on the soundtrack of the film Urban Cowboy,[4] and it is this version that has been used on numerous music compilations since then.) Thus, Johnny maintains his virtue, keeping his soul from the Devil by displaying his musical virtuosity in performing traditional songs of the Southern United States.

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."[5][6]

Parodies and covers[edit]

  • The Levellers released a version of the song in 1991.[7]
  • Although it is frequently misattributed to David Allan Coe or "Weird Al" Yankovic, musician Travis Meyer performed a parody entitled "The Devil Went Down to Jamaica", in which Johnny is recast as a Jamaican drug dealer who is challenged by the devil to a pot-smoking contest to see whose marijuana is best: his, or Johnny's.[8]
  • On a 1980 The Muppet Show episode (Episode 420), the Muppet versions of the Devil and Johnny are portrayed in an opening number cover of the song. [9]
  • The rap group K.M.C. Kru released a hip hop re-imagining of the song entitled "The Devil Came Up to Michigan" in 1991, featuring the devil and a deejay competing for a turntable of gold.[10]
  • Steve Ouimette (with Ed DeGenaro) performed a cover of the song for the 2007 video game Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock. This version uses electric guitars instead of fiddles, though the original lyrics are still performed. It is played as the conclusion of the game in a simulated guitar battle with the devil. Daniels objected to this version on the grounds that the devil may win the contest, which he referred to as "violating the very essence of the song".[11]
  • Pop singer and electric violinist Michelle Lambert recorded a version of the song in 2015, and released a music video. In her rendition "Johnny" is replaced by "Michelle".[12]
  • A cappella group Home Free recorded a version of the song in collaboration with Taylor Davis and Charlie Daniels playing fiddle, released in September 2015. The narration is performed by Home Free bass singer Tim Foust.[13]
  • The rock band Blues Traveler often performs this song in concert, with John Popper playing the fiddle parts on harmonica.[14].
  • Robot Chicken featured a composite parody of the song along with the animated series Spawn in episode 49 of season 3, where Malebolgia, an infernal lord, is challenged by Spawn to a fiddle duel set to a similar tune.[15]
  • In the Futurama episode "Hell is Other Robots", Leela must challenge the robot devil in a fiddle-playing contest to win back Bender's soul.
  • Funk metal band Primus covered the song and featured it on a CD-ROM that was included with the 1998 release of their EP Rhinoplasty.[16]
  • British Punk band The Toy Dolls recorded a version called 'The Devil Went Down to Scunthorpe', which used a guitar duel instead of a fiddle duel between Johnny and the Devil.
  • British comedy folk band The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican recorded a version called 'The Devil Went Down To Barnsley', in which the devil has a fiddle duel with Bjorn Doonicansson.
  • American nu metal band Korn recorded a cover of the song in 2020 which featured the band playing the devil and rapper Yelawolf as Johnny.[17]
  • Canadian hard rock band Nickelback recorded a cover in 2020 with Dave Martone. This version uses electric guitars instead of fiddles, tuned down a whole step, and contains the original lyrics with slight changes.
  • A metal version of the song was recorded by Leo Moracchioli for his YouTube channel, Frog Leap Studios. The video was publicly released[18] on July 17, 2020.

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.[19] The single was certified Platinum by the RIAA on December 20, 1989, for sales of over two million copies in the United States.[20] In 2003, the song was ranked at #69 on CMT's 100 Greatest Songs of Country Music, and #5 on CMT's 20 Greatest Southern Rock Songs in 2006. Since it became available as a download in the digital era, it has also sold 2.49 million digital copies in the US as of November 2019.[21] 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.[4] It spent seven weeks on the chart and peaked at number 60.[19]

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[33] Silver 200,000double-dagger
United States (RIAA)[34] Platinum 1,000,000^

^shipments figures based on certification alone
double-daggersales+streaming figures based on certification alone

Sequel [edit]

"The Devil Comes Back to Georgia"
Single by Mark O'Connor featuring Johnny Cash, Charlie Daniels, Marty Stuart and Travis Tritt
from the album Heroes
B-side"This Can't Be Love"
ReleasedSeptember 14, 1993
GenreBluegrass, country, country rock
Length4:13
LabelEpic
Songwriter(s)
  • Charlie Daniels
  • Tom Crain
  • "Taz" DiGregorio
  • Fred Edwards
  • Charles Hayward
  • James W Marshall
Producer(s)Mark O'Connor and Jim Ed Norman

In 1993, a sequel to the song, titled "The Devil Comes Back to Georgia", was recorded and released by Daniels and fiddle player Mark O'Connor, featuring guest performances by Travis Tritt (as the devil), Marty Stuart (as Johnny) and Johnny Cash as the narrator. The song can be found on Mark O'Connor's album, Heroes.

