Following its 1988 release, Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road” became an unexpected line-dancing phenomenon. “I wasn’t even aware of [it] until long after I got out of jail,” the singer-songwriter once said. “The line dance has survived. In any country joint where they play records, where they have a DJ, ‘Copperhead Road’ happens every single [night]. I’m honored by it.”
In a new episode of I Miss…90s Country Radio with Nick Hoffman on Apple Music Country, Ward Guenther, founder of Nashville’s Whiskey Jam showcase, and musician Danny Myrick reflect on “Copperhead Road” and its place in line-dancing history.
“This song is one of the testaments to the power of music, because it is a really intense song about a Vietnam veteran coming back to grow marijuana in the hills and avoid the helicopters from the DEA,” says Guenther. “It’s crazy, but the music is so good, and it’s so powerful that it got people line dancing. And it’s played to this day down on Broadway multiple times a day, and people just rock out to it. Not necessarily taking into account the full lyrical thing, but sometimes life is better when you’re just line dancing along and not taking it too seriously.”
When Myrick first heard “Copperhead Road,” it transported him to another time and place. “It was like somebody took your granddaddy’s old pickup and converted it to a rocket fuel engine hauling moonshine from the Hills of Kentucky, straight into the radio. Is this country? “No man, I think it’s rock,” he says. “Wait, it sounds country, but it rocks your face off—and it was dangerous, and rebellious, and aggressive, and visual, and picturesque, and still. And if it comes on the radio today you got to crank it to 11.”
A No. 10 hit on Billboard Mainstream Rock Airplay, “Copperhead Road” (the title track to Earle’s third studio record) emerged as “such an atypical dance anthem,” continues Myrick. “It’s so trippy. You had this hillbilly highway moonshine anthem that people identify with that culture. Suddenly midnight in some dance club, it comes on. And when those guitars kick in and it’s just cranking, it transforms a club into like a Celtic stomp ritual somewhere. And it wasn’t 808’s and low-end bass and all that. It was just like work boots on the floor, stomp, with loud guitars and bagpipes. People couldn’t get enough of it.”
In the episode, other ’90s staples like artist Bryan White and producer Scott Hendricks reflect on pivotal career moments. Listen to the full episode on demand here.