26 Songs About Moonshine

Juli Thanki | October 5th, 2009

Prohibition ended over 70 years ago, but moonshine songs have still enjoyed a fair amount of popularity in the past decades. Narrowing it down to only 26 songs was difficult, and this month’s Top Five was pretty hotly contested here at The 9513 compound. Nevertheless, we did our best to bring you songs from a wide variety of artists and eras.

  • matt-stillwill-shine26. “Shine” – Matt Stillwell
    With a name like Stillwell, you better believe this guy’s got some knowledge of the homebrew. On his debut single he advocates taking a few sips from a mason jar to start the morning off right after a night spent boozing it up and listening to Bocephus in a hayfield.
  • white-lightning-hit-the-family-tree25. “White Lightning Hit the Family Tree” – Chris Young
    A little bit of moonshine livens up a family reunion: Granny’s slurring her words, there’s shouting matches over college football, and a food fight. Aren’t most reunions like that even without the benefit of homemade grain alcohol?
  • moonshine-and-indian-blood24. “Moonshine And Indian Blood” – Billy Joe Shaver
    On Shaver’s website, there’s an interview with co-writer Tony Colton about this song’s inception:

    David Briggs, who used to play piano for Elvis Presley, is a very famous Memphis keyboard player. Well, he and Billy Joe were having a bit of a Mexican standoff, an argument which was getting worse as the night went on (because there was drink involved). It erupted into a fight. We managed to separate them, two big boisterous boys, you know. We got David out of the way, and we got Billy Joe back to the apartment. The rest of us were all sitting around the table thanking our lucky stars that it hadn’t gotten worse, because David Briggs had pulled a gun out at one point, and I said, “Well that’s just moonshine and Indian blood for you,” because Billy Joe is part Indian. And I got straight up from the table and walked to the phone and dropped a quarter in and called Billy Joe and said, “I’ve got a song for us.” He said, “What is it?” and I said, “Moonshine and Indian Blood,” and he said “Get over here now!” (laughs) And that’s what we did, we wrote it straight after the fight.

    Is anyone surprised by this?

