Scary

Blind Pig and the Acorn: The Devil went Back to Georgia

The Devil went BACK to Georgia

 written by Keith Jones - Mountain Storyteller

Devil went back to Georgia.png

Most folks have heard the song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by the Charlie Daniels Band. You may not know that the song was written by members of the band: Vassar Clements, Charlie Daniels, Tom Crain, “Taz” DiGregorio, Fred Edwards, Charles Hayward, and James W. Marshall.

Toward the end of the song, Johnny says, “Now Devil, just come on back if you ever want to try again, ‘cause I’ve told you once, you son of a <bleep!> that I’m the best that’s ever been!” (Well, he said that on the broadcast version of the song. There’s no <bleep!> in the album version!)

            As broadcaster Paul Harvey used to say, this is the rest of the story…

Time is a grindstone, and lives are its grist. After Johnny won the contest with the Devil, there was still a living to be made. No matter how many Saturday night dances and play-parties Johnny fiddled for, there was never enough cash money in it to make a real living. Sure, he was famous far and wide as “that fiddlin’ boy from up in the hickory woods.” That didn’t keep Johnny from having to plow a mule, cut tops and pull fodder, and put up hay for his scrawny livestock.

No, Johnny never prospered as a farmer, he just hung on…barely. Maybe it was that fiddle of gold. The Devil’s prizes never come without a price, and that fiddle seemed to bring blighted corn, swarms of grasshoppers, and late or early frosts at just the wrong times.

Johnny finally made the long trek to the nearest town that had a pawn shop, but the broker took one look at the fiddle and said, “Gold, huh? Whoever told you that was a tee-total liar. Sure it’s got a thin—a very thin—coat of gold plating, but the fiddle itself is made out of brass. It won’t play worth a toot, and it’s not even worth melting down.” Johnny trudged home, disappointed once again. On the way, a thunderstorm broke, pelting him with hail. When he got home, his wheat crop was beaten to the ground.

Johnny’s life wasn’t all terrible. There was Mary. Daughter of the local hardshell Baptist preacher, he had a hard time courting her, for her Daddy was of the persuasion that a good person was one who didn’t “smoke, drink, cuss, nor chew, nor run around with women that do!” Johnny made the great effort to quit smoking and chewing, and his cussing was reserved for work times far away from anyone else when his stubborn old mule wouldn’t respond to anything else. He’d never been a skirt-chaser, in spite of lots of girls swooning and swanning over his fiddle playing. Drinking he never totally gave up, but he limited it enough so that finally he was able to marry his beautiful Mary. After a few years they had a houseful of kids. It was a good thing that Mary knew how to sew, otherwise those kids would have run around the woods naked.

Johnny was a better man because of Mary, but his ‘reform’ only went so far. He’d still go off on Fridays or Saturdays and play his fiddle for barn dances, box suppers, and the like. He’d come dragging in of a Sunday morning, just in time for Mary to sigh, “Oh Johnny!” with a shake of her head. But he’d hitch up the wagon and haul Mary and the kids to his daddy-in-law’s church. Never went in himself, mind you, but he’d pull to the edge of the church yard, or up the hill into the old cemetery where the mule could graze a bit, and where he could half-doze himself. Of course in those pre-air-conditioning days, Johnny couldn’t help but get a pretty big dose of the ‘old-time religion’ with the windows of the little white church house opened wide to snare any passing breeze.

Like I said before, time is a grindstone, and lives are its grist. Before he could reckon how it had happened, all the kids were grown up and had moved off in search of jobs. They’d come home at Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or sometimes for vacation time in the summer (but usually at lay-by time, Johnny noted grimly, not when heavy work was needed.) Finally the worst day of Johnny’s life came. Mary died on him.

Neighbors brought a bait of food, and they laid her to rest in the cemetery’s new part, since her daddy’s square was full of other family graves. Johnny was bothered a bit by that, since two of their babies who’d not lived to be toddlers were buried near the old preacher and his wife. It chaffed him that they weren’t near their momma, but nothing could be done.

In a day or two, the children and grandkids and neighbors went back to their lives. Johnny went back to his broken-down farm and his empty house. He noticed that now arthritis had swollen his hands so badly that it hurt to even play the fiddle—not that his heart was really into fiddling anymore. His back was bent from years of hard labor…and so the Devil picked that moment to come back.

