He Played Fiddle

I was a kid when I saw Charlie Daniels play. At least I think it was him. I could be mistaken. I remember sitting in the cheap seats of the dim Nashville auditorium to see the Grand Ole Opry.

My father was whistling, two-fingered. That’s the funny thing about the Opry. Even though it was a place for seeing a show, it wasn’t a place where people were quiet.

No sir. An Opry man didn’t merely applaud the Statler Brothers, Grandpa Jones, or the immortal Sarah Cannon. This was a place where a man put both fingers into his own mouth and whistled like he was calling horses.

That night my father was eating something. Peanuts I think. But he still managed to whistle between every song, and after every joke. Fingers in the mouth.

The irony is that he was a bad whistler. Some whistlers could shatter glass, but my father sounded like an asthmatic jug player.

That night, I was so enamored with the guy playing a fiddle onstage that I tried a two-finger whistle, just to show my support. I managed to spray spit all over the lady in front of me.

She gave me a dirty look and I apologized, but she was not buying it.

The guy with the violin was large. Big brown beard. Sunglasses. He looked like a Pentecostal deacon wearing a silverbelly cattleman’s hat, and a belt buckle bigger than a hub from a Studebaker.

Looking back, I hope it was Charlie Daniels because Charlie played a tune that became an American fixture in those days. It was a song that everyone’s daddy listened to while changing the oil or fixing the bathroom sink.

I am of course talking about a song that involves the Devil going down to Georgia, looking for a soul to steal.

It was a country song that my Bible-slapping mother hated so much that she would have gladly held all-night prayer vigils to have it banned from North America.

And here we were! Seeing him live!

You should have heard the crowd cheer. They howled harder than they would have yelled for the Oakridge Boys.

And that was saying something. I have seen the Oakridge Boys several times throughout the years. And it never fails. Each time they do “Elvira,” the audience has a major spiritual experience. People scream, tremble, eyes roll back into heads, there are seizures. And you always find yourself singing along:

“Giddy up! Ah-ooom poppa ooom poppa mow mow…!”

This Opry crowd was even louder than that.

My father had both pinkies between his lips, whistling to beat the band. Literally. So I tried to whistle once more. I was transformed into a human lawn sprinkler.

The lady in front of me looked like she was going to slap me. My father made me apologize, which I did, wholeheartedly.

I even offered to let her use my bandana.

I have another memory connected with that devilish song:

In this one I am a young man. Sixteen. Several of us snuck into a beer joint across the county. That night, I was the blind date for one Sheila Branson, who apparently thought I was as appealing as ditch water.

The place was the kind of phony cowboy joint where customers wore ten-gallon hats and tight jeans even though they were young professionals who took tennis lessons. Think: Disney World for anyone who liked Alan Jackson.

My friend, Sammy, brought this girl who—according to Sheila—acted like she was better than the rest of us. The girl’s boots probably cost $3,900, and her hairdo cost even more. At least that’s what Sheila told me. None of the other date-girls liked Sammy’s new friend.

When the band started playing “Devil Went Down to Georgia,” everyone in the place flipped out. Sammy’s boot-wearing date took to the dance floor and started clogging. All by herself. She was really showboating, too, kicking her heels. She was actually pretty good.

The whole place cheered. Meanwhile, my date watched from afar with the other girl-dates. They were all taking turns saying things like: “Big deal, so she can dance.”

“Her top doesn’t match those fancy boots Daddy Warbucks bought her.”

“My aunt Myrtle can clog.”

But the story gets better because something happened on the dance floor. The girl was in the middle of her clogging routine when her boot slipped.

Sammy’s date fell to the ground. She started crying. The music stopped. Fifty men practically fistfought among themselves to come to her aid. And it turned out that she had nearly broken her ankle and we all had to go home.

Sheila said she had a lovely evening.

Anyway, I know I’m not a child anymore. And I know a lot has changed in my life over the years. I haven’t been to the Opry in a millennium, I have a two-car garage, and one back surgery.

