Steve Earle’s album Copperhead Road was released in 1988 – 24 years ago

I volunteered for the Army on my birthday
They draft the white trash , ´round here anyway
I done two tours of duty in Vietnam
And I came home with a brand new plan…”

“”This record is definitely going to keep me off the Grand Ole Opry. I think we’ve made a real rock ‘n roll album. People that only know me from Guitar Town  might be freaked out a bit, although anyone who also followed Exit O  and the live thing won’t be taken aback at all. Sonically, the rhythm section’s a lot tougher.” – Steve Earle (to Spectator)

Copperhead Road is an American alternative country/country rock album released in 1988 by Steve Earle. Often referred to as Earle’s first “rock record”, Earle himself calls it the world’s first blend ofheavy metal and bluegrass, while in their January 26, 1989 review of the album Rolling Stone suggested the style be known as “power twang”. (read more at Wikipedia)

Released October 17, 1988
April 29, 2008 (Deluxe)
Genre Heartland rock, Alt-Country, Country rock, Americana
Length 43:36
Label Uni Records (USA/Canada)
Producer Steve Earle, Tony Brown

Official video for the song Copperhead Road

The songs on  the album are a mix of personal/love songs and political/story-songs. The title track is about a road used for drug/alcohol traffic through generations,  the song “Snake Oil” compares then president Ronald Reagan to a traveling con man.  The title track and “Johnny Come Lately” ( with The Pogues) both describe the experiences of returning veterans.

Steve Earle and Pogues recording Johnny Come Lately:

“Johnny Come Lately” compares the experience of US servicemen fighting in World War II with those in the Vietnam War, and tells about the completely different welcomes  they received on returning home.

Back to the wall (official video):

“Back to the Wall” is about  the life of the homeless in the US. Earle was active in supporting the homeless and gave some of the albums earnings to the cause.

Keep one eye on the ground 
Pick up whatever you find 
‘Cause you’ve got no place to fall 
When your back’s to the wall”

The Devil’s Right Hand (Austin City Limits):

So then I went and bought myself a Colt 45 
Called a peacemaker but I never knew why 
Never knew why, I didn’t understand 
Cause Mama said the pistol is the devil’s right hand”

Unlike some issues-oriented musicians, however, Earle does not limit himself to political material. The “second side” of the album has a more personal theme (not so much big politics) and a holiday offering, “Nothing but a Child”, performed lovely with Maria McKee. New York times described “Nothing but a Child” as hokey, but today it is considered a classic among people with good taste in music (fact).

Nothing but a child:

Copperhead road live on Letterman (and great interview that starts at 3:47):

I have chosen some highlights but here is the entire album from Spotify (with live bonuses that was released at the 20 year anniversary):


Mark Deming

Steve Earle and Nashville had had just about enough of one another once it came time for him to cut his third album in 1988. Earle’s first two albums, Guitar Town and Exit 0, had sold well and earned enthusiastic reviews, but his stubborn refusal to make nice, his desire to make more rock-influenced albums, and the faint but clear Leftism in his populist lyrical stance made him no friends at MCA’s Nashville offices, and his growing dependence on heroin didn’t help matters one bit.

Earle was moved to MCA’s Los Angeles-based Uni imprint, and he headed to Memphis to cut his third album, Copperhead Road. The result improbably became one of Earle’s strongest albums; between its big drum sound, arena-sized guitars, and a swagger that owed more to the Rolling Stones and Guns N’ Roses than country’s New Traditionalists, Copperhead Road was the unabashed rock & roll album Earle had long threatened to make, but his attitude and personality were strong enough to handle the oversized production, and the songs showed that for all the aural firepower, this was still the same down-home troublemaker fromEarle’s first two albums… (Read more at AllMusic)

“We were a hillbilly band, but we were the loudest hillbilly band in the world … I don’t understand why anyone thought rock and country were mutually exclusive terms in the first place.”
– Steve Earle

– Hallgeir