Copperhead Road

Album: Copperhead Road (1988)
Charted: 45
Play Video


  • 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 13-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.
  • Along with "Guitar Town," this is one of Earle's signature songs. When he wrote it, he knew it would catch on. (As stated in a Songfacts interview with Steve Earle.)

Comments: 39

  • Kelly from Elizabethton, TnFell in love with this song and began to follow Steve Earl. Love the Jerusalem C.D. I remember you hit a heart string. Loved the lyrics and the timing or cadence of the song is so unique. Keep jamming we need good music now in 2021. Semper Fi.
  • Pamela Swiney from Mountain City TnI know the family personally that Steve Earle is singing about. I also lived on copperhead rd for 2 years. I love this song . Its about home.Ty Steve Earle
  • Mckylie from New YorkI saw a copperhead road once when I was a kid out of state to see my grandaddy. I thought of this song because it was my favorite back then.
  • Selena Morse From MassachusettsI really enjoy this song. I honestly had no idea that it was based on true events that happened until i looked it up.
  • Tony from TemnesseeThe 2nd car in the video was a 1964 Plymouth Belvedere.
  • AnonymousI'm from canada, and visited TN when I was young. We were near smoky mountain in the boonies, and I remember an old man telling me there was a copperhead road that was named because it was infested and dangerous because of the snakes.
  • Andy from UkTrying to find out who played Grandaddy in the video - looks like Michael Madsen - Mr Blonde in Reservoir Dogs?
  • Gruntus from Greensboro, NcI know people in Mountain City, TN. I went there often. The song is definitely about that area. The last verse he says, "Well the DEA's got a chopper in the air, I wake up screamin' like I'm back over there, I learned a thing or two from Charlie don't you know, You better stay away from Copperhead Road". This is in reference to a 'nam vet learning that charlie learned how to shoot down helicopters with a rifle by shooting the hydraulic pump out. The same thing happened to a DEA helicopter spraying paraquat on pot fields in the area.
  • William Sellers from Knoxville, TnYep.. some of y'all might know, but this is a real place.. no matter what Steve Earl may have said in an interview.. but the ones that really know.. know
  • Conley from Copperhead Rd.It borders carter county and Johnson County Tennessee. Butler is the town. Watauga lake.
    Or about 5 miles away from my house.
  • Jessica from Knoxville TnACtually, I just found this interview with Steve Earle done by our local Knoxville News Station. He addresses the question of locale in the interview. He made it all up, not realizing that there is actually a Copperhead Road in Johnson County TN.
  • Jessica from Knoxville TnHere is a piece written about Mountain City TN, in Johnson County that clearly states the song is about Copperhead Road, now known as Copperhead Hollow Road in the Mountain City area of Johnson County TN. They had to change the street signs to Copperhead Hollow Road because people kept stealing them!!!
  • Chip from PaDoug, Tim, Gregg, Justin, you all speak to my soul. My heritage is Scotch Irish, and I was born and raised (til I was 10) in Knoxville. My dad’s dead now. My mom lives in WVA, and I live in Johnstown PA.
    But I’ve always felt like an East Tennessee boy. In fact I embrace the “white trash” label. Let the “refined” people think what they will. We don’t need them, and we don’t want them. Before my dad died, my folks used to visit Mountain City because they loved it. God’s people in East Tennessee.

    Johnson County TN is a hidden treasure, and I hope it stays that way.


  • Doug from East TnI hate to break to you Chris from Cleburne, Tx and Brian Kerbe from KY but Copperhead road is in Mountain City which is in Johnson County, TN due to the number of street signs that have been stolen over the years the County renamed the road to Copperhead Hollow Road. And yes just like in the video the sheriff cars have Johnson County on them....Neither Washington or Greene County, TN have a Copperhead Road in them. East TN and Southwest VA have a lot of Irish Scott's population in the area of or Appalachian Mountains... And we are still known to make moonshine and not that watered down crap in Gatlinburg all the tourist buy...And yea we still have weed patch's all over the mountains as well that is why they fly helicopters around at night trying to spot them.... So anytime you want to Goggle the information feel free to learn about our East TN heritage feel free.
  • Brian Kerbe from Kentucky Just the facts we all know where the best moonshine whiskey is made (eastern Kentucky) just the facts the song starts out with a heavy Irish Scott sound. Where the Appalachian mountains (eastern Kentucky)  have a have a high population of Irish Scott's. Just the facts in the song you hear (he's driving DOWN to Knoxville with a weekend load) down from Johnson County Kentucky. Not up or over from lower Tennessee or over from Georgia. Just the facts it's just a song that's the beauty of it you can stake claim to it in your mind, nevertheless the song is still about eastern Kentucky.
  • Pamela from UsaCopperhead Road. The song is named after a Road not the Copper Tube.
  • Frank from Fort Lauderdale Just saw speeds comment dead on.
  • Frank from Fort Lauderdale Sharon is the only one close to correct. If I had to pick a guide to that road, I'd pick Sharon.
  • Tim from Tn.First, CNL from Nashville made a comment about the people of East Tennessee being white trash. The people in this area are hard working folks and very good people, not white trash. Second, Copper Head Road is in Johnson County, TN. I built two spec houses on Copper Head Road. The father of a buddy that worked for me hauled liquor for Mr. Pettimore. So there you have it, end of story.
  • Gregg from San LeandrocaHello I was born and raised at the north end of Copperhead Rd. from 1969 to 1984 in Johnson County TN before I moved to NC. I work in CA now but Copperhead Rd. holds a lot of memories for me and the only place I will ever call home. I knew a lot about both moonshine & weed, just good people trying to make a living with what they had. The best place on Earth. 7-20-2015
  • Justin from Guys MillsThe song is indeed located in Johnson County Tennessee. Road name is actually Copperhead Hollow Road and its near Watauga Lake and its a left off of Big Dry Run Road heading East from Johnson City. Last time I was there all the road signs were stolen and they only way to verify the name is thru a GPS. Just like in the song there is a Holler about halfway down the road. You can see all kinds of driveways and paths cut thru the forest and what appeared to be string tied to alarm bells.
  • Donna from Brooksville, FlJust so everyone is clear on the location of Copperhead rd, it is in mountain City, Tennessee. That is exactly what Steve Earle is telling you in the song. Johnson County Tennessee! I know exactly where the road is, because I lived down the street from it for three years.
  • Patriot from Eclectic, AlThat is not Tom Berenger in the video! Besides Platoon was released in 1986 and Copperhead Road was released in 1988.
  • Jeanette from Mudgee, AustraliaI have always liked the song Copperhead Road.
  • Phil from Neenah, WiI 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.
  • Sharon from West Chester, PaI 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.
  • Cnl from Nashville, TnJust 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.
  • Kat from Adelaide, AustraliaInteresting 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!
  • Robert from Shreveport La, Laam 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
  • Pete from Los Angeles , CaI'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.
  • Speed from Aurora, IlLooks 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.
  • Dallas from Creal Springs , Ilthere 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
  • Chris from Cleburne, TxI 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.
  • Dodi from Rapid City, SdDedicated 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 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!
  • Ryan from Abingdon, Vai live about 45 minutes away from Mountain City, TN, where Copperhead Rd. originally was. its been changed to Copperhead Hollow Rd. now
  • Joel from Columbia, MdThe first and only song by Steve Earle I have ever heard. No doubt all about moonshine
  • Stuart Moore from Norwich, EnglandThis 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.
  • Norm from Cape Breton, Canadaone of the many great songs from the greatest lyricist of our time a true exit o early tracks more steve folks come on !!!!
  • Ben from Prince George, CanadaEver 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.
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