On this day in 1979, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” single was certified gold. The single eventually went platinum, and on the day of Charlie’s passing, July 6th, 2020, was the #1 downloaded song on iTunes for all genres of music.
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 willin’ to make a deal
When he came across this young man
Sawin’ on a fiddle and playin’ it hot
And the devil jumped up on 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
Then 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 in a bread pan pickin’ 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.
“He played “Fire on the Mountain” run boys, run
The devil’s in the House of the Rising Sun
The chicken in a bread pan pickin’ out dough
Granny, will your dog bite? No child, no
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.” 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.
.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.
It’s been ten long years since the devil laid his fiddle at Johnny’s feet
And it burned inside his mind the way he suffered that defeat
In the darkest pits of hell the devil hatched an evil plan
To tempt the fiddle player for he’s just a mortal man
“The sin of pride, ” the devil cried is what will do you in
“I thought we had this settled, I’m the best there’s ever been.
“Johnny did you ever know that time keeps marching on
The coldest hour is the one comes just before the dawn
The devil’s back in Georgia will you stand up to the test
Or will you let the devil be the best?
“In truth I haven’t played much since the baby came in June
But give me half a minute an’ I’ll get this fiddle back in tune
“The devil grabbed the golden fiddle out of Johnny’s hand and said
“Though I’m the fiddle player underground and I walk upon the land”
“Y’all just better be just turnin’ back if you want this boy to win
‘Cos practice is the only cure for the predicament he’s in”
“Now devil it would be a sin for you to get my bow
You go on back to hell and to the wood shed I will go”
Johnny are you practising or will your hands grow cold?
The devil walks the land and plays a fiddle made of gold
Can you hear the babe a crying, will he ever know
The devil wants his daddy’s very soul?
“Before we play I want to thank you for letting God’s own Word ring true
He said you can’t be trusted” “Yes but what you gonna do?”
“Well you get your fiddle devil if you think that you can win
‘Cos I beat you once you old dog and I can whip your butt again”
John Brown’s green, the devil is red
Mama’s little baby loves shortnin’ bread
The devil’s dream is that he can win
But Johnny is the best that’s ever been