77: The Devil Went Down to Georgia

77: The Devil Went Down to Georgia

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Country Music

The Devil Went Down to Georgia

Story by Charlie Daniels

Song written by Charlie Daniels, Tom Crain, Taz DiGregorio, Fred Laroy Edwards, Charles Hayward, and James Marshall

Recorded by The Charlie Daniels Band

We were in the recording studio doing an album. We had written and rehearsed and arranged all the songs. Then we came to the glaring realization that we did not have a good fiddle tune, and we needed one. So the band and I took a couple of days off and went into a rehearsal studio and wrote this song. My style of writing at the time was, if I had an idea, I wanted to hear the music for it right now. It helped motivate me.

The idea of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” came into my head and I just kind of started it and we added a beat and Taz DiGregorio came up with that riff at the beginning of the devil’s part and that’s how it went, everybody adding their ideas.

I had read a poem by Stephen Vincent Benét called “The Mountain Whippoorwill” when I was a kid. I think I read it in literature class when I was in the ninth grade or somewhere along there. It’s a poem about a fiddle contest. Being a young fiddle player, it kind of stuck with me. That possibly could have had something to do with me developing the lyric to the song. It’s hard to say, really, what motivates the idea for a song. You just kind of pull it out of the air.

The music really plays off the lyrics in this song; it’s not just repeating the melody. It’s a stylized thing. We were recording at Woodland Studios in Nashville. I started writing the lyrics and we put the music together. I’m sure we tightened up a little and tweaked the lyrics, but we had a pretty good idea where we were going from the beginning as far as the story. Everybody contributed musical ideas to it.

As for some of the refrains, like “Chicken in the bread pan, pickin’ out dough. Granny does your dog bite? No child, no” — that’s just an old square dance refrain. “Fire on the mountain, run boys run” — that’s just a timing thing the callers used to say at square dances when they didn’t really have anything else to say.

Mark O’Connor ended up recording “The Devil Comes Back to Georgia” as a sequel. I played on that, and Johnny Cash and Marty Stuart and Travis Tritt did some of the singing, but that was really Mark’s song. “Big Bad John” and a few other songs like that had sequels to them. Those are the kind of ballads that you could just change the story a little bit and do a new version.

I used seven fiddles on the devil’s part on the original recording. Nowadays, you could probably do it electronically, but then we used seven different fiddles to play the devil’s part. He wasn’t actually playing anything. He was just making a lot of noise. The line says, ‘Then a band of demons joined in and sounded something like this,” so we just thought what would a band of demons sound like? Probably just a lot of noise.

The Devil Went Down to Georgia

The devil went down to Georgia, he was looking for a soul to steal.

He was in a bind ’cause he was way behind, 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 up on a hickory stump and said, “Boy let me tell you what.

I bet 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 that’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 his 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 risin’ sun.

Chicken in the 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.

He laid that golden fiddle on the ground at Johnny’s feet.

Johnny said, “Devil just come on back if you ever want to try again.

“I told you once, you son of a gun, I’m the best that’s ever been.”

And he played fire on the mountain, run boys, run.

The devil’s in the house of the risin’ sun.

Chicken in the bread pan, pickin’ out dough.

“Granny, will your dog bite?”

“No, child, no.”

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