  • mississippi-mud23. “Mississippi Mud” – Hank Williams III
    III knows a little something about illegal substances. On this song from Lovesick, Broke, and Drifting, he sings the praises of Georgia moonshine swilled “straight out of the jug.”
  • moonshine-blues22. “Moonshine Blues” – Moon Mullican
    This is a jaunty little piano tune, the kind that’d be great to dance along to once you’ve got a few drinks in your system.
  • pure-prarie-league-kentucky-moonshine21. “Kentucky Moonshine” – Pure Prairie League
    Here’s a tender love song directed towards booze…and maybe some girl. Ironically, the band’s name comes from a fictional women’s temperance group featured in the film Dodge City.
  • where-the-devil-dont-stay20. “Where The Devil Don’t Stay” – Drive-By Truckers
    What would a seminal Southern Rock album like The Dirty South be without a moonshine song, especially one that’s based on a poem? Here Mike Cooley sings about a few consequences of moonshining, like being locked up so far down “even the devil won’t stay.”
  • franklin--county-moonshine19. “Franklin County Moonshine” – Jean Shepard
    Sassy Jean Shepard tells the story of a wife who wishes her man had never started up a still. Not only is it all he thinks about, but it’s turning her black hair gray. But who knows: maybe he’ll make enough money to afford some Miss Clairol. Problem solved.
  • copper-kettle18. “Copper Kettle” – Chet Atkins
    Damn the 18th century man! The family in this Joan Baez folksong hasn’t paid a whiskey tax since 1792, which was smack dab in the middle of the Whiskey Rebellion.
  • daddys-moonshine-still17. “Daddy’s Moonshine Still” – Dolly Parton
    A father’s moonshine business ruins a family: two sons die on a run, and the narrator of this song is forced to engage in unsavory activities to support loved ones, singing “I sent mama money near every day/How I made it, I’d rather not say.”
  • moonshiner16. “Moonshiner” – Uncle Tupelo
    Jay Farrar and the boys covered this traditional ‘shine song on their largely acoustic record March 16-20, 1992. Allison Moorer’s another alt-country type who covers it beautifully.
  • dixon-brothers15. “The Old Home Brew” – Dixon Brothers
    Country singers/textile mill workers Howard and Dorsey Dixon sang this catchy (and kinda patriotic) little tune celebrating the end of Prohibition while simultaneously wondering what they’re going to do with all that leftover rotgut now that they can return to delicious manufactured beer.
  • tommy-johnson-canned-heat14. “Canned Heat Blues” – Tommy Johnson
    Drinking liquefied Sterno? Probably not the best idea, which is why there’s a mournful Depression-era blues song about it. But desperate times call for desperate measures.
  • born-and-raised-in-black-and-white13. “Ballad Of Thunder Road” – Mark Collie
    This is a cover of the theme song from late ’50s moonshine movie Thunder Road, starring Robert Mitchum. Even if you haven’t heard the song, chances are you’ll know how it ends once you hear the lyric in which a father begs his son to “make this run [his] last.” Final runs never end well in country music.
  • prohibition-is-a-failure12. “Prohibition is a Failure” – New Lost City Ramblers
    The NLCR cut a whole album of boozy excellence in the early ’60s with American Moonshine and Prohibition. The record includes songs like “Bootlegger’s Story,” and “Whiskey Seller,” but this is my personal favorite. Be sure to check YouTube for Lowe Stokes’ 1929 version of the song.
  • whiskey-in-the-jar11. “Whiskey In The Jar” – Jerry Garcia & David Grisman
    A traditional Irish folksong about a stickup guy done wrong by a woman gets the acoustic treatment from Jerry and David on their album Shady Grove. The rockers around here might know the Thin Lizzy or Metallica versions.
  • fiddlin-john-carson10. “Moonshine Kate” – Fiddlin’ John Carson
    His daughter, Rosa Lee, took the stage name Moonshine Kate and performed with her dad in a number of comedic skits, including this one. My favorite exchange? “Q: Do [your parents] make whiskey to sell? A:They don’t make it to give away.”
  • dixon-brothers9. “Jake Walk Blues” – Allen Brothers
    What’s jake? Jamaican ginger extract, one of many “dubious but harmless patent medicines” Americans relied on, not only to treat everything from headaches to constipation, but also get around temperance laws. Plus, it was often cheaper and of a higher proof than real booze, and it was apparently kind of tasty. To discourage non-medicinal use, the government began regulating jake, requiring more ginger solids in each bottle to make it a bitter “black syrup.” In the ’30s, a pair of bootleggers/jake distributors added tri-ortho-cresyl phosphate, a tasteless plasticizing compound to the jake in order to get past the government inspectors. It turns out that this compound attacked the central nervous system and spinal cord, causing partial paralysis, muscle atrophy, and a distinctive walk among those unlucky enough to drink the doctored jake. Yeah, that’d give anyone the blues. Luckily the Allen boys throw some kazoo in this Mississippi Sheiks song to cheer you up.
  • steve-earle-copperhead-road8. “Copperhead Road” – Steve Earle
    This Southern rocker is a heartwarming tale of multigenerational distribution of illegal substances. Aww! They should make a movie about the Pettimore clan and show it every Christmas.
  • uncledavemacon7. “Cannon County Hills” – Uncle Dave Macon
    Broadway may have bright lights, but Cannon County has moonshine. Cannon County 1, Broadway 0.
  • dooley6. “Dooley” – The Dillards
    Dooley’s moonshine is a family business, with the daughters tending the still and mama corking the bottles. And when ol’ Dooley dies, he’s buried with a jug beside him and a barrel for his headstone while the menfolk sob.
  • tear-my-stillhouse-down5. “Tear My Stillhouse Down” – Gillian Welch
    In lieu of flowers or donations to a favorite charity, this lady’s last wishes are that her loved ones put an end to the “hiding place where [she] made that evil stuff.” Also, better pass the word onto the kiddos that “Hell ain’t no dream/’Cause Satan he lives in [that] whiskey machine.”
  • rocky-top4. “Rocky Top” – Osborne Brothers
    These brother duos sure love their alcohol songs. Recorded in 1967 by the Kentucky-born Bobby and Sonny, it’s since been covered by a legion of artists from all genres. It’s a peppy little song, but a word of advice: if you’re a stranger, don’t prowl around Rocky Top looking for a still. It might not end well.
  • chug-a-lug3. “Chug-a-Lug” – Roger Miller
    There’s nothing quite like that first underage sip. In 1964, this single made both country and pop Top 10 lists. Hidee ho, indeed.
  • grandpa-jones-mountain-dew2. “Mountain Dew” – Grandpa Jones
    The ‘shine in this traditional song is so potent that the birds flying over the still become too plastered to fly. Don’t like Grandpa Jones? Take your pick from the dozens of other artists who’ve recorded it too.
  • white-lightning1. “White Lightning” – George Jones
    A song that’s immediately recognizable from its intro, “White Lightning” is one of Jones’ best, and this month’s Numero Uno song. He’s also recorded a song looking at things from the other side of the law: “Revenooer Man” (Alan Jackson does a nice version too). These days, Possum’s peddling his own form of White Lightning that’s about as far from “Pappy’s corn squeezin’” as you can get: bottled water.

2 Pings

  1. [...] out a jar of granny’s skull rattle folks, Juli Thaki at the 9513.com has given us her top 26 songs about [...]
  2. [...] kinds of backdoor barrooms. Out in the countryside, home distilleries became popular (here’s a moonshine playlist from The 9513 archives). As Discovery Channel’s Moonshiners rakes in big viewers this season, [...]
  1. Rick
    October 5, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    I’d have to say my favorite version of “White Lightning” is the frenetic one by Hank Flamingo featuring Trent Summar on lead vocal. Its guaranteed to put a smile on your face as big as the one you’d get taking a big gulp of mountain dew, and its less likely to make you puke! (lol)

    I had a bad experience with some corn liquor sold in a mason jar back in the late 1970′s at a local supermarket. It’s label proudly proclaimed it was aged less than 30 days (they age moonshine?). Ever since even a whiff of the stuff makes me instantly nauseous…

  2. andre
    October 6, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    Honorable mention for Canadian artist Ridley Bent, his song Rattlesnake Moonshine is one of my favorites.

  3. Paul W Dennis
    October 14, 2009 at 9:47 am

    Bluegrass great Jimmy Martin had an amusing song titled “Moonshine Holler”

    “Whiskey In The Jar” really should be heard as recorded by The Dubliners or The CLancy Brothers & Tommy Makem

  4. merlefan49
    October 14, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    Off the top my head are two I like.

    Daddy was a moonshine man Don Rigsby
    Moonshine hard times Blue Moon Rising

  5. Colt
    October 16, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    “On his debut single he advocates taking a few sips from a mason jar to start the morning off right after a night spent boozing it up and listening to Bocephus in a hayfield.”

    How did the Nashville radio overlords miss this one? It must actually be a good song and thus irritating to their focus group?

  6. Andrew Keir
    October 16, 2009 at 11:37 pm

    gotta looove the moonshine.

  7. WIll
    October 17, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    also check out “She was pretty” a song about what moonshine makes and ugly girl look like by The Disregarded http://www.myspace.com/thedisregarded

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