Who played the better violin: Johnny or the Devil?


The answer to the question is in the song! The Devil himself admits Johnny plays a better fiddle than him. He lays the prize, a golden fiddle at his feet. Johnny invited the Devil to come back and try again if he thinks he can do better and as far as we know he has never done so. This has to mean, surely, that the Devil knows who is better at the violin. In fact, Johnny is not only a better fiddle player than the Devil, he’s the best that’s ever been!

The Devil

Chickens in bread piles? Granny’s dog? What on Earth is Johnny singing about? At least the Devil took the competition seriously. It’s all about the fiddle-playing, not how many old American folk songs you know. Charlie Daniels wrote the Devil’s music deliberately atonally and everyone knows it’s actually more difficult to play atonally so actually the Devil’s technical ability is superior. Finally, Johnny is only the better player in the Devil’s opinion. He’s the Devil, can we trust his opinion? No we can’t! So the opposite must be true.

The Devil Went Down to Georgia is the biggest hit for The Charlie Daniels Band. The song only exists due to an oversight. Whilst putting together the finishing touches to their album Million Mile Reflections, they realized that they did not have a fiddle song. Two days in the studio and the iconic song was born. The story of Johnny accepting the Devil’s challenge and putting up his soul against the fiddle of gold captured the public’s imagination and, in 1979, the Charlie Daniels Band scored a number one hit on Billboard’s Hot Country Song Chart and number three on the All-Genre 100. Part of the charm of the song is the sense that Johnny seems to have little interest in his prize, the solid gold violin, but is motivated by the sheer delight of being the best that’s ever been. But was he?

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