Thirty-Five and Counting Since 'The Devil Went Down to Georgia'
For the past three and a half decades, the signature song of The Charlie Daniels Band has been "The Devil Went Down To Georgia." It is our most requested song, we play it at every show and I've been asked just about every question you can imagine about how and why we wrote it, where the idea came from and so forth.
While it would seem that, if there was a song in the CDB repertoire with an interesting story behind its creation, it would be this one - some classic tale of dark intrigue or revelations of some vicarious experiences remembered or embellished old wives tales of times long gone.
Actually, none of this happens to be the case. In fact, the story of "The Devil Went Down To Georgia" is ordinary and mundane to the point of being boring, except the result is extremely exciting, at least to the fiddle player of record.
The truth of the matter is that, in 1979, we had written and arranged an album's worth of songs for what would become Million Mile Reflections and were excited about recording them. We would be working with a new producer, John Boylan, who had a proven track record and some new ideas, we would be bringing in a state-of-the-art recording engineer from Los Angeles and we were set to make a great record.
We moved our gear into Woodland Sound Studios in Nashville and began the recording process. We had only been there a few days when we came to the glaring realization that, "we ain't got no fiddle tune."
We made the decision, necessity being the mother and all that, to just take a break and write one, so we packed up our equipment and moved from the recording studio to a rehearsal studio and set about coming up with a fiddle tune for our new album.
As much as I've thought about it, the nearest reason I can come up with to being an inspiration for the song is a poem I had read in high school called "The Mountain Whippoorwill," a piece written by Stephen Vincent Benet about a young mountain born fiddle player entering a fiddle contest against some legendary fiddle players and coming out on top by playing about the whippoorwills, the waterfalls and the natural sounds of the mountains where he was born.
I remember being really impressed with the piece and remembered bits and pieces of it over the years, but I'm not consciously aware of any of it making it directly into the song.
I don't know where it came from, but the phrase "The Devil Went Down To Georgia" was in my mind and I sat down with the band and we started bouncing around musical ideas, drumbeats, bass licks, guitar riffs, fiddle runs and I started coming up with a line of lyric here and there.
Taz, our keyboard player, came up with the classic music that plays under the devil's fiddle part, Tommy Crain added the minor key chords that run on top of it, Charlie Hayward walked a heavy bass line doubling what Taz was playing on the piano and drummers Freddie Edwards and Jim Marshall laid down a steady beat, and we were off and running.
It didn't take long before the lyrics started flowing. The arrangement fairly fell in place after we got the beat and the feel established and a couple of days later we walked back in to Woodland Sound Studios to cut a record that would kick our career up a bunch of notches.
The devil's fiddle presented a bit of a challenge: it needed to be big and mean without actually making a lot of sense. That was in the day before all the electronic bells and whistles made that sort of thing so easy to do, and we accomplished it by my actually playing seven different fiddle parts and mixing them together to get the burst of out-of-control energy that kicks off the devil's fiddle.
The devil's part is just noise, but when young Johnny steps up, he's playing something you can pat your foot and hum along to, so, naturally, he won the contest.
I have no idea how many times we have performed the song, but it presents a challenge every time we play it and our stage arrangement has evolved quite a lot over the years.
On May 21, 2014 it will have been 35 years since "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" was released as a single.
I've worn out a lot of fiddle bows on that ole 35-year-old tune.
Hope you folks have had as much fun as we have.
What do you think?
Pray for our troops and the peace of Jerusalem.
God Bless America