In the sequel, the devil, his anger still unabated ten years after his defeat at young Johnny's hands, decides to take up the boy's challenge to "c'mon back if you ever wanna try again". The devil is convinced that Johnny's sinful pride will be his undoing, so he takes back the golden fiddle he lost to Johnny, now married and with an infant son, and forces him to practice with his old fiddle before their rematch.

Though the lyrics of the song state that "Johnny's the best that's ever been", reiterating his bold claim in the original song, the sequel's lyrics do not reveal who won the rematch. However, the music video shows that Johnny again prevails.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Million Mile Reflections - Charlie Daniels,The Charlie Daniels Band | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved October 14, 2016.
  2. ^ Whitburn, Joel: "The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits", p. 92, ISBN 0-8230-7518-4
  3. ^ "Ida Red lyrics chords | Bob Wills". www.classic-country-song-lyrics.com. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  4. ^ a b Jessen, Wade (June 20, 1998). "Country Corner". Billboard. 110 (25): 34.
  5. ^ "Charlie Daniels : Songwriter Interviews". Songfacts.com. March 30, 2007. Retrieved October 14, 2016.
  6. ^ "Forty and Forward: The Devil Went Down to Georgia".
  7. ^ "The Levellers - One Way (CD)". Discogs.com. September 28, 2012. Retrieved October 14, 2016.
  8. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dgQzgNLmpA The Devil Went Down to Jamaica
  9. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FC9X8Xf3XRc Muppet Songs: The Devil Went Down to Georgia
  10. ^ "K.M.C. Kru - The Devil Came Up to Michigan (CD)". Discogs.com. September 28, 2012. Retrieved October 27, 2016.
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on October 3, 2012. Retrieved June 15, 2016.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ "The Devil Went Down to Georgia by Michelle Lambert (Official Video)". July 25, 2015.
  13. ^ "The Devil Went Down To Georgia". Youtube.com. September 19, 2015.
  14. ^ "Blues Traveler - Devil Went Down To Georgia". YouTube. February 24, 2007. Retrieved October 14, 2016.
  15. ^ "Spawn Went Down to Georgia". Youtube.com. December 20, 2011.
  16. ^ "Primus - The Devil Went Down To Georgia". Youtube.com. June 16, 2009.
  17. ^ "Korn Unveils Cover of The Charlie Daniels Band's 'The Devil Went Down to Georgia'". Billboard.com. June 28, 2020.
  18. ^ "Frog Leap Studios - The Devil Went Down To Georgia (metal cover by Leo Moracchioli)". YouTube. July 17, 2020. Retrieved October 23, 2020.
  19. ^ a b Whitburn, Joel (2008). Hot Country Songs 1944 to 2008. Record Research, Inc. p. 114. ISBN 978-0-89820-177-2.
  20. ^ "American single certifications – Charlie Daniel Band – The Devil Went Down to Georgia". Recording Industry Association of America. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH. 
  21. ^ Bjorke, Matt (November 6, 2019). "Top 30 Digital Country Downloads Chart". Roughstock. Retrieved November 7, 2019.
  22. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 82. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  23. ^ "Irish Singles Chart – Search for song". Irish Recorded Music Association. Archived from the original on June 2, 2009. Retrieved July 6, 2011.
  24. ^ "Charts.nz – {{{artist}}} – The Devil Went Down to Georgia". Top 40 Singles.
  25. ^ a b "Charlie Daniels Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard.
  26. ^ "Charlie Daniels Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  27. ^ "Charlie Daniels Chart History (Adult Contemporary)". Billboard.
  28. ^ "Cash Box Top 100 9/08/79". tropicalglen.com. Archived from the original on February 14, 2015. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
  29. ^ "Kent Music Report No 288 – 31 December 1979 > National Top 100 Singles for 1979". Kent Music Report, via Imgur.com. Retrieved December 9, 2019.
  30. ^ Canada, Library and Archives (July 17, 2013). "Image : RPM Weekly". bac-lac.gc.ca. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
  31. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1979/Top 100 Songs of 1979". www.musicoutfitters.com. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
  32. ^ "Cash Box YE Pop Singles - 1979". tropicalglen.com. Archived from the original on July 13, 2014. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
  33. ^ "British single certifications – Charlie Daniels Band – The Devil Went Down to Georgia". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved October 16, 2020.
  34. ^ "American single certifications – Charlie Daniels Band – The Devil Went Down to Georgia". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved October 16, 2020. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH. 

External links[edit]