“Jim McBride and I were trying to write an up-tempo song and Jim came in with the line ‘Way down yonder on the Chattahoochee,’” Alan Jackson wrote in the liner notes for his seminal 1992 album, A Lot About Livin’ (And a Little ’bout Love). “It kind of went from there.”
At the time, Jackson was still a budding face in the country music scene. First debuting in the late ‘80s, he was becoming known as a source of honky tonkin’ neotraditional country song-smithing, but he hadn’t yet fully established the ethos he would eventually become loved for. So, when McBride approached him with the first few lines of “Chattahoochee,” Jackson’s interest was immediately piqued.
Way down yonder on the Chattahoochee / It gets hotter than a hoochie coochie / We laid rubber on the Georgia asphalt / We got a little crazy but we never got caught.
“I knew about the Chattahoochee River because I was raised in Alabama,” McBride told The Boot in 2015. “I was sitting in my home office in Nashville one day, and I had just read a book about the Chattahoochee. I started playing a little melody, and then I got the first two lines of the song. I went out on the road shortly after that with Alan, so I showed the song idea to him. I sang the first couple lines, and he was all over it.”
From there, the two began fleshing out the tune immediately. “We started working on it in Tallahassee, Florida, and then we finished it the next afternoon in Thibodaux, Louisiana,” McBride remembered. “We finished it before soundcheck, and he showed it to the band. They actually worked it up in soundcheck and performed it that night.”
With references to riverside Friday nights, youthful love, and cans in the pale moonlight, the meaning behind the tune’s lyrics captures the wistful magic of youthful indiscretion, especially as it exists on the hazy, lazy waters of Alabama and Georgia’s southern border. “It’s a song about having fun, growing up and coming of age in a small town—which really applies to anyone across the country, not just by the Chattahoochee,” Jackson wrote in the liner notes. “We never thought it would be as big as it’s become.”
And it’s true—the song did become big. The third single from A Lot About Livin’ (And a Little ’bout Love), the record had already peaked at No. 2 on the country charts and was dropping in sales when “Chattahoochee” debuted. Selling half a million copies, the single’s success boosted the album as a whole—in the summer of 1993, it jumped from No. 15 back up to the very top, becoming Jackon’s first-ever No. 1 album.
“I had never experienced anything like [that] before,” McBride said about the song’s success. “It was amazing what happened. People just associate with that song. With most people, there’s a river that they have memories about.”
Since the ‘90s, the song’s remained an anthem for country fans around the world—Jackson still plays it at nearly every show he does and it’s been covered by dozens of artists, like Brad Paisley, Florida Georgia Line, Scotty McCreery, and more. Through all the years, for countless folks, the song’s become an inseparable part of the soundtrack of life—the musical setting for those halcyon days when you learned a lot about livin’ and a little ‘bout love.
Watch the official music video for Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee” below:
Photo courtesy UMG