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Copperhead Road
Studio album by Steve Earle
Released October 17, 1988
April 29, 2008 (Deluxe)
Genre Country, Country rock
Length 43:36
Label MCA
Producer Steve Earle, Tony Brown
Professional reviews
Steve Earle chronology
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Copperhead Road
The Hard Way

Copperhead Road is an American country music/country rock album released in 1988 by Steve Earle. Often referred to as Earle's "rock record", Earle himself calls it the world's first blend of heavy metal and bluegrass, while in their January 26, 1989 review of the album Rolling Stone suggested the style be known as "power twang" [1].



The title song "Copperhead Road" tells of a Vietnam War veteran, scion of a rural moonshine bootlegging clan, who returns home to Johnson County, Tennessee (Copperhead Road was an actual road near Mountain City, Tennessee although it has since been renamed as Copperhead Hollow Rd. due to theft of road signs bearing the song's name). The song also inspired a popular line dance timed to the beat of the song.

The songs on side one of the album reflect Earle's politics: the title track attacks the War on Drugs, and the song "Snake Oil" compares then president Ronald Reagan to a traveling con man and draws attention to his "legacy of creative deceit"[1]. "Johnny Come Lately" (performed with The Pogues[1]) compares the experience of US servicemen fighting in World War II with those in the Vietnam War, and contrasts the differing receptions they received on returning home. "Back to the Wall" is about poverty.

Unlike some issues-oriented musicians, however, Earle does not limit himself to political material. The second side of the album consists of apolitical works: love songs ("Even When I'm Blue" for example) and a holiday offering ("Nothing but a Child", performed here with Maria McKee)[2].

References to other songs

The song "Copperhead Road" contains subtle references to "The Ballad of Thunder Road", another song about moonshine running. The second verse talks about the sheriff informing the boy's mother of his dad's (implied) death while "headin' down to Knoxville with the weekly load" (in "Thunder Road", the bootlegger ran off Kingston Pike outside Bearden, a community in Knoxville).


In declaring Copperhead Road Rock Album of the Week on October 21, 1988, The New York Times described it as "...exactly half of a brilliant album, with five smart, ornery, memorable story-songs."[2]. With references to Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and The Rolling Stones the paper applauded Earle for introducing country music's storytelling and three-chord structures to rockabilly and contemporary rock music. Side two, however, the Times dismissed as "strictly average" love songs and a "hokey" Christmas song.[2] Time Magazine, including it in the September 19, 1988 Critics' Choices, described it as a "rock- inflected, country-based album" that "takes long chances with big themes... and does them proud"[3].

It was a month into the new year before Rolling Stone finally published their review of Copperhead Road. On January 26, 1989, Rob Tannenbaum wrote that the album "begins murderously and ends sentimentally... split into two song cycles", and described the album's first side as being "as powerful as any music made this year". Of side two he admits disappointment at conventional love songs, saying Earle "has already examined this terrain and done a better job of it." Nonetheless, a review that compares Earle to Randy Newman, Bruce Springsteen, and Waylon Jennings among others concludes with Rolling Stone's designating Earle an "important artist" and finding Copperhead Road worthy of four stars [1].

Airplay on rock radio stations drove the title track into Billboard Magazine's Album Rock Top Ten chart, and that in turn helped Copperhead Road on Billboard's Album Chart, where it peaked at number 56 and gave Earle his highest charting album to date.[4]

Track listing

All songs written by Steve Earle except where noted.

Original Release (1988)

  1. "Copperhead Road" - 4:30
  2. "Snake Oil" - 3:31
  3. "Back to the Wall" - 5:29
  4. "The Devil's Right Hand" - 3:04
  5. "Johnny Come Lately" - 4:11
  6. "Even When I'm Blue" - 4:14
  7. "You Belong to Me" - 4:25
  8. "Waiting on You" (Earle, Richard Bennett) - 5:10
  9. "Once You Love" (Earle, Larry Crane) - 4:39
  10. "Nothing but a Child" - 4:26

Deluxe Edition (2008)

On April 29, 2008, Geffen Records/Universal Music released a 2-disc deluxe edition of Copperhead Road. Disc one is the album as listed above, digitally remastered. Disc two features previously unreleased live recordings.

Disc two:

  1. "The Devil's Right Hand" (live in Raleigh, North Carolina - November 19, 1987) - 4:02
  2. "Fearless Heart" (live in Raleigh) - 4:32
  3. "San Antonio Girl" (live in Raleigh) - 4:23
  4. "Nobody but You" / "Continental Trailways Bus" (live in Raleigh) - 6:26
  5. "My Baby Worships Me" (live in Raleigh) - 3:33
  6. "Wheels" (Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons) (live in Raleigh) - 4:45
  7. "The Week of Living Dangerously" (live in Raleigh) - 7:26
  8. "Johnny Come Lately" (solo, live in Raleigh) - 3:55
  9. "Brown and Root" (Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell) (live in Raleigh) - 3:46
  10. "I Love You Too Much" (live in Raleigh) - 4:28
  11. "It's All Up to You" (Earle, Harry Stinson) (live in Raleigh) - 6:11
  12. "Nebraska" (Bruce Springsteen) (solo, live - 1988) - 5:21
  13. "Copperhead Road" (live in Calgary, Canada - April 1989) - 4:08
  14. "I Ain't Ever Satisfied" (live in Calgary) - 3:52
  15. "Dead Flowers" (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards) (live in Calgary) - 5:36
  16. "Little Sister" (Greg Trooper) (solo, live in Calgary) - 3:15
  17. "Guitar Town" (live in Calgary) - 2:36


  • Steve Earle: vocals, guitars, harmonica, 6-string bass, mandolin
  • Donny Roberts: guitars, 6-string bass
  • Bill Lloyd: acoustic guitar, 12-string electric guitar
  • Bucky Baxter: pedal steel, lap steel, dobro
  • Ken Moore: synthesizer and organ
  • John Jarvis: piano
  • Kelly Looney: bass
  • Kurt Custer: drums
  • Neil MacColl: mandolin on "Johnny Come Lately"
  • John Cowan, Maria McKee, Radney Foster: background vocals
  • The Pogues played on "Johnny Come Lately"
  • Telluride played on "Nothing But A Child"

The Pogues



  1. ^ a b c d Tannenbaum, Rob (1989-01-26). "Steve Earle Copperhead Road". Rolling Stone Magazine (Jann Wenner). Retrieved 2009-03-28. 
  2. ^ a b c Pareles, Jon (1988-10-21). "Sounds Around Town". New York Times (The New York Times Company): pp. C-26. Retrieved 2009-03-28. 
  3. ^ "Critics' Choice". Time Magazine (Time Warner). 1988-09-19. Retrieved 2009-03-28. 
  4. ^ "Steve Earle: Main". (Viacom). Retrieved 2009-03-28. 


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