What a moment. Nashville fans had no idea they were about to hear the Charlie Daniels Band play “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” for the first time ever in front of a public crowd.
It was 1979. And Daniels, who died this summer, was hosting the fifth annual “Volunteer Jam” at the Nashville Auditorium.
Daniels, dressed in jeans, a vest and a plaid shirt, very casually introduced the song.
“Here is a song we just finished writing and recording,” Daniels said. “And we are going to do it for the very first time in public tonight…This is called ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’.”
He gave his fiddle a couple of tweaks and tucked in under his chin. Then he talked, sang and played a tale about the devil and a fiddle player named Johnny.
Daniels‘ fiddled Satan’s part, with a “band of Demons joining right in.” Then he played Johnny’s, part, too. Johnny saved his soul and won the golden fiddle.
Country music greatness, literally, was unfolding in front of an unsuspecting crowd.
Here’s How Charlie Daniels Got the Song
The song was Daniels’ band’s biggest ever. It hit No. 3 overall on the “Billboard Top 100.” The only songs that topped it in 1979 were “After the Love Was Gone” by Earth, Wind and Fire and the Knack’s “My Sharona.”
Vassar Clements, a bluegrass fiddle player, originally wrote the melody an octave lower. The song was first called “Lonesome Fiddle Blues.” When Clements’ released the song in 1975, Daniels played guitar in the band.
The Daniels band tweaked the song and recorded it four years later.
The crowd that night in 1979 loudly applauded when they heard a certain phrase. Daniels changed it to “son of a gun” for radio play.
However, you can hear uncensored phrase on the “Urban Cowboy” soundtrack.