Johnny was coming back from the privy when he heard his rocking chair squeaking in the front room, the room Mary had called the ‘parlor.’ What in the nation? thought Johnny. Nobody I know would just walk in the house and make themselves at home! He bent down to try and look through the latchcord hole, but suddenly the door banged open on its own.

“HEY JOHNNY, I’M BAAAACK!” The devil had on a slick-shiny black suit with a black shirt, black tie, and a blood ruby stickpin big as a pigeon egg. He sprang out of the chair with an evil grin and a menacing glance. Suddenly a greasy-black ebony fiddle appeared in his hand. He tucked the ugly thing under his chin and scraped the bow over the strings. It made the same evil hiss Johnny remembered from fifty-one years before. “I’ve been practicing, Johnny!” The Devil’s eyes flamed red as he played every song Johnny had done in their old contest—but better than Johnny had ever even thought about playing them.

“I don’t want to play against you,” Johnny said, limping over to the cupboard and snatching out the fiddle of “gold.” “Here, take this back.”

“Oh, no, Johnny, you won that fair and square. You keep it.”

“I don’t want it! It’s worthless! It’s just a hunk of tinny brass dressed up to look like gold.”

“What did you expect from the father of lies? Now quit this fooling around. Your turn to play! Or I could just take your soul right now.” All of a sudden the Devil seemed to fill the little front room, looming over Johnny with an intimidating shadow.

The moment Johnny dreaded had finally come due. Why, oh why did I ever say, “Just come on back if you ever want to try again?” 

Somehow that threat made Johnny’s back get a little straighter. If I’m going down below, I will NOT just give up. I’m not the fiddler I was, but I’ll be whatever fiddler I can be. 

Johnny reached back into the cupboard, to a different compartment where he stored his old fiddle and bow. He pulled it out, dusted it off, and rosined up his bow. “Gotta tune this thing,” he said.

“Get on with it. I’m way behind, as usual. Places to go, things to do, the earth to roam, souls to devour.” To emphasize his impatience, the devil swung an enormous gold turnip-style pocket watch. Just in time, Johnny realized that the swinging watch was a trap, that the Devil was trying to lull him to sleep or hypnotize him.

“You played your set, let me play mine my way.” Johnny tightened the first tuning peg. While his attention was on the task, he failed to notice the Devil squinch up his eyes, fold his arms and tap his left foot with impatience. Johnny didn’t see that one of the Devil’s fingers was sneaking out from behind his folded arms. Neither did he notice the little bolt of fire that flew from it. He only noticed the TWAAANNG as the string he was tuning broke.

Johnny was still staring in dismay at the broken string when TWINGGG, TWAANNG, two more of the strings snapped.

“Looks like you should have invested in some new strings,” sneered the Devil.

“Ummm, you’re probably right,” mumbled Johnny, but inside his head, his mind was racing. Down to one string… arthritic hands… no chance at all, except maybe one thing…

Lord this here’s Johnny. I know you and me ain’t been much on speaking terms. I just remember my Mary sure believed in You. You see what a terrible situation I’ve got myself into here. I know there’s no way in he… uh, no way in heaven that I deserve any help from you. But it just bothers me that this here Devil will win out. Like I said, I don’t deserve any help at all, but please just help me play this one song. Lord, please do it just to show how much better You are than that old Devil. Uh…Amen, I reckon.

Johnny didn’t know if his rough and ready prayer had even been heard, but there was nothing for it but to pitch in. He set the bow on the one string that was left, and started in on that one old American folk tune. In his head, Johnny could remember his Mary singing the song so many times.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound

 

That saved a wretch like me

 

I once was lost, but now I’m found…

 

At the first note, the Devil’s face had blackened with rage. His body ‘swole up’ until it seemed it would push out the walls of the room. Huge sparks flew from his eyebrows, his ears, and blue lightning rolled and bowled around his hands.

Johnny didn’t notice. His eyes were closed. His heart heard Mary’s sweet voice echoing again in his memory. Slowly he drew out the notes of the last phrase.

            …Was blind,,, but now… I… see.

