Good Ole Rocky Top

Growing up in East Tennessee fairly close to the home of the Big Orange (University of Tennessee) necessitates 2 things:  1) rooting for the Vols any and every time they play a sport (mostly basketball and football)
2) learning the words to the fight song, Rocky Top

I was in 3rd grade when I first learned the words to the song. I remember being quite happy about it, but of course, I didn’t pay any attention to the actual lyrics. I did hear something about a “moonshine still” but didn’t think too much of it. I knew what moonshine was as a 9 year old. My mother’s father, whom I had never met, made it as did her brother, who I had met. My grandfather died well before I was born. My uncle looked and acted like a “moonshiner”. He always wore bib overalls and was very hermit-like. Although, he never had the long beard to go with the caricutured image.

Now you might say, “Wow! Why would any 9 year old know about moonshine?” Well, making moonshine is a source of pride round these parts. The impression I’ve always gotten is this:  people in the mountains eked out a living, which may or may not have included producing illegal liquor (i.e. not paying government taxes). They made it for their own consumption and to sell to others. It was a way to be independent and self-sufficient, but when the government came calling to get their taxes, mayhem ensued. Other famous songs were written about this mayhem, like Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road, which was about the game of cat and mouse between the police and the moonshiners. NASCAR was started using moonshine runners as race cars! The moonshine industry has had a tremendous impact on the culture in Appalachia and the south. Heck, when I’ve met people not from round here, and I tell them where I’m from, one of the first things they ask me about is moonshine! They ask me if I’ve drunk it, made it, sold it, and if I can get them some. It’s actually quite funny.

Now getting back to Rocky Top the song:  have you ever really read the lyrics? If not, here they are:

Wish that I was on ol’ Rocky Top
Down in the Tennessee hills
Ain’t no smoggy smoke on Rocky Top
Ain’t no telephone bills
Once I had a girl on Rocky Top
Half bear, other half cat
Wild as a mink, but sweet as soda pop
I still dream about that

Rocky Top, you’ll always be
Home sweet home to me
Good ol’ Rocky Top
Rocky Top, Tennessee
Rocky Top, Tennessee

Once two strangers climbed ol’ Rocky Top
Lookin’ for a moonshine still
Strangers ain’t come down from Rocky Top
Reckon they never will
Corn won’t grow at all on Rocky Top
Dirt’s too rocky by far
That’s why all the folks on Rocky Top
Get their corn from a jar

Rocky Top, you’ll always be
Home sweet home to me
Good ol’ Rocky Top
Rocky Top, Tennessee
Rocky Top, Tennessee

I’ve had years of cramped-up city life
Trapped like a duck in a pen
All I know is it’s a pity life
Can’t be simple again

Rocky Top, you’ll always be
Home sweet home to me
Good ol’ Rocky Top
Rocky Top, Tennessee
Rocky Top, Tennessee
Rocky Top, Tennessee

The second verse includes a reference to two strangers who climbed Rocky Top, but never came back down. I’m pretty sure this is a clear reference to revenuers who were probably killed when they went looking where they weren’t welcome. Is that appropriate for kids and sports fans to be singing?  Apparently so because this year, my 3rd grader came home singing the song. She had learned it in music class…

What do y’all think of moonshine culture? Has it affected your lives?

Thanks for reading!


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