On This Day in 1979: Charlie Daniels Band Releases Iconic Southern Ballad ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’

by Evan Reier

42 years ago today, the Charlie Daniels Band spun an epic of unimaginable proportions and took over the world of music by doing so.

“The Devil Went Down to Georgia” hit shelves and airwaves as its own single. With “Rainbow Ride” as the B-side, it marked an explosive release that the Charlie Daniels Band would never see the likes of since, despite all of their success.

It transcended country and bluegrass, and it permeated into the mainstream as the epic tale of Johnny and the Devil’s duel captivated the world. But, equally important, it also got them dancing and tapping their feet as a song that was more than just a story.

It hit No. 1 on the Hot Country Billboard charts, and peaked at No. 3 on the regular Hot 100. To honor the anniversary, the Charlie Daniels Band page made a post looking back on its legacy.

“ON THIS DAY in 1979,” the page wrote. “‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’ released as a single with the song “Rainbow Ride” as the B-side. TDWDTG would be the band’s signature song for decades to come. – TeamCDB”

That’s without question. Even in 2021, the song is one of the most recognizable songs around.

The Story Behind The Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”

Obviously, Outsider is obsessed with the song. Any country fan worth their salt can recite the lyrics, but not everyone knows the background to Charlie Daniels creating the track. As Outsider’s own Jacklyn Krol covered, it started as a way to get some fiddle on the band’s album, Million Mile Reflections.

“We had gone in and rehearsed, written, and recorded the music for our Million Mile Reflections album, and all of a sudden we said, ‘We don’t have a fiddle song,’” Daniels said.

So the band got to work. After getting a spark of inspiration from a poem he read in high school titled, “The Mountain Whippoorwill,” the story of Johnny and the Devil came to be.

“I don’t know why we didn’t discover that,” Daniels said. “But we went out and we took a couple of days’ break from the recording studio, went into a rehearsal studio and I just had this idea: ‘The Devil went down to Georgia.’ The idea may have come from an old poem that Stephen Vincent Benet wrote many, many years ago. He didn’t use that line, but I just started, and the band started playing, and first thing you know we had it down.”

Additionally, Daniels explained why Johnny is the deserved victor. While the Devil has skills, he doesn’t have a tune, and that was all the difference.

“The Devil’s just blowing smoke,” he added. “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.”

Sadly, Daniels passed on June 6, 2020 at the age of 83.