Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Devil Went Down to the Jersey Pines

The Piney's "Air Tune"

Similar folk legends appear in widely divergent areas and cultures, as is apparent in the song, “The Devil went Down to Georgia,” by the Charlie Daniels Band.

As a southern-country rock group, the Charlie Daniels Band has created a popular song that seems to appeal to people in a high state of inebriation.

The song is especially appropriate for dancing in a wild frenzy, with a story line that leads to extended fiddle solos.

It begins, “The devil went down to Georgia. He was lookin’ for a soul to steal…He was willin’ to make a deal.”

With a chorus that goes, “Fire on the mountain, run boys run – the Devil’s in the house of the rising sun,” which leads into the fiddle solos.

The story line of the song is what’s interesting – a fiddler and the devil compete in a fiddle contest. The musical duel that ensues ends with the devil losing out to a better musician.

The song takes on a sociological tone when compared to the story of the “Air Tune” of the Jersey Pineys as reported in John McPhees’s “The Pine Barrens” (Ballentine Books, 1967).

McPhee wrote: “Pineys once made violins out of red maple from the swamps. Sam Giberson (1808-1884), known throughout the pines as Fiddler Sammy Buck, one night told a group of people that he thought he could beat any competitor both as a fiddler and as a dancer.” Buck went on to claim that, “I think that I could beat the Devil.”

As the story goes, Giberson met the Devil on the way home that night. McPhee relates the story that, “The Devil told him to play his violin, and while Giberson played the Devil danced. Then the Devil played the violin while Giberson danced….but the Devil played the violin more sweetly. Giberson conceded defeat. The Devili then said that he was going to take Giberson to hell unless he could play a tune that the Devil had never heard.”

“Out of the air, by Giberson’s account, a tune came to him – a beautiful theme that neither Giberson nor the Devil had ever heard. The Devil let him go. That is what Giberson told people on the following day and for the rest of his life. The tune is known in the Pine Barrens as Sammy Giberson’s Air Tune. No one, of course, knows how it goes, but the Air Tune is there, everywhere, just beyond hearing.”

McPhee goes on to note that, “Giberson drank a lot, like many of the fiddlers of his time,” which is probably the one similar strain that runs through the backwoods of Georgia and the Jersey Pines.

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