But every time I hear that song, I go back to a different period. I think of earlier days, sitting in cheap auditorium seats next to a man who looked just like me, only older. A time in life when things were simpler, when country music was about twin fiddle intros, not about headset microphones. When I was someone’s son.

I still think about the voices of all those people shouting, crammed into that theater, cheering for a guy with a fiddle. I remember it all so clearly that I wish I could whistle to show my appreciation for the music.

But I never did learn how.

So I’m afraid this will have to do, Charlie.


  1. Heather Miller - July 7, 2020 7:06 am

    I love The Devil Wet Down to Georgia. I loved watching Charlie Daniels play that song. Every time he played, I was sure all the bow hairs were going to be cut in two.
    Charlie was also a kind man, a good Christian, and a Patriot. He loved our country. RIP, Charlie.

  2. Joy Taylor-Lane - July 7, 2020 7:12 am

    I’ve been avoiding this all day. I just didn’t want to read about another sad thing.I appreciate the story, you did Mr. Daniels justice.

  3. Debbie - July 7, 2020 7:44 am

    Thank you.

  4. Jean - July 7, 2020 11:18 am

    Charlie Daniels was a fine conservative man and a wonderful fiddle player….A light has gone out in our world. Rest in peace Charlie

  5. Jan - July 7, 2020 11:45 am

    So glad to see that he was honored in such a great way in his hometown. He was indeed a fine man of great faith and a great patriot. He saw the best in others and brought the best out in those around him. He will be missed by many.

  6. Robert M Brenner - July 7, 2020 12:08 pm

    Charlie Daniels a true legend! RIP ❤️

  7. Helen - July 7, 2020 12:17 pm

    Bravo Sean! ❤️🎻

  8. Bobbie - July 7, 2020 1:05 pm

    Well said…humor mixed with true appreciation. My smiles are trying to outdo my tears. But oh, those smiles were needed this morning!! Thank you, thank you👏👏👏. Charlie Daniels was most popular when my children were teenagers…they loved him, and because of that, I heard quite a bit of his music altho it wasn’t my favorite at the time. I must say tho the devil went to GA was amazing when he performed! He lived a long life, was so talented, got to do so many things most of us only dream about.
    I’m not going to say RIP because I know he’s not! He’s just joined a new band in Heaven, I Hope with a new repertoire 🤔👏👏👏❣️
    Bless you for your words today…always appreciated😍🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸

  9. Ala Red Clay Girl - July 7, 2020 1:06 pm

    I bet Charlie really does have a fiddle made of gold now.

  10. Karen Good - July 7, 2020 1:12 pm

    I sure hope so ❣️ Thanks for the memories, Charlie Daniels 🎶🎶🎶

  11. Judy Cobern - July 7, 2020 1:13 pm

    Thank you Sean! Charlie Daniels was one of a kind. He left a wonderful legacy

  12. Nan Williams - July 7, 2020 1:33 pm

    Beautiful tribute.

  13. Connie Ryland - July 7, 2020 1:37 pm

    I was lucky enough to see him recently and I am so glad. He was marvelous and unless you knew his age you would have never guessed it from the way he still played. He was like a man half his age. A huge loss for the music lovers among us but his music lives on

  14. Susan I Gleadow - July 7, 2020 2:15 pm

    Oh my gosh Sean, this is so beautiful, all of it! Thank you for taking me back to those days of country bars when everyone thought they were country.

  15. Phil S. - July 7, 2020 2:26 pm

    Yep, we will all miss ol’ Charlie. So many of those Opry stars from long ago are gone now. Charlie is now playing a golden fiddle for the angels. Man, could he play one! Another Opry star, Jerry Clower might say it this way regarding Charlie and his fiddle: “He could some more whup upon it!”
    Some say Charlie’s biggest hit, The Devil went down to Georgia, was inspired by one of my favorite poems, The Mountain Whippoorwill, written by Stephen Vincent Benet way back in 1925. Although the devil is not in it, it is still about a southern country boy and his fiddle-playing prowess as he enters a competition against old champion fiddlers. You are probably familiar with it.
    Glad you got to see Charlie and the Opry in person with your dad. Keep practicing on that whistle, just tell anyone in front of you to move out of the flood zone.

