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Copperhead Road is the third studio album by Steve Earle, released in 1988. The album is often referred to as Earle's first "rock record"; Earle himself calls it the world's first blend of heavy metal and bluegrass, and the January 26, 1989 review of the album by Rolling Stone suggested that the style be called "power twang".[1]

Copperhead Road
Copperhead road.jpg
Studio album by
ReleasedOctober 17, 1988
April 29, 2008 (Deluxe)
RecordedDecember 1987 − July 1988
GenreCountry rock, hard rock
LabelUni Records (USA/Canada)
ProducerSteve Earle, Tony Brown
Steve Earle chronology
Exit 0
Copperhead Road
The Hard Way



The songs on side one of the album reflect Earle's politics: the title track attacks the War on Drugs, and the song "Snake Oil" compares then president Ronald Reagan to a traveling con man and draws attention to his "legacy of creative deceit".[1] The title track and "Johnny Come Lately" (performed with The Pogues[1]) both describe the experiences of returning veterans. The latter compares the experience of US servicemen fighting in World War II with those in the Vietnam War, and contrasts the differing receptions they received on returning home. "Back to the Wall" is about poverty, describing the life of the homeless in the US.

Unlike some issues-oriented musicians, however, Earle does not limit himself to political material. The second side of the album consists of more personal, slower tempo works: love songs ("Even When I'm Blue" for example) and a holiday offering ("Nothing but a Child", performed with Maria McKee).

The title song "Copperhead Road" tells of a Vietnam War veteran, scion of a rural moonshine bootlegging clan, who returns home to Johnson County, Tennessee but decides instead to enter the marijuana business which is shown by the line, "I'll take the seed from Colombia and Mexico". Copperhead Road was an actual road near Mountain City, Tennessee although it has since been renamed as Copperhead Hollow Rd. due to theft of road signs bearing the song's name. The song also inspired a popular line dance timed to the beat of the song and has been used as the theme music for the Discovery Channel reality series Moonshiners.


Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic     [2]
Rolling Stone     [3]

In declaring Copperhead Road Rock Album of the Week on October 21, 1988, The New York Times described it as "...exactly half of a brilliant album, with five smart, ornery, memorable story-songs."[4] With references to Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and The Rolling Stones the paper applauded Earle for introducing country music's storytelling and three-chord structures to rockabilly and contemporary rock music. Side two, however, the Times dismissed as "strictly average" love songs and a "hokey" Christmas song.[4] Time Magazine, including it in the September 19, 1988 Critics' Choices, described it as a "rock-inflected, country-based album" that "takes long chances with big themes...and does them proud".[5]

Rolling Stone published their review of Copperhead Road on January 26, 1989. Rob Tannenbaum wrote that the album "begins murderously and ends sentimentally... split into two song cycles" and described the first side as being "as powerful as any music made this year". Of side two he admits disappointment at conventional love songs, saying Earle "has already examined this terrain and done a better job of it." Nonetheless, the review compares Earle to Randy Newman, Bruce Springsteen, and Waylon Jennings among others, and concludes with Rolling Stone's designation of Earle as an "important artist" and finding Copperhead Road worthy of four stars.[1]

Airplay on rock radio stations drove the title track into Billboard Magazine's Album Rock Top Ten chart, and that in turn helped Copperhead Road on Billboard's Album Chart, where it peaked at number 56.[6]

Waylon Jennings covered "The Devil's Right Hand" on 1986's Will the Wolf Survive. "I was a big Waylon Jennings fan," noted Bob Seger, who covered the song on 2014's Ride Out. "I heard 'The Devil's Right Hand' in a movie called Betrayed in 1988. Every time I'd see it on cable, maybe once every five years, I'd say, 'Goddamn, that's a cool song. I want to do that some day.' And then, in maybe 2000, I found the movie in a movie bin, watched it and was like, 'Oh my god, Steve Earle wrote it! No wonder I like it.'"[7]

Track listingEdit

All tracks written by Steve Earle except where noted.

