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Copperhead Road

by

Steve Earle



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

Copperhead Road is a real road in East Tennessee where moonshine was made and two generations later, marijuana was grown. The song tells the story of a soldier who returns home from Vietnam and starts trafficking marijuana.
Copperhead Road is a highly acclaimed album that came after an interesting year for Earle: he spent New Year's Day of 1988 in a Dallas jail charged with assaulting a policeman, had to deal with various legal and business issues, and at one point had a message on his answering machine that said, "This is Steve. I'm probably out shooting heroin, chasing thirteen-year-olds and beatin' up cops. But I'm old and I tire easily, so leave a message and I'll get back to you." He also married his fifth wife around the time the album was released.
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Comments (17):

That is not Tom Berenger in the video! Besides Platoon was released in 1986 and Copperhead Road was released in 1988.
- patriot, eclectic, AL
I have always liked the song Copperhead Road.
- JEANETTE, MUDGEE, Australia
I first heard about this song and heard it play on the hit UK show Top Gear when they were touring the Blue Ridge Parkway through the Carolinas and Virgina on to New York. Even shown the mayor of a town dancing to it. I believe it's on the 17th season of the show but can't remember which episode. Most likely episodes 1 - 4 on it.
- Phil, Neenah, WI
I grew up in Knoxville. One summer my dad took me on his old bootlegging route up in Sunshine, TN near the Townsend entrance to the Smokies. If I were looking for Copperhead Rd., I would suspect it is in Cocke County ,TN , since that is where the premo weed was grown when I was at UT in mid seventies. You could also buy white lightening and corn liquor from the same sources. I also suspect that Copperhead Rd. was the colloquial name used by the shiners and the leggers, since I doubt they used the real names of the roads for the revenuers to find. That day was my absolute favorite day ever with my dad. I wish he was still here to tell me if he had heard of Copperhead Rd, but Copperhead was not only a common snake, but also what they called stills occasionally. I may be able to ask my uncle, who also ran some 'shine, back in the day.
- Sharon, West Chester, PA
Just my two cents. I think the setting for this is clearly East Tennessee. Most likely northeast of Knoxville which is mentioned clearly in the song. This area is notorious for "white trash", moonshine and marijuana growing. Side note at one time marijuana was Tennessee's largest cash crop. Knowing the area I would say the location is near Johnson City, TN and that would fit with the Copperhead Hollow Rd, near Lake Watagua. It's very mountainous with a ready supply of water and corn not far away in those days. The two ingredients you need to produce moonshine. It is also an area well known for marijuana.

On a side note the "copperhead" refers to the copper line used in the condenser part of the still. I have heard it referred to as "copperhead" for various reasons. One it usually runs out of the top or head of the pot to catch the steam and condense it back to liquid. Another reason, as my uncle used to say, buying copper at one time would attract attention, similar to buying certain chemicals for meth and it would bite you...hence the name copperhead.
- CNL, Nashville, TN
Interesting discussion about which - or where - Copperhead Road is located. To my mind, the "Copperhead" is a reference to the "Copper" or Still, or the barn containing the Still, where the moonshine was made. Probably well hidden, and out of the way ("Grand Daddy ... only came to town about twice a year"). Hence the "Copperhead Road" in the title isn't a reference to the actual name of road at all, it's generic, and means the road leading to where the moonshine was made. It might even be just a track over land, and not a public road at all. To my mind, the "Revenue man" that "never came back from Copperhead Road" wasn't ambushed on a road - he discovered the "Copperhead" - and met his end there.
No doubt Johnson County TN is the place, in my view. It's an iconic location for moonshine, and fits with "heading down to Knoxville with the weekly load" - although its a long way!
I love the ironies in the lyrics - the hero is clearly anti-authoritarian, yet he "volunteered for the army" and did "two" tours of duty. Also, he clearly loves his family and "still remembers that rumbling sound" of his father and uncle re-modelling the Dodge used to run the moonshine, yet he engages in dope growing, that puts him and his family at considerable risk, with the authorities having "choppers in the air".
Anyway, this song always brings a smile to my face whenever I hear it!
- KAT, Adelaide, Australia
am i wrong or is there a version of this song where an actual mecong fire fight was mixed in choppers and screamin and all, this song makes me want to duck
- robert, shreveport la, LA
I've seen this video many times. And though, it'd be an interesting bit of Jeopardy trivia, that is not Tom Berenger. The internet is rife with mis-information.
- Pete, Los Angeles , CA
Looks like Copperhead Road (now Copperhead Hollow) in Johnson County TN is definitly the winner. It's much closer to Knoxville (destination of the ill fated "weekly load") then either of the other Copperhead Roads - located in Johnson County(s) IL and TX respectivley.

Intersting that there are so many Copperhead Roads in a Johnson County and all within a few hundred miles of each other... and all with history of being used for producing/transporting moonshine.
- Speed, Aurora, IL
there is also a copperhead rd. in so. ill. and its in johnson co. and it was used to run moonshine back in the day but now its a dead end rd so maybe thats where the song originated
- dallas, creal springs , IL
I have no proof that this where copperhead road originated but seeing as how Steve Earle is from Texas it makes a good bit of sense. In Johnson County Texas there is a road called Copperhead Road, its known as a hot spot for drugs and drinking. Now days its mostly meth but it wouldnt be a stretch to think that it was a moonshine and pot area before. It makes a little more sense seeing as how in the song he talks about a car with Johnson County Sheriff painted on the side, and the copperhead road in Tn is in Washington or Greene County according to my homework. Again i could be wrong Im curious myself but thats my theory. If anyone meets Steve please ask him.
- Chris, Cleburne, TX
Dedicated to one of my best friends of an elder generation...Ron Kock gave me this song...def moonshine and pot were hits with him. I adored my time spent with him as a debonair gentleman who played cards w/ my parents and can not replace or replicate the absolute treasure of the time spent during his final months on this eath...so many life lessons, happiness, regrets, sorrows, true from the heart and soul talks i am truley blessed to have him in my life. RIP my dear sweet friend. We will meet again and this time we shall dance!
- dodi, rapid city, SD
i live about 45 minutes away from Mountain City, TN, where Copperhead Rd. originally was. its been changed to Copperhead Hollow Rd. now
- Ryan, Abingdon, VA
The first and only song by Steve Earle I have ever heard. No doubt all about moonshine
- Joel, Columbia, MD
This is probably Steve's best KNOWN song but maybe not his BEST song. He is a truly great songwriter. Buy one of his records...any one will do. There isn't a bad one, although "Train a Coming" and "I Feel Alright" are a good place to start.
- Stuart Moore, Norwich, England
one of the many great songs from the greatest lyricist of our time a true exit o early tracks more steve folks come on !!!!
- norm, cape breton, Canada
Ever see the video for this?

It features Tom Berenger as the pot grower. Berenger was fresh from his role as the psychotic Sgt. Barnes in Platoon, so he fits the part just right.
- Ben, Prince George, Canada
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