  16. Mike - July 7, 2020 2:52 pm

    Thanks for your story about Charlie Daniels. I loved to hear him play the fiddle but one of my favorites that Charlie did was his song at the funeral of George Jones. He played Come Home and you could tell it was from the heart and personal experience. I will miss Charlie Daniels and his great music.

  17. Linda Moon - July 7, 2020 5:17 pm

    Back in 1952 four brothers I eventually came to know rode on the back of a pick-up truck for a 350-mile round trip to the Grand Ole Opry. I think your father would’ve fit in with those yahoos, one of whom raised his son in a barn….renovated and cleaned-up, but nevertheless, a BARN. Someone I know and love helped immortalize Sarah Cannon in establishing the Sarah Cannon Research Institute for cancer therapies. So, thank you for taking me back to these memories through your story today. Many years later, I grew up and met one of those brothers and married him. We’ve been to the Ryman Auditorium many times, but never on the back of a pick-up truck! You’re still someone’s son, Sean……with his horse-whistling, jug-playing, and other devilish stuff, too. Thank you, John Dietrich, for taking your boy to the Opry!

  18. Sue Rhodus - July 7, 2020 7:39 pm

    A mountain of red, white and blue American patriotism with a heart of gold and a faith that could bring tears to your eyes. Play that golden fiddle, Charlie ! We miss you down here !

  19. Susan I Gleadow - July 7, 2020 7:46 pm

    Love this!

  20. aleathia nicholson - July 7, 2020 8:11 pm

    I’m originally from Salisbury NC that’s 40 miles east of Charlotte, the Queen City so they say. Way back when we first got a TV we listened to Arthur Smith and the Crackerjacks on Channel 3 in Charlotte and WAAA in Winston-Salem for R&B. I moved to Nashville TN in 1968 and I’m still here but I’m looking at QUEEN in the computer now and sorry I never saw Freddie Mercury in person. Far cry from the late great Charlie Daniels I reckon.

  21. catladymac - July 7, 2020 9:02 pm

    “I done told you once, you son of a b*t*h I’m the best that’s ever been !” Yes he was.

  22. Marion Weger - July 8, 2020 12:32 am

    Charlie Daniels aside, and we’re all sorry that he passed, I want to tell you how much I appreciate your blog. I read it every day. You make me laugh and cry. That’s important. As a retired English teacher (read grammar Nazi), I wish sometimes that you would send me your essays for proofreading, but you know what? It really doesn’t matter about your grammar. You’re a good writer, despite a few minor mistakes, and you achieve what I always emphasized to my students- clarity. Best wishes to you and your wife.

  23. Bill T - July 8, 2020 4:16 am

    Charlie played at the Mullet Festival in Niceville, FL in 2003 and 2005. I missed both of them And I might add for those not familiar with Sarah Cannon and her “Howdy!, I’m just so proud to be here!” It’s Cousin Minnie Pearl! I was in the hospital in Fort Gordon GA about 1960 and She came into the ward and chatted with us. Loved her for that.

  24. Christina - July 8, 2020 5:16 am

    Some memories always bring smiles… and whistles 😂

  25. Nikki Wright - July 8, 2020 11:03 am

    Beautiful. I, too, watched him from the cheap seats. I can hear the screaming fiddle now.

  26. Steve Williams - July 8, 2020 3:13 pm

    Saw him on Independence Day three years ago. Almost a religious experience. He will be greatly missed and not just for the music.

  27. Don Daniel - July 13, 2020 4:05 pm

    Loved this piece. Wish you would work up one on Harold Reid of the Statler Brothers. We lost the worlds greatest Bass Singer when he passed away a couple of weeks ago!!

  28. Susan I Gleadow - July 13, 2020 7:26 pm

    He is surely is missed here in his home town of Staunton and it was acute as this was the first 4th of July he was gone and we were unable to celebrate in the traditional way.


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