Well my name's John Lee Pettimore
Same as my daddy and his daddy before
You hardly ever saw Grandaddy down here
He only come to town about twice a year

He'd buy a hundred pounds of yeast and some copper line
Everybody knew that he made moonshine
Now the revenue man wanted Grandaddy bad
Headed up the holler with everything he had
'Fore my time but I've been told
He never come back from Copperhead Road

Now Daddy ran whiskey in a big block Dodge
Bought it at an auction at the Mason's Lodge
Johnson County Sheriff painted on the side
Just shot a coat of primer then he looked inside

Well him and my uncle tore that engine down
I still remember that rumblin' sound
When the Sheriff came around in the middle of the night
Heard mama cryin', knew something wasn't right
He was headed down to Knoxville with the weekly load
You could smell the whiskey burnin' down Copperhead Road

I volunteered for the Army on my birthday
They draft the white trash first, 'round here anyway
I done two tours of duty in Vietnam
I came home with a brand new plan
I take the seed from Columbia and Mexico
I just plant it up the holler down Copperhead Road
And now the D.E.A.'s got a chopper in the air
I wake up screaming like I'm back over there
I learned a thing or two from Charlie don't you know
You'd better stay away from Copperhead Road

Copperhead Road
Copperhead Road
Copperhead Road

Lyrics submitted by shauncreaney, edited by MacHudde

"Copperhead Road" as written by Steve Earle

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner Chappell Music, Inc.

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Copperhead Road song meanings
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  • +7
    General CommentI am from the area this is about... I will help you guys out on the translation...

    First off... Pruitis:

    His daddy bought the big black dodge at an auction from the Masons. That is right. Johnson County sherriff painted one the side, it was an old cop car, but they break down the engine and soup it up to make it faster than cop cars. BTW: Johnson County is Johnson County, Tennessee where there actually is a Copperhead Road.

    Also... the car did not catch on fire near copperhead road, but instead when he was on the way to Knoxville. He was probably ran off the road by a cop. So, since the sherrif knows about it he tells the singer's mother that the father is dead. The Sherriff then goes up Copperhead Road and burns all the whiskey. They either pour out whiskey when they find it or burn it.


    In the first verse the grandfather is killed, not the revenue man. That is part of the theme... everyone dies doing it, but the John Lee III has some tricks.

