The Charlie Daniels Deep Cut That Sounds Nothing Like Him but Helped Inspire “Devil Went Down to Georgia”

Unless you’re a diehard Charlie Daniels fan, we’d wager a bet that you wouldn’t guess this deep cut was actually from the long-haired hippie himself. Indeed, from his fiddle playing to his singing, the casual Daniels fan has come to know a certain category of his distinct sound.

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But throughout his decades-long career, Daniels would occasionally break his own mold and venture into musical stylings with more funk and R&B flavor. Such was the case for his 1973 record ‘Honey in the Rock,’ which Epic Records re-released in 1976 under the name ‘Easy Rider.’ 

This deep cut stands out in particular not only for its unusually Motown-esque vibe but also because you can clearly see the connecting thread that led Daniels to his 1979 album ‘Million Mile Reflections,’ which includes his smash hit “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

The Southern Rockstar Embodied A Different Groove For “Big Man”

Charlie Daniels’ ‘Honey in the Rock’ opens with the driving rock groove “Funky Junky,” which features classic blues licks and Daniels’ signature half-talking, half-singing vocal delivery. All things considered, it doesn’t require too much imagination to guess it’s a Daniels song. However, the album’s groove takes a hard left turn on the second track.

Opening with an ominous intro of light cymbals and a vibraslap, “Big Man” yanks the listener out of the Southern (rock) comfort of the album’s first track and tosses them into something much darker. Seemingly from out of nowhere, Daniels’ sizzling fiddle enters the mix, following a descending, chromatic line that only adds to the track’s menacing feel.

With a punchy bass tone and bright guitars drenched in reverb, “Big Man” sounds like it belongs on a Motown record next to The Temptations’ “Papa Was A Rolling Stone.” The song is one of the most impressive examples of Daniels’ ability to shift genres. It also offers a revealing glimpse into Daniels’ early years as a child growing up partially in North Carolina and partially in Georgia, listening to R&B hits on the radio.

How Charlie Daniels’ Deep Cut Informed His Future Smash Hit

While the “Big Man” groove seems to stand alone amongst Charlie Daniels’ extensive discography, there is one obvious connecting thread between this R&B-adjacent track and the rest of Daniels’ work: unsurprisingly, his fiddle. From its first entrance in the ‘Honey in the Rock’/’Uneasy Rider’ track, Daniels’ squealing fiddle peers into the future at the hit record he would produce six years later, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

The similarities between the menacing fiddle of “Big Man” and the devil’s fiddle part in “Devil Went Down to Georgia” are clear as day, linking two tracks that, otherwise, couldn’t be more sonically different. Daniels talked about his iconic song in a Billboard interview in 2017, three years before his passing, during which he said the narrative song fell out quickly. 

“Once I got the story, and I knew where I was going with it, I just kinda followed it.” The “hairy part,” Daniels said, “Was the devil’s part on the fiddle because we did all this organically. I played like seven fiddles on the devil’s part, plus a unique eight-string fiddle that was strung like a mandolin. A lot of people tell me, they say, the devil’s fiddle part is better, and I say, no, it’s not. Johnny’s playing something. Johnny’s playing the fiddle…the melody and stuff. You can’t hum the devil’s part. You don’t even remember what he plays. It’s just a bunch of noise.”

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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