Original release (1988)Edit

  1. "Copperhead Road" – 4:29
  2. "Snake Oil" – 3:31
  3. "Back to the Wall" – 5:29
  4. "The Devil's Right Hand" – 3:04
  5. "Johnny Come Lately" – 4:11
  6. "Even When I'm Blue" – 4:14
  7. "You Belong to Me" – 4:25
  8. "Waiting on You" (Earle, Richard Bennett) – 5:10
  9. "Once You Love" (Earle, Larry Crane) – 4:39
  10. "Nothing but a Child" – 4:26

Deluxe edition (2008)Edit

On April 29, 2008, Geffen Records/Universal Music released a 2-disc deluxe edition of Copperhead Road. Disc one is the album as listed above, digitally remastered. Disc two features previously unreleased live recordings.

Disc two

  1. "The Devil's Right Hand" (live in Raleigh, North Carolina – November 19, 1987) – 4:02
  2. "Fearless Heart" (live in Raleigh) – 4:32
  3. "San Antonio Girl" (live in Raleigh) – 4:23
  4. "Nobody but You" / "Continental Trailways Bus" (live in Raleigh) – 6:26
  5. "My Baby Worships Me" (live in Raleigh) – 3:33
  6. "Wheels" (Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons) (live in Raleigh) – 4:45
  7. "The Week of Living Dangerously" (live in Raleigh) – 7:26
  8. "Johnny Come Lately" (solo, live in Raleigh) – 3:55
  9. "Brown and Root" (Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell) (live in Raleigh) – 3:46
  10. "I Love You Too Much" (live in Raleigh) – 4:28
  11. "It's All Up to You" (Earle, Harry Stinson) (live in Raleigh) – 6:11
  12. "Nebraska" (Bruce Springsteen) (solo, live – 1988) – 5:21
  13. "Copperhead Road" (live in Calgary, Canada – April 1989) – 4:08
  14. "I Ain't Ever Satisfied" (live in Calgary) – 3:52
  15. "Dead Flowers" (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards) (live in Calgary) – 5:36
  16. "Little Sister" (Greg Trooper) (solo, live in Calgary) – 3:15
  17. "Guitar Town" (live in Calgary) – 2:36


  • Steve Earle – vocals, guitars, harmonica, 6-string bass, mandolin
  • Donny Roberts – guitars, 6-string bass
  • Bill Lloyd – acoustic guitar
  • Michael McAdam – 12-string electric guitar
  • Bucky Baxter – pedal steel, lap steel, Dobro
  • Ken Moore – synthesizer and organ
  • John Barlow Jarvis – piano
  • Kelley Looney – bass
  • Kurt Custer – drums
  • Neil MacColl – mandolin on "Johnny Come Lately"
  • John Cowan, Maria McKee, Radney Foster – background vocals
  • Chris Birkett – drum programming on "You Belong to Me"
  • Gary Tallent – arrangement on "The Devil's Right Hand"
  • The Pogues played on "Johnny Come Lately"
  • Telluride played on "Nothing But a Child"

The Pogues



  • Joe Hardy – recording, mixing
  • Chris Birkett – recording on "Johnny Come Lately"

Chart performanceEdit

Chart (1988) Peak
U.S. Billboard Top Country Albums 7
U.S. Billboard 200 56
Canadian RPM Country Albums 30
Canadian RPM Top Albums 14
UK Album Charts 42[8]

Although no singles from the album were released in the U.S., three of the album's tracks were released as singles in the UK.

UK Single Release date Peak position
"Copperhead Road" October 10, 1988 (1988-10-10) 45[8]
"Johnny Come Lately" December 5, 1988 (1988-12-05) 75[8]
"Back to the Wall" February 1989 (1989-02) did not chart


  1. ^ a b c d Tannenbaum, Rob (1989-01-26). "Steve Earle Copperhead Road". Rolling Stone Magazine. Jann Wenner. Retrieved 2009-03-28.
  2. ^ AllMusic review
  3. ^ Rolling Stone review
  4. ^ a b Pareles, Jon (1988-10-21). "Sounds Around Town". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. pp. C-26. Retrieved 2009-03-28.
  5. ^ "Critics' Choice". Time Magazine. Time Warner. 1988-09-19. Retrieved 2009-03-28.
  6. ^ "Steve Earle: Main". Viacom. Retrieved 2009-03-28.[dead link]
  7. ^ Graff, Gary (February 2015). "Q&A: Bob Seger". Classic Rock #206. p. 32.
  8. ^ a b c Roberts, David (ed.) (2 June 2007). British Hit Singles and Albums (20th (revised) ed.). London: Guinness World Records Ltd. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)

External linksEdit