Three iconic songs
The pluck of a banjo. The strum of fiddle. Heartfelt lyrics venerating the simple pleasures of mountain life. These are the qualities that define old-time mountain music, a genre of folk composition by turns buoyant and heart-wrenching.
The musical style has diverse roots in places including Appalachia, the Midwest, England, Scotland, Ireland and countries in Africa. Over many years, it has developed into a richly layered synthesis of bluegrass, country, Tin Pan Alley and even gospel influences, and it remains an indelible part of the culture of the mountains.
Below are three stellar performances of iconic old-time mountain songs. Get inspired, then read our story on mountain meetings from our March issue.
1. Rocky Top
One of Tennessee’s official state songs, this ditty was written from the perspective of a city dweller reminiscing about a better life in the Tennessee hills.
Corn won’t grow at all on Rocky Top
Dirt’s too rocky by far
That’s why all the folks on Rocky Top
get their corn from a jar
Watch: A traditional rendition by the Osborne Brothers, the first to record the song.
2. Blue Ridge Mountain Blues
This Earl Scruggs tune echoes “Rocky Top” in its longing for mountain life; in this case, for the Blue Ridge Mountains of the Appalachians.
I've got the Blue Ridge mountain blues
And I stand right here to say
Every day I’m counting till I climb that mountain
On the Blue Ridge far away