The Devil’s rage boiled over like a black kettle of cane syrup spilling in the fire. Reams of blue and red lightning struck Johnny’s old fiddle. It flew into dust and splinters. Johnny’s body jerked once, spasmed, and then fell to the floor—dead as an anvil and boneless as a half-filled sack of stale grits.

And so the Devil got Johnny. His body, anyway.

But the Lord… the Lord got Johnny’s soul!

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Now that's a story I like! 

Tipper

The Weekly Holler: RAWHEAD AND BLOODYBONES

Many people throughout the American South grew up hearing that if they didn’t behave, Rawhead and Bloodybones would come to get them.

These two terrifying creatures were often imagined as parts of the same monster, Rawhead being the bare skull and the headless skeleton being Bloodybones. The origins of this tale go back to England, with the Oxford Dictionary tracing mentions of the phrase back as far as 1548. But, in spite of the longevity of this bogeyman, the original tale has been forgotten. The only remnants we have are an old nursery rhyme from Yorkshire:

Rawhead and Bloody Bones,

Steals Naughty Children from their Homes,

Takes them to his dirty den,

And they are never seen again.

Even though the original tale was lost, countless numbers of stories in the American south involve Rawhead and Bloodybones. One from the Ozarks even reimagines him as a skeletal boar-hog created by a witch. The story I’m going to share with you comes from Kentucky.

Once upon a time, there was a woman who married a man that had a beautiful daughter named Mary. The woman also had a daughter named Suzy, who looked like she’d fallen out of the ugly tree and hit every limb on the way down. Folk around town said that one glance at Suzy could send a freight train down a dirt road. None of that would’ve mattered much if Suzy had been a nice girl, but she wasn’t. Both her and her mama hated Mary on account of her beauty. Mary, on the other hand, was both beautiful and kind. She did her best to return Suzy’s and her stepmother’s hatred with good deeds.

After a couple of years of living under the same roof, Mary’s step-mother got tired of watching her be more beautiful than Suzy. So she went to see a witch and told her she had a hateful step-daughter that she wanted to be rid of.

“Here’s what ye need to do,” the witch said. “Have Suzy pretend she’s ill. Have her lay down in bed and tell Mary that unless someone brings Suzy water from a well on the other side of the mountain, she’ll die. Send Mary to get the water and I’ll take care of the rest.”

“Well, I want to know how you’re going to get rid of her,” the stepmother said.

“If ye must know,” the witch said, “the well on the far side of the mountain is where Rawhead and Bloodybones lives. If Mary is as hateful as you say she is, he’ll take care of her.”

“All right,” said the stepmother.

She went home and told Suzy her plan. Suzy laid down in the bed and began to groan. When Mary came inside she heard Suzy moaning and asked what was the matter.

“She’s ill,” said the stepmother, “and nothing can help her except for a drink of water from the well on the other side of the mountain.”

Well, Mary being a kind and good girl who liked to help everybody, said she’d go over the mountain to get the water. So she got a bucket and a biscuit and started out. As she came to the base of the mountain, she saw a small dog in her path.

The dog trotted up to her and whined. “Please, Miss,” it said, “I have a terrible itch on my belly. Could you scratch it for me?”

“Of course I can,” said Mary. She put down her bucket and scratched the dog’s belly. She did such a good job that the dog’s leg started pumping back and forth in delight. Once his itch was gone the dog stood up and thanked Mary. “You smell better than a bush full of roses, “ it said, “and may you smell twice as good when you go home.”

About halfway up the mountain, Mary sat down to eat her biscuit for dinner. An old man with a long, dirty beard came out from behind a tree and sat down next to her.

“What do you want, Sir?” Mary asked.

“I’d like to eat dinner with you,” the old man said.

“All I have is this biscuit,” Mary said. “But I’ll share it with you.” She tore the biscuit in two and gave the old man the larger half.

“Thank you for your kindness and being so good to me,” the old man said when they’d finished eating. “You’re as pretty as a speckled pup. May you be twice as pretty when you go home.”

As the sun sank low, Mary finally found herself on the far side of the mountain. She saw the well, wreathed in evening mist. Mary let her bucket down into the well and cranked it back up. she could see that there was something in her bucket, but it wasn’t water. As she pulled it from the well, she saw it was a human skull. A sinister light shone from its eye sockets.

“What do you want, Mr. Skull?” she asked.

