Copperhead Road (song)

"Copperhead Road" is a song written and recorded by American singer-songwriter Steve Earle. It was released in 1988 as the first single and title track from his third studio album of the same name. The song reached number 10 on the U.S. Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, and was Earle's highest-peaking song to date on that chart in the United States. The song has sold 1.1 million digital copies in the United States as of September 2017.[5][6] On April 20, 2023, the Tennessee General Assembly passed an act recognizing the song as the 11th official state song of the state of Tennessee.[1]

"Copperhead Road"
Single by Steve Earle
from the album Copperhead Road
Songwriter(s)Steve Earle
Steve Earle singles chronology
"Sweet Little '66"
"Copperhead Road"
"Back to the Wall"



The song's narrator is named John Lee Pettimore III, whose father and grandfather were both active in moonshine making and bootlegging in rural Johnson County, Tennessee. Pettimore's grandfather visited town only rarely, in order to buy supplies for a still he had set up in a holler along Copperhead Road. Pettimore's father hauled the moonshine to Knoxville each week in an old police cruiser he bought at a surplus auction. According to a family story, a revenue man once confronted John Sr. on Copperhead Road, intent on apprehending him for his moonshine activities, but never returned. John Jr. himself is killed in a fiery car crash on the same road while driving to Knoxville with a weekly shipment.

Pettimore enlists in the Army on his birthday, believing he will soon be drafted, and serves two tours of duty in Vietnam. Once he returns home, he decides to use the Copperhead Road land to grow marijuana, using seeds from Colombia and Mexico. He resolves not to be caught by the DEA using techniques learned from the Viet Cong.

"Copperhead Road" is composed in D Mixolydian, with a moderate tempo and main chord pattern of D-G-D.[7]

Influence and legacy


Copperhead Road was an actual road near Mountain City, Tennessee, in an area known to locals as "Big Dry Run" although it has since been renamed Copperhead Hollow Road, owing to theft of road signs bearing the song's name. The song inspired a popular line dance, and has been used as the theme music for the Discovery Channel reality series Moonshiners.

The song's blend of country and Southern rock has influenced several artists, including Eric Church, Travis Tritt, Brothers Osborne, Chris Stapleton and Jason Aldean.

Music video


The music video was directed by Tony Vanden Ende and premiered in early 1988.

Chart performance

Chart (1988) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[8] 23
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[9] 12
UK Singles (The Official Charts Company)[10] 45
US Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks 10
Chart (2021) Peak
Canada Digital Song Sales (Billboard)[11] 2
US Hot Rock & Alternative Songs (Billboard)[12] 15

Other versions


In 2018 American metal band DevilDriver recorded a version of this song on their album "Outlaws 'til the End Vol. 1".[13]


  1. ^ a b Raucoules, Gregory (April 26, 2023). "'Copperhead Road' becomes Tennessee's newest official state song". WJHL-TV. Retrieved April 27, 2023.
  2. ^ "The 25 best country rock songs of all time". Classic Rock Magazine. August 5, 2016. Retrieved February 25, 2020.
  3. ^ Breihan, Tom (October 4, 2021). "The Number Ones: Jon Bon Jovi's "Blaze Of Glory". Stereogum. Retrieved December 8, 2023. The song is probably too long, and it's definitely chasing the same mythic country-rock grandeur that Steve Earle brought to 1988's "Copperhead Road
  4. ^ Morgan, Ike (May 4, 2016). "The 13 most outlaw country songs ever recorded". Retrieved February 25, 2020.
  5. ^ Bjorke, Matt (September 8, 2015). "Top 30 Digital Country Singles: September 8, 2015". RoughStock.
  6. ^ David Huddle (1999). "The Low-Down High Art of Steve Earle's "Copperhead Road"". Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction. 1 (1): 11–16. doi:10.1353/fge.2013.0453. ISSN 1544-1733. S2CID 111323588.
  7. ^ "'Copperhead Road' sheet music". Retrieved July 4, 2024.
  8. ^ "Steve Earle – Copperhead Road". ARIA Top 50 Singles.
  9. ^ Canada Top Singles peak RPM Magazine
  10. ^ "copperhead road | full Official Chart History | Official Charts Company".
  11. ^ "Steve Earle Chart History (Canadian Digital Song Sales)". Billboard. Retrieved July 12, 2022.
  12. ^ "Steve Earle Chart History (Hot Rock & Alternative Songs)". Billboard.
  13. ^ ""Outlaws 'til the End: Vol. 1" -wikipedia - Google Search".