Released October 17, 1988
April 29, 2008 (Deluxe)
Genre Country rock, hard rock
Length 43:36
Label Uni Records (USA/Canada)

Copperhead Road is the third studio album by Steve Earle, released in 1988. The album is often referred to as Earle’s first “rock record”; Earle himself calls it the world’s first blend of heavy metal and bluegrass, and the January 26, 1989 review of the album by Rolling Stone suggested that the style be called “power twang”.

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”. The title track and “Johnny Come Lately” (performed with The Pogues) both describe the experiences of returning veterans. The latter 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, describing the life of the homeless in the US.

Unlike some issues-oriented musicians, however, Earle does not limit himself to political material. The second side of the album consists of more personal, slower tempo works: love songs (“Even When I’m Blue” for example) and a holiday offering (“Nothing but a Child”, performed with Maria McKee).

The title song “Copperhead Road” tells of a Vietnam War veteran, scion of a rural moonshine bootlegging clan, who returns home to Rockingham County, Virginia but decides instead to enter the marijuana business which is shown by the line, “I’ll take the seed from Colombia and Mexico”. 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 and has been used as the theme music for the Discovery Channel reality series Moonshiners.

Track listing

All tracks written by Steve Earle except where noted.

Original release (1988)
“Copperhead Road” – 4:29
“Snake Oil” – 3:31
“Back to the Wall” – 5:29
“The Devil’s Right Hand” – 3:04
“Johnny Come Lately” – 4:11
“Even When I’m Blue” – 4:14
“You Belong to Me” – 4:25
“Waiting on You” (Earle, Richard Bennett) – 5:10
“Once You Love” (Earle, Larry Crane) – 4:39
“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

“The Devil’s Right Hand” (live in Raleigh, North Carolina – November 19, 1987) – 4:02
“Fearless Heart” (live in Raleigh) – 4:32
“San Antonio Girl” (live in Raleigh) – 4:23
“Nobody but You” / “Continental Trailways Bus” (live in Raleigh) – 6:26
“My Baby Worships Me” (live in Raleigh) – 3:33
“Wheels” (Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons) (live in Raleigh) – 4:45
“The Week of Living Dangerously” (live in Raleigh) – 7:26
“Johnny Come Lately” (solo, live in Raleigh) – 3:55
“Brown and Root” (Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell) (live in Raleigh) – 3:46
“I Love You Too Much” (live in Raleigh) – 4:28
“It’s All Up to You” (Earle, Harry Stinson) (live in Raleigh) – 6:11
“Nebraska” (Bruce Springsteen) (solo, live – 1988) – 5:21
“Copperhead Road” (live in Calgary, Canada – April 1989) – 4:08
“I Ain’t Ever Satisfied” (live in Calgary) – 3:52
“Dead Flowers” (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards) (live in Calgary) – 5:36
“Little Sister” (Greg Trooper) (solo, live in Calgary) – 3:15
“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
Michael McAdam – 12-string electric guitar
Bucky Baxter – pedal steel, lap steel, Dobro
Ken Moore – synthesizer and organ
John Barlow Jarvis – piano
Kelly Looney – bass
Kurt Custer – drums
Neil MacColl – mandolin on “Johnny Come Lately”
John Cowan, Maria McKee, Radney Foster – background vocals
Chris Birkett – drum programming on “You Belong to Me”
Gary Tallent – arrangement on “The Devil’s Right Hand”
The Pogues played on “Johnny Come Lately”
Telluride played on “Nothing But a Child”
The Pogues

Terry Woods – cittern
Phil Chevron – guitar, vocals
Jem Finer – banjo
James Fearnley – accordion
Spider Stacy – tin whistle, vocals
Shane MacGowan – banjo, bodhran
Darryl Hunt – bass
Andrew Ranken – drums