On This Day: Charlie Daniels Scores Lone No. 1 Single With Signature Hit in 1979

by Jim Casey
(Photo By Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)

The late, great Charlie Daniels was larger than life—both on and off the stage. As the fiddle/guitar-playing frontman of the Charlie Daniels Band, Charlie helped redefine what it meant to be a country music band. Along with Alabama, Charlie’s rockin’ brand of country music ushered in a new era of band-driven music in the late 1970s—a 180-degree about-face from the pure vocal groups of the era. At the same time, Charlie helped connect the worlds of country music and Southern rock, along with artists like Hank Williams Jr.

And while Charlie scored a handful of Top 20 hits over his 50-plus-year career, he only topped the chart once. The tune? Yep, you probably guessed it: “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” which reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart on Aug. 25, 1979.

The Devil Gets His Due

When Charlie was recording his 1979 album, Million Mile Reflections, he needed a “fiddle song.” Within the space of an afternoon, Charlie and the CDB came up with a devilish fiddle song to end all fiddle songs.

“My band and I were doing the album, Million Mile Reflections, when I realized we had gone in without a good fiddle song,” said Charlie to Country Weekly in 2002. “We literally stopped recording, went into the rehearsal studio, and wrote the song that afternoon.”

Charlie titled the new song “The Devil Went Down To Georgia,” a fast-moving story of a musical showdown between a young, hotshot fiddler named Johnny and ol’ Satan himself.

“Our keyboard player, Taz DiGregorio, came up with the song’s bridge and Tommy Crain wrote the guitar parts,” added Charlie. “Once we got into the recording of it, we felt like we had something.”

That was an understatement. Charlie released “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” on June 30, 1979, as the lead single to Million Mile Reflections. Less than two months later on Aug. 25, Charlie had his first—and only—No. 1 single on the country chart. The tune also reached No. 3 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Buoyed by the “Devil,” Million Mile Reflections became Charlie’s best-selling studio album. It has been certified 3X Platinum by the RIAA for sales of 3 million units.