How did the devil lose, and why did he make the bet if he knew he wasn't very good?
To recap the song:
The devil is in Georgia trying to steal some souls when he comes across Johnny playing his fiddle. So the devil bets a fiddle of gold against Johnny's soul that the devil is a better fiddler. They both play some songs then the devil bows his head because he knows he's been beat, and he lays the fiddle of gold at Johnny's feet.
So where did the devil go wrong?
( you can listen to the whole song here or just the devil's solo at about the 1:25 mark)
The devil's solo is introduced with “and it sounded something like this” and we immediately hear a guitar and/or funky piano. Apparently, the devil brought a backing band. Is that allowed? Okay, he's the devil so we should expect a little gamesmanship at best. A few seconds later, we can hear the fiddle coming in with a slight smoldering touch, but the fiddle never really takes over the song. I'm willing to bet the devil had never even played the fiddle before.
Simon Cowell probably would have said, “Satan, that was not your best effort. You needed an inferno and you brought a bic lighter. I mean, you're playing for someone's soul! You just let the background music take over and stood there like a demonic Stu Sutcliffe bringing nothing to the stage. I really doubt you'll be back next week.”
Was he forced to play the gold fiddle? I would think that would be pretty heavy and would throw anyone off his game. Plus I imagine it would sound metallic at best.
The devil had the upper hand too. He had already heard Johnny playing before he made the bet. He had to know he didn't have the chops to take Johnny down. He should have insisted on having judges for the contest:
“To be fair,” the devil could have said, “we'll need an impartial group of judges. Luckily these fine gentlemen followed me here: Hitler, Stalin and William Tecumseh Sherman.”
There's no way Sherman lets someone from Georgia win.
He could have at least demanded two out of three.
But the whole reason I got to thinking about the song again was because I recently listened to the version by Those Darn Accordions from my massive music library.
Their version has the same basic plot except the fiddle is an accordion and Johnny is a girl named Big Lou. (Granted they should have changed the setting to Milwaukee or Waukesha but that's beside the point.) Most importantly, in this version, the devil pulls out his accordion and puts down the squeeze. You can hear the fire coming from the bellows. Big Lou still wins but at least the devil puts up a fight.
So I believe the accordion version is far superior to the Charlie Daniels version because in that version the devil brings a backing band to a fiddle fight while in the accordion version it's a fiery, one man accordion solo.
But most of all, we can all be happy that Steve Miller didn't write it as it would have gone something like this:
“Devil went down to oooh, old El Paso
Bet a gold fiddle against Johnny's soul
Father Mahoney ain't gonna let Satan escape justice
Headed down south and Johnny's still fiddlin' today”
(And they would probably do a drum solo for the devil's fiddle part)
Notes: There's actually a youtube clip of Those Darn Accordions playing the song live. Surprisingly, it defeats my argument as it sticks closely to the Charlie Daniels version. However, if you look up the studio version on itunes, you can actually sample the pertinent parts of the song I'm talking about. And if you do check out the youtube clip and you're a fan of The Who, you owe it yourself to check out “Baba O'Riley”.