The Devil Went Down To Georgia

Now I have to give Charlie Daniels his due here. This is a very catchy song. But there are a couple of things that have always bugged me about it.

First off, there’s the wager that the Devil offers: Johnny’s immortal soul against a golden fiddle. Now if Johnny starts playing in Vegas regularly, I suppose that a golden fiddle might come in handy. But if he isn’t, and he doesn’t plan on pawning the thing, what good is it exactly? Sure, it’s gold and all. But in order for him to get it, he has to beat the Devil which would require that his current fiddle be good enough to help him best the Prince of Darkness. Johnny concedes that it might be a sin for him to take the Devil’s wager (which it probably is). What he doesn’t seem to consider is that betting your soul against a chintzy fiddle is a pretty stupid wager.

The second issue I have with the song is the duel itself. Quite simply, the Devil kicks Johnny’s fiddle-playing rump. His riff is just way cooler than Johnny’s, and he has some pretty wicked electric guitar backing him up. What does Johnny have? “Chicken in the bread pan, picking out dough.”


  1. Hey … found your blog through Heather Smith’s and had to post; my brother and I had just had this very conversation.

    For Johnny, first, it’s probably a matter of pride. He seems the overconfident sort for which showing up the devil with his superior fiddling skills would be its own reward; the golden fiddle just become a bonus.

    That said, he’s probably not in the sort of socio-economic status where he could easily acquire a golden fiddle on his own; this one then becomes a great conversation piece. Leave it in the living room, and people are invariably gonna ask, “Hey, where’d you get that?” Providing the opportunity for Johnny, who, as a I said, probably has a bit of an ego, to say, “Well, funny you should ask that…”

    Which ties into the second issue. Johnny’s declared the winner because both Johnny and the Devil agree he won. Johnny, being, again, an egomaniac, is, of course, going to say he won. For the Devil, the only way it makes sense is that it’s a loss leader. He’s in a bind ’cause he’s way behind, and needs some souls to steal. Well, sure, he could get ’em one by one, the hard way. But, for Satan, giving up a golden fiddle is nothing. A trinket.

    But, now, here’s this yokel Johnny that thinks he actually beat the devil, and has a worthless golden fiddle to show for it. So what’s he gonna do? Well, of course, he’s gonna go to all his yokel friends and brag about it. And they’re all gonna say, well, crap, if Johnny can do it, so can I. And now, without having to go looking any further, Satan’s got rednecks lining up for yards to bet their souls against worthless crap. All in a good day’s work.

  2. Mr. Grouchypants

    April 30, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    They might line up to take on the Devil, but I would imagine that most rednecks would realize that stealing one from Johnny would be a lot easier. Of course, that could ultimately work out pretty well for the Devil as well.

  3. But, again, the point isn’t the golden fiddle, per se; it’s bragging rights. “If Johnny can show up Ol’ Scratch, you better believe I can.”

    As you note, the fiddle has no inherent worth. It’s only value is as a way of showing off. “I stole this from Johnny” just doesn’t have the cachet of “I got this by out-fiddling the Devil.”

  4. Mr. Grouchypants

    May 1, 2008 at 9:13 am

    But the song sets Johnny up as a hot fiddle player. How many of his acquaintances are even going to be able to play a musical instrument? Not many people are going to have the chops necessary to convince themselves that they can beat an angel in competition.

    Now some sort of hunting or fishing competition would be a whole other ballgame. Satan would be raking them in like mad.

  5. Well, sure. I assumed he’d take everybody on in according to their talents.

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