Copperhead Road (song)

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"Copperhead Road"
SE - Copperhead Road single.jpg
Single by Steve Earle
from the album Copperhead Road
FormatCD single
GenreCountry rock, Outlaw country
Songwriter(s)Steve Earle
Producer(s)Steve Earle
Tony Brown
Steve Earle singles chronology
"Sweet Little '66"
"Copperhead Road"
"Back to the Wall"

"Copperhead Road" is a song written and recorded by American country music artist 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.[1][2]


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 hollow 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'll 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 and sets up booby traps similar to those employed by the Viet Cong.

Copperhead Road was an actual road near Mountain City, Tennessee, although it has since been renamed Copperhead Hollow Road, owing to theft of road signs bearing the song's name. The song also inspired a popular line dance, timed to the same beat, and has been used as the theme music for the Discovery Channel reality series Moonshiners.

Music video[edit]

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

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1988) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[3] 23
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[4] 12
UK Singles (The Official Charts Company)[5] 45
US Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks 10

Other versions[edit]

In 1994 German rock band Torfrock recorded a German version of the song with the name "Kettenhemd" (engl. Mail (armour)) which is about vikings. The band plays this song regularly in concerts.


  1. ^ Bjorke, Matt (September 8, 2015). "Top 30 Digital Country Singles: September 8, 2015". RoughStock.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ " – Steve Earle – Copperhead Road". ARIA Top 50 Singles.
  4. ^ Canada Top Singles peak RPM Magazine
  5. ^ UK peak(Link redirected to OCC website)