Good Old Mountain Dew

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A mason jar of moonshine (mountain dew)

"Good Old Mountain Dew" (ROUD 18669), sometimes called simply "Mountain Dew" or "Real Old Mountain Dew", is an Appalachian folk song composed by Bascom Lamar Lunsford and Scotty Wiseman. There are two versions of the lyrics, a 1928 version written by Lunsford and a 1935 adaptation by Wiseman. Both versions of the song are about moonshine. The 1935 version has been widely covered and has entered into the folk tradition becoming a standard.

Creation[edit]

Along with being an amateur folklorist and musician, Bascom Lamar Lunsford was a lawyer practicing in rural North Carolina during the 1920s.[1] At the time, the manufacturing of alcohol was illegal in the United States due to prohibition, but North Carolina residents nevertheless continued their longstanding tradition of making a form of illegal whiskey called moonshine. Lunsford frequently defended local clients that were accused of the practice,[2] and the original lyrics and banjo accompaniment to "Good Old Mountain Dew" were written during the course of one of these cases. In 1928, Lunsford recorded the song for Brunswick Records.

Scotty Wiseman, of the duo Lulu Belle and Scotty, was a friend of Lunsford's. When Lulu Belle and Scotty needed one more song to finish a 1935 record for Vocalion Records,[3] Wiseman suggested using the song his friend had written. To make the piece appeal to more people, Wiseman added the modern chorus and replaced verses about a man appearing in court with verses about making moonshine. Two years later, at the National Folk Festival in Chicago, Wiseman showed his version to Lunsford. Lunsford was impressed with it; later the same night, he sold the song to Wiseman for $25 ($339 in 2013) so he could buy a train ticket back to North Carolina.[3] Wiseman copyrighted the song and made sure that 50% of the royalties it earned were given to Lunsford until Lunsford's death.[3]

Lyrics and themes[edit]

I'll shut up my mug if you'll fill up my jug with that good old mountain dew[4]

-1935 Refrain

The 1928 version of "Good Old Mountain Dew" is close to the style of a ballad. The lyrics tell the story of a man's first day in court to answer charges of making illegal alcohol. In the first verse, the prosecutor closes his case.[5] In the next three verses, several respected members of the community—the deacon, the doctor, and the conductor—visit the charged man, trying to buy his whiskey.[6] In the final verse, the judge offers the young man clemency if he is willing to pay court costs for the trial.

The 1935 lyrics are not ballad-like and do not tell a story. This version tells of an "old hollow tree" that is used as a dead drop. A person who is looking to buy moonshine places money in the tree and leaves.[7] When that person returns, there is a jug where the money was. The song goes on to extoll the drink and tell of its great properties.[4]

Relationship with "The Rare Old Mountain Dew"[edit]

There is some controversy over how connected "Good Old Mountain Dew" ("Good") is to the Irish folk song "The Rare Old Mountain Dew" ("Rare"). "Rare" dates to 1916 or earlier, at least a decade before "Good" was written.[8] The terms "mountain dew" and "moonshine" are thought to have come to the United States from Ireland. Lunsford wrote several parodies and adaptations of other Irish folk songs; based on this, some folklorists claim that the song "Good Old Mountain Dew" was based on "The Rare Old Mountain Dew".[9] Other folklorists disagree, pointing out that the only commonality the songs share is the use of the phrase "mountain dew".[8]

Recordings and adaptions[edit]

Two old green bottles of Mountain Dew. Left bottle is front cover; right bottle is back cover.
Front and back of a "Willie the Hillbilly"-era Mountain Dew bottle

Since 1935, "Good Old Mountain Dew" has been rerecorded and covered by a wide variety of folk, old time, and country musicians including Grandpa Jones[3] and Willie Nelson.[10] Nelson's cover reached number twenty-three on Billboard's Hot Country Songs and stayed there for six weeks.[11] Over time, artists have added new verses, but the tune has remained the same since it was first written in the 1920s.[12] The gospel song "Traveling the Highway Home" is based on "Good Old Mountain Dew" and uses the same tune but has lyrics about moving closer to eternal life after death instead of about moonshine.[13]

After PepsiCo bought the soft drink Mountain Dew in 1964, they commissioned a set of advertisements[14] featuring a "Good Old Mountain Dew"-based jingle and the drink's mascot: a barefooted-back country man called "Willie the Hillbilly".[15]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Carlin 2006, p. 128
  2. ^ Jones 2002, p. 34
  3. ^ a b c d Jones 2002, p. 36
  4. ^ a b Jones 2002, p. 38
  5. ^ Jones 2002, p. 37
  6. ^ Lunsford 1996, pp. 19–20
  7. ^ Pederson 1977, pp. 120–121
  8. ^ a b Jones 2002, p. 39
  9. ^ Wilgus 1968, p. 173
  10. ^
  11. ^ Whitburn 2006, p. 245
  12. ^ Lunsford 1996, p. 19
  13. ^ Wilgus 1966, p. 513
  14. ^ Browne 2005, p. 176
  15. ^ Dean 2012

Bibliography[edit]

  • Browne, David (2005). Amped: How Big Air, Big Dollars, and a New Generation Took Sports to the Extreme. Bloomsbury. ISBN 978-0-7475-6581-9. 
  • Carlin, Richard (2006). American Popular Music: Folk. Infobase Publishing. ISBN 978-0-8160-6978-1. 
  • Dean, Michelle (2012). "Here Comes the Hillbilly, Again". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved 2014-01-15. 
  • Jones, Loyal (2002). Minstrel of the Appalachians: The Story of Bascom Lamar Lunsford. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 978-0-8131-9027-3. 
  • Lunsford, Bascom Lamar (1996). Ballads, Banjo Tunes and Sacred Songs of Western North Carolina (liner notes). Bascom Lamar Lunsford. Washington DC: Folkways Records. ASIN B000001DJR. 
  • Patoski, Joe Nick (2008). Willie Nelson: An Epic Life. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 978-0-316-03198-1. 
  • Pederson, Lee (1977). "The Randy Sons of Nancy Whisky". American Speech 52 (1/2): 112. doi:10.2307/454725. ISSN 0003-1283. 
  • Whitburn, Joel (2006). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Country Hits. Billboard Books. ISBN 978-0-8230-8291-9. 
  • Wilgus, D. K. (1966). "Gospel Song". The Journal of American Folklore 79 (313): 510. doi:10.2307/537537. ISSN 0021-8715. 
  • Wilgus, D. K. (1968). "Revival and Traditional". The Journal of American Folklore 81 (320): 173. doi:10.2307/537674. ISSN 0021-8715. 

External links[edit]