I attend Wellesley College, where I am earning my degree in Studio Art and English with a concentration in Creative Writing.
Songs About Moonshine
There is nothing more essential to country music than its defiant, often rebellious spirit. The history of the prohibition, which gave rise to the golden age of speakeasies and bootleggers, has been a rich source of song material for generations of country music singers and songwriters. Although prohibition ended nearly a century ago, the tradition of moonshining continues in the many dry towns throughout the bible belt.
10. Dolly Parton, “Daddy’s Moonshine Still”
While Dolly Parton’s dad was not a bootlegger, Dolly, who grew up in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Tennessee, was no doubt aware of tragic stories like the one she describes in “Daddy’s Moonshine Still.” The narrator details the evils of moonshine and the unforgivable pain her deadbeat father caused the family. In the song, two of her brothers die on a moonshine run, and her Mama is driven insane with worry. The narrator is only able to escape the house by earning money as a prostitute. “Daddy’s Moonshine Still” appears on Dolly’s seventh solo studio album from 1971 entitled Joshua.
9. Old Crow Medicine Show, “Bootlegger’s Boy”
Given lead man Ketch Secor’s obsession with old timey music, it’s no wonder the band turned to a topic near and dear the identity of Appalachian culture, the bootlegger.
Although not born in Appalachia, Ketch feels a remarkable connection to its people and the folk music they produce. The Toledo, Ohio, native began his love affair with old folk music while studying at the famous Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, where he learned to play the banjo.
After attending Ithaca College Ketch chose to pursue his dream of creating a folk band. He and Critter Fuqua began recruiting musicians to play in their band. In 1999 once they had found the core members of the band they moved into a cabin without running water in North Carolina to make whiskey and sell weed like the men who wrote the music that so inspired Secor in the first place. The band felt that in order to create authentic music, they needed to live out the things they sang about. So when they sing about the dangers of bootlegging in “Bootleggers Boy,” you know that they have a genuine relationship to the subject matter. “Bootlegger’s Boy” follows the violent and tragic tale of a bootlegger’s son whose fun and wild days of delivering moonshine come to an abrupt end after he kills a man over a “feud of whiskey.”
8. Jimmy Buffett, “God’s Own Drunk”
“God’s Own Drunk” caused Jimmy Buffett quite the headache, and not the kind of headache he must have had the morning after the moonshine induced adventures with an equally drunk bear described in the song.
Just under 10 years after the song’s release, Dick Buckley Jr., son of the late comedian Lord Buckley, sued Buffett for $11 million over the rights to the song’s lyrics. Lord Buckley’s son claimed that Buffett stole the song from a monologue written and performed by his father.
Unfortunately, while the suit was in progress Buffett was forced to remove the song from his live performances. However, Buffett made sure that the injustice of the suit was noticed by replacing it with a tune he wrote specifically to fill its spot called “The Lawyer and the Asshole.” Although you probably won’t hear Buffett perform the song live, you can find it on his 1974 album Living and Dying in ¾ Time.
7. The Stanley Brothers, “Good Old Mountain Dew”
The Mountain Dew the Stanley Brothers refer to in this song is not the stuff from modern-day vending machines. It is the apparently magical clear liquor made in hidden stills all over Appalachia. The lyrics to the song claim that Mountain Dew can make a man feel like he’s a giant, be used as a sweet alluring perfume, and even cure the flu. No wonder “them that refuse it are few.”
The song, also known as “Mountain Dew” and “Real Old Mountain Dew,” is an Appalachian folk song written by Bascom Lamar Lunsford in 1928. Lunsford was an amateur folklorist and a professional lawyer operating in rural North Carolina who used his legal expertise to defend those who had been accused of making the illegal liquor. Later, a friend of Lunsford’s by the name of Scotty Wisemen adjusted the lyrics by deleting lines about a man going to court and adding a catchy chorus. Wisemen recorded the song for Vocalion Records in 1935.
After performing it at the National Folk Festival in Chicago, Lunsford sold Wisemen the rights to the song for $25 (about $437 today) to buy a train ticket back to North Carolina. Although the Stanley Brother’s version appears on this list, the song has been covered by several other famous country and folk artists including Grandpa Jones, Glen Campbell and Willie Nelson.
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6. Jake Owen, “Apple Pie Moonshine”
Country Music’s all-American boy Jake Owen has charmed fans since the day he picked up a guitar. Jake Owen, who was born Joshua Owen, is known for good-vibe tunes and the wholesome kind of good time everyone can enjoy. “Apple Pie Moonshine” is no exception to this trend. It follows the story of a country boy who meets a classy country club girl who steals his heart with a little bit of apple pie moonshine and a night under the stars. “Apple Pie Moonshine” appears on Owen’s third studio album Barefoot Blue Jean Night which was released in the summer of 2011.
