Here’s the Fascinating Backstory Behind Charlie Daniels’ Biggest Hit, ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’

ByQuyen Anne

Aug 23, 2023

Charlie Daniels scored his biggest, most career-defining hit with “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” but the song originally began simply because he and his band were lacking a fiddle-oriented song for one of their albums.

“We had rehearsed, written, and recorded the music for our Million Mile Reflections album, and all of the sudden we said, ‘We don’t have a fiddle song,'” Daniels recalled to in 2007. “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, I just had this idea: The devil went down to Georgia.”

The uptempo song gives a country twist on an old theme of Satan standing at the crossroads to tune a musician’s guitar and give them a musical gift in return for their soul. In Daniels’ telling, Satan challenges a brash young fiddle player named Johnny to a fiddling contest, promising him, “I’ll bet a fiddle of gold against your soul, ’cause I think I’m better than you.”

“I don’t know where it came from, but it just did,” Daniels reflected. “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 Benet wrote many, many years ago, that I had in high school. He didn’t use that line, but I started playing, and the band started playing, and first thing you know we had it down.”

“The Devil Went Down to Georgia” centers around Daniels’ unique spoken-word delivery, as well as two very different musical interludes in which Daniels performs extended fiddle passages in very different styles to represent Satan and Johnny’s playing. He chose an atonal approach for the Devil’s music, while employing a much more melodic slant to Johnny’s ultimately winning style.

“The Devil’s just blowing smoke,” Daniels explained. “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.”

Country rocker and fiddler Charlie Daniels dies at age 83 | AP News

Johnny taunts the Devil one final time after defeating him in the song, saying, “Devil, just come on back if you ever wanna try again / I done told you once, you son of a b—h, I’m the best there’s ever been!” When the song was released to radio as the lead single from Million Mile Reflections in 1979, the radio edit replaced that with “son of a gun,” and the resulting single went on to score the Charlie Daniels Band a No. 1 hit on Billboard‘s Hot Country Songs chart on Aug. 25, 1979, while also crossing over to land at No. 3 on Billboard‘s all-genre Hot 100.

The song would go on to win the CDB a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group at the 22nd Annual Grammy Awards in 1979, and it’s since become their most-recognized song.

A 1993 sequel to the song called “The Devil Comes Back to Georgia” was included on Mark O’Connor’s Heroes album, featuring Travis Tritt as the Devil, Marty Stuart as Johnny and Johnny Cash as the narrator. Per a note from Daniels’ team on Twitter, Daniels and his band are listed as co-writers only because the song is a derivative of the original. The musical track mostly derives from the original song, with new lyrics describing a rematch between Johnny and Satan ten years after their original fiddle duel.

“Devil Comes Back to Georgia” feat. Mark O’Connor with Daniels, Cash, Tritt and Marty Stuart

These Are the Best Charlie Daniels Band Songs:

No. 10: “The Legend of Wooley Swamp”

This made up story of a miser who counts his money by the swamp illustrates the outer-reaches of Daniels and company’s lyrical creativity. “The Legend of Wooley Swamp” (1980) remains a fan-favorite, even if the dark and twisted story never graced radio speakers.
No. 9: “Wichita Jail”

No. 9: “Wichita Jail”


“Wichita Jail” is a down-the-middle outlaw country jam with great guitar picking and lonesome, cell-bound lyrics. This 1976 hit was the CDB’s biggest before “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

No. 8: “(What the World Needs Is) A Few More Rednecks”

So many of the best Charlie Daniels Band songs are seemingly made for his rowdy show. That’s a category “Rednecks” (1990) falls squarely into. Find an older Daniels preaching, with the stage as his pulpit. Respect, hard work and manners are what this world needs more of, he says. The singer wasn’t wrong.

No. 7: “Still in Saigon”

“Still in Saigon” (1982) is an important song in Charlie Daniels’ library because it rounds out his views on America and the American military. In later years, his tweets would peg him as a patriotic at all costs, but “Still in Saigon” shows he understood the costs well. It’s not an anti-war song per se, just one that recognizes all the victims aren’t left lying on the battle field.

No. 6: “Simple Man”

In some ways, “Simple Man” (1989) was the pre-amble to “A Few More Rednecks.” A frustrated Charlie Daniels wishes cheaters in life got proper justice, which they rarely do. What’s striking across his library is how easy it is to draw a line to artists that came before him. Songs like “Uneasy Rider” (unlisted) feel like Johnny Cash, while brooding, swamp-rockers like “Simple Man” feel like something David Allan Coe would have recorded.

No. 5: “Drinkin’ My Baby Goodbye”

Daniels and his band are just a little more polished in this mid-80’s, fiddle-heavy jam. “Drinkin’ My Baby Goodbye” (1986) is a real cajun heartbreaker that led a bit of a renaissance of the sub-genre in country music.

No. 4: “The South’s Gonna Do It Again”

“The South’s Gonna Do It Again” (1975) celebrates the South, the Confederacy and all the hot-touch stones that come with them in 2020. Of course, these are all falling across capitol buildings and public squares nationwide. It’s as if Daniels died at the most appropriate time.

No. 3: “In America”

The early 1980s were a pretty tumultuous time in America, too, and this hit from 1980 caught national attention with its message of pride and patriotism.

No. 2: “Long Haired Country Boy”

“If you don’t like the way I’m livin’ / You just leave this long-haired country boy alone,” Daniels sings at the chorus of “Long Haired Country Boy.” Do we really need to explain why this 1980 hit is No. 2 on this list?

No. 1: “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”

Kind of a “duh,” right? This is without question an all-time great country song, one that gave birth to all of the other Charlie Daniels songs on this list. “Long Haired Country Boy” was only a hit because it was re-released after “Devil,” which topped the charts in 1979 and crossed-over to mainstream charts in a big way.

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