Copperhead Road – Steve Earle

September 21, 2021

Today’s song of the day is the outlaw anthem “Copperhead Road” by Steve Earle.

Fun Facts

  • Released in 1988 on an album of the same name, “Copperhead Road” reached number 10 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart making it Earle’s biggest hit at the time.
  • Copperhead Road is a real street near Mountain City, Tennessee. Due to sign thefts, the road has been renamed Copperhead Hollow Road.
  • The song is about three generations of bootleggers — people who make and distribute illegal alcohol, a practice that has deep roots in rural areas like Mountain City.
  • This alcohol was often cheaper and transported to “dry” counties where alcohol sales were banned. There are still close to 90 dry counties in the United States.
  • With the practice of bootlegging waning, the song’s protagonist John Lee Pettimore III returns from the Vietnam War and grows marijuana protected by traps and methods used by the Viet Cong.
  • Though the story itself is dramatized, many bootleggers actually turned to marijuana when more counties allowed alcohol sales.
  • Most infamously, the Cornbread Mafia of central Kentucky had roots in bootlegging and employed tactics like Pettimore after returning from the Vietnam War. By 1989, government agencies had arrested 70 members though none of them cooperated with authorities.



Well my name’s John Lee Pettimore

Same as my daddy and his daddy before

You hardly ever saw Grandaddy down here

He only came to town about twice a year

He’d buy a hundred pounds of yeast and some copper line

Everybody knew that he made moonshine

Now the revenue man wanted Grandaddy bad

He headed up the holler with everything he had

It’s before my time but I’ve been told

He never came back from Copperhead Road

Now Daddy ran the whiskey in a big block Dodge

Bought it at an auction at the Mason’s Lodge

Johnson County Sheriff painted on the side

Just shot a coat of primer then he looked inside

Well him and my uncle tore that engine down

I still remember that rumblin’ sound

Then the sheriff came around in the middle of the night

Heard mama cryin’, knew something wasn’t right

He was headed down to Knoxville with the weekly load

You could smell the whiskey burnin’ down Copperhead Road

I volunteered for the Army on my birthday

They draft the white trash first, ’round here anyway

I done two tours of duty in Vietnam

And I came home with a brand new plan

I take the seed from Colombia and Mexico

I just plant it up the holler down Copperhead Road

And now the D.E.A.’s got a chopper in the air

I wake up screaming like I’m back over there

I learned a thing or two from ol’ Charlie don’t you know

You better stay away from Copperhead Road

Copperhead Road

Copperhead Road

Copperhead Road