5. Gillian Welch, “Tear My Stillhouse Down”
“Tear My Stillhouse Down” appeared on Gillian Welch’s first studio album Revival, released in the spring of 1996. Revival, which features all original songs composed by Welch and her musical partner David Rawlings, quickly gained recognition among country and folk fans across the USA.
Welch often finds inspiration for her songs by listening to the music of great country artists she admires, then writing a song to that artist. According to an article in Rolling Stone, inspiration for “Tear My Stillhouse Down” came after Welch listened to Peter Rowan perform Bill Monroe’s 1977 song "Walk Softly on This Heart of Mine.”
Welch, who has been writing songs since her childhood, honed her skills while studying at the Berklee College of Music under the instruction of Pat Pattison, a renowned songwriter and professor at the college. This song certainly shows off her skills, expertly blending music and heartfelt lyrics about the evils of moonshining.
4. George Jones, “White Lightening”
“White Lightening” was originally written by rockabilly artist J.P. Richardson, best known by his stage name The Big Bopper. George Jones recorded the song only a week after the famous plane crash that would kill Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and his long-time friend Richardson. Although the song went on to be a number one country hit for Jones, recording the song was quite a struggle. As reported in Jones’s autobiography I Lived to Tell It All, Jones was drinking so heavily during the recording session that his producer Buddy Killen had to do 83 takes before he got one that they could use . . . pretty ironic for a song about concocting one of the most potent liquors known to mankind.
3. Hank Williams III, “Mississippi Mud”
Despite the pressure and expectation attached to being the son and grandson of country legends Hank Williams Junior and Hank Williams, Hank III has created a brand of music all his own.
Early on in his musical career Hank III completely rejected his country roots, drumming in several punk bands. However, he could not resist his origins, and soon he began to play country music. Even so, his style is truly his own. It is a striking combination of outlaw country, punk, rock, and metal.
On stage, Hank III resembles his grandfather more than his father. He is tall and gaunt with a warbling voice that can convey an astounding emotional range. Like his father and grandfather before him, he is known to enjoy the fast life and rarely spends a moment sober. “Mississippi Mud” spares no details in describing the fast-paced lifestyle Hank III has enjoyed since entering the music business.
Performance With New Frontman Gary Nichols
Performance With Former Frontman Chris Stapleton
2. The SteelDrivers, “Good Corn Liquor”
“Good Corn Liquor” appeared on the SteelDrivers’ sophomore album Reckless, the last album that frontman Chris Stapleton recorded with the group before his departure to focus on his own musical career. The song was written by Chris Stapleton and Ronnie Bowman, an astounding country and bluegrass songwriter who has written hit songs for several big-name country artists like Kenny Chesney.
Following Stapleton’s departure from the band, Bowman was instrumental in his success as a solo act. Bowman wrote three songs for Chris Stapleton’s debut solo album Traveler, including “Nobody to Blame” which won ACM’s song of the year. Traveler was wildly successful and was named the ACM’s and CMA’s "Album of the Year" in addition to winning a Grammy for "Country Album of the Year." “Good Corn Liquor” song follows the well-worn story of a son whose father is shot down by the law for running moonshine.
1. Steve Earle, “Copperhead Road”
This title track from Steve Earle’s highly acclaimed 1988 album Copperhead Road peaked at No. 10 on the U.S. Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, making it the highest-ranking song Earle ever recorded. Because of its chart success and popularity, it is the song most often associated with the country/rock singer.
The song tells the story of a third-generation moonshiner who, after serving two tours of duty in Vietnam, comes back with a plan to revamp his family’s illegal activities by growing Marijuana on Copperhead Road, where his father and Grandfather’s Moonshine Still used to be.
The song fits well with Earle’s reputation for a wild lifestyle and rebel attitude. In more recent years, many have commented on Earle’s increased dependency on drugs and alchohol. His son, Justin Townes Earle, who is also a well-known folk/country singer in his own right, has been extremely vocal about his father’s issues and their own strained relationship from his long absences and many divorces/marriages during Justin’s childhood.
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Is there a song I haven't included on this list? Do you have strong feelings about any of the songs featured on this article? Comment Below!
Ryan from Louisiana, USA on July 20, 2017:
What a fun hub. I am not big on country music, but I don't mind some moonshine every now and then. Great and entertaining hub.