    No, he didn't take out the helicopter. In Vietnam the VietMihn were famous for small hidden traps all over. So in order to destroy John Lee's pot they have to land and go destroy it. He is essentially saying that you better stay away because he has the place rigged up with traps.
    Comebakatzon June 04, 2008   Link
  • +3
    General CommentA country classic and one the 500 greatest songs of all time. The meaning is pretty straightforward and it has set many a hair on fire. Steve Earle is an outlaw in the outlaw tradition. A great song from one of the greatest country songwriters of all time.
    OpinionHeadon October 11, 2004   Link
  • +2
    General CommentAbout a man who comes from a bootlegging family who goes to war and gets a little crazy. So when he comes back from the war he goes up in the hills where his grandpa escaped the law and continues the tradition of "bootlegging" by growing pot. Easily one of the best songs ever.
    Bellyfull of Swanson January 16, 2005   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI've always thought smelling the whiskey burning down the road meant that when they rebuilt the car they changed it so that it would run on the alkey. Much like the early nascar drivers who would run their cars on alkey because it burns much cooler and faster then gas.
    mavrick480on August 06, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI try again. Love this song, only recently discovered it. (Where was I when it came out?) The line dance is like a super-energized Afro-Celtic Cherokee war dance. Guys especially seem to love dancing this. The song is so rebellious, aggressive, heartfelt, it speaks to many of us. As to the Australian aspect and the bagpipes, Australia, like colonial U.S. and especially the southern Appalachian region, was also settled by many Scots and Irish, some of them convicts in prison colonies, so bagpipes surely must have been played there too. I love that people contribute their thoughts on the meaning of this song, but please don't call other contributors names for voicing their opinions and questions. So there really is a Copperhead Road! Copperhead is also the name of a poisonous snake in the region so there's another meaning and question in the mix. Was the road named for the snakes or the stills?
    macadamiaon February 17, 2009   Link
  • +1
    Song MeaningI really an't believe this song has been out 20 years & you don't REALLY get it! As someone mentioned that grandad & dad get killed? There is absolutely no mention of Granddad getting killed. The only ones who die is the revenue man & dad. Also, its a big BLOCK dodge, not black. The police dept's used to donate their old police cars to different organizations for charity auctions, hence he bought the car at a masons lodge auction. A police car would have been what shiners wanted because of the high performance engine block, crank, & heads. Cops had the fastest cars back then so they took those engines & souped them up & lightened the cars so they could outrun cops. That rumblin sound would be from a different canshaft & timing combo, plus HP exhaust. The smell of the whiskey burnin' down copperhead road can be interpreted 2 ways. He did wreck, but you can say he just wrecked or cops wrecked him, it doesn't matter. But the smell is the smell of the weekly load that was in the trunk when the car wrecked. His life was going nowhere so he enlisted cause he would get drafted anyway. He came home with a brand new plan is teh viet cong got GI's addicted to drugs. He saw what people addicted to drugs would do for it. He comes home & continues the tradition of giving the people what they want, MJ is the new shine. He learned from charlie how to boobytrap a place & hide the drugs. That's it!
    I am from Johnson County, TN & the only town in the county is Mountain City. Copperhead Rd. is in a little community 5 or 6 miles outside of Mtn City called Neva, sometimes referred to as Crackers Neck.
    Steve once told me that Copperhead Rd is really a ficticious state of mind, it can be wherever you want it to be, but there is a copperhead rd in Johnson Co. TN & Steve was aware of this which made it even better. Johnson Co. Tn is in the NE corner of the state bordering NC & VA. It is the TRI-CITY area. Bristol, Kingsport, Johnson City. Bristol is about 2 hrs from Knoxville. I have met Steve Earle on a few occasions. The tri cities is a very musically oriented place. Bristol is the birthplace of country music, & Johnson City has the Blue Plum festival & Little Chicago blues festival. I now reside in Johnson City, which is in Washington Co., Not Johnson. But all of upper E.TN is basically considered the Tri-City area with little communities in between.
    littlechicago1on December 03, 2009   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationI'm surprised someone hasn't already brought it up, but the song title may have a direct correlation with growing marijuana in that region of the country. When talking about booby trapping the fields, "I learned a thing or two from Charlie don't yah know", I think it's worth noting copperheads were used by paranoid growers who thought they might be robbed as their plants were budding. The technique was described to me, not in the context of the song, but by someone who lived and farmed** in the area in the late 70's/early 80's. I can't say for certain, but tend to believe this person when they told me how they used to round up copperheads two weeks before harvesting, secure the tails of the snakes to the stalks of the plants with fishing line, so if anyone tried to rob them in the "middle of the night," they would be bitten by an ornery snake with a fishing hook in it's tail. Anyway, that's how I've always interpreted the meaning. "You better stay away from copperhead road," rephrased; You better not be in my fields chopping off buds in the middle of the night. Maybe the DEA symbolizes anything/anyone that threatens a grower's operation?
    KFCeedson May 04, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI am grateful for this comment by littlechicago1. I have always thought that Copperhead Road sounded like a real place.
    This is one of the great American songs by one great American artist.

    A couple of the comments here refer to the use of bagpipes. They sound more like Uillean pipes or Irish bagpipes. That sound may actually be electronic, either way they add to the 'heritage' feel of the song. Steve Earle is tapping into a deep, long felt and heart felt sentiment about the early settlers and frontiersmen. He sings about generations and the music reflects this. The music is rich in instruments and rhythm. The song is a masterpiece, it even puts Springsteen to shame in terms of combination of lyricism and musicality. You can return to this song any time and it still sounds as fresh.

    mgvsmithon January 02, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentA couple more thoughts that haven't been covered: The bagpipes at the opening of the song are reminiscent of the Irish and Scottish heritage of many people in the American South. Bagpipes also invoke the insurrectionist/survivalist spirit of the Irish and Scottish, who have spent centuries fighting a much larger foe (the English). It has been argued that the fiery fighting spirit of the Scottish and Irish immigrants contributed to the Southern states succeeding in the American Civil War. Malcolm Gladwell has an interesting chapter on the South as an honour-based society in his book "Outliers."

    Also, Earle writes in an interesting parallel between John Lee and his father, in that his father used a cop car (a tool of the "establishment") to help him run moonshine, while John Lee III uses the military (another tool of the "establishment") to defend his contraband.
    Joshaviahon April 09, 2012   Link
  • +1
    General CommentWow..lots of different assumptions out there concerning this songs lyrics and meanings. The fed agent ain't coming back son he's dead either by Grandaddy or maybe by snake encounters. Copperhead road didn't gets its name ft
    Steve Windsoron October 23, 2013   Link

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