“I want you to wash me, and dry me, and lay me down easy,” said the skull.

So she washed it and dried it and laid it down easy. Then she dropped her bucket down the well again, and this time pulled up a bone, then another, and another. They all wanted Mary to wash them and dry them and lay them down easy. All night she worked, pulling up bone after bone, washing them, drying them, and laying them gently on the ground. As the morning sun peeked over the horizon, the bones began to assemble themselves with a click, click, click. Soon a headless skeleton was complete. It got to its feet and lifted the skull in one hand.

Mary gasped in terror. Before her stood Rawhead and Bloodybones. The skeleton took a step toward her and held up the skull until it was staring straight into her face.

“Don’t be scared,” said the skull. “You have done me a great kindness, and for that, I say when you get home may gold fall out of your hair when you comb it. Now you may take your water from the well and leave.”

Later that day, when Mary arrived back in town, everyone noticed a wonderful smell. They thought that a florist shop must be moving in. They looked out on the street and saw Mary, more beautiful than ever.

When Mary got home, her stepmother was surprised to see her, very much surprised.

“What are you doing here?” she said.

“I’ve got the water for Suzy,” Mary said. She went on in, and gave Suzy a drink.

Suzy, who wasn’t sick at all, got out of bed and started playing.

“I’m glad to see she’s better now,” said Mary.

“Oh, go on and shut up!” said the step-mother. “I wish you hadn’t’ve come back. You just bring hatefulness into this house.”

“I’m really tired,” Mary said, ignoring her step-mother’s meanness. “I just want to comb my hair and go to bed. Can I comb my hair in your lap?”

“No, I won’t let you comb your hair in my lap,” said the step-mother. “What do you think I am, a garbage pail or something?”

“Well, I guess I’ll comb it in my own lap then,” Mary said. She went off in the corner and started to comb her hair. And when she combed it, gold fell out! Her step-mother saw this and said, “Oh, honey! Come here, I’ll let you comb your hair in my lap!”

“I don’t want you too, now,” Mary said. “I’ll comb it by myself.” She kept combing until she had a big pile of gold.

The stepmother realized that the well on the far side of the mountain must be responsible for this magic, so she wasted no time in sending Suzy to fetch a bucket of water there, and she packed a big, fine meal for Suzy to eat along the way.

At the base of the mountain, Suzy met the little dog, who asked her scratch his belly.

“Scratch your own flea-bitten belly!” Suzy said. “I’m in a hurry to get my gold!”

As Suzy walked away the dog looked after her. “You smell worse than perfume on a pig,” he said. “May you smell twice as bad when you get home.”

Half way up the mountain, Suzy got hungry and sat down to eat her meal. The old man with the long beard appeared and asked to share her meal.

“I don’t want your dirty beard dragging in my food,” Suzy said. “Go on and hush up! I ain’t going to let you eat with me!”

“Well all right,” said the old man. As he walked back into the woods he looked over his shoulder and said, “You’re so ugly you could back a buzzard off a meat wagon. May you be twice as ugly when you get home.”

Suzy made it to the well on the other side of the mountain. She rushed to it and dropped her bucket down inside When she drew it up, she found the skull inside.

“Wash me, and dry me, and lay me down easy,” said the skull.

“What do you think I am? Your maid-servant?” said Suzy. “I don’t want to put my hands on you.” She picked up her bucket and hurled the skull out on the ground. Suzy kept sending her bucket dowm, and just like Mary, brought up bone and after bone. Each one of them asked to be washed, and dried, and laid down easy, but Suzy threw each one of them into a pile by the skull. When she pulled out the last bone, she final got her bucket full of water and turned around to leave, only to find Rawhead and Bloodybones standing behind her.

“You hateful, little girl!” said the skull, it’s eyes glowing angrily. “When you get home, may snakes and frogs fall out of your hair when you comb it.”

When Suzy got back to town later that day, she cleared the whole street with her stink. People covered their eyes and pinched their noses as she walked past, saying they didn’t know what was worse, looking at her or smelling her.

When she got home, her mother was waiting with a comb in hand. “Come here, sweet-pea! Let’s comb you hair,” she said. Then the greedy woman began to comb Suzy’s hair, only to get a lap full of snakes and frogs. Suzy and her mother ran away screaming, and Mary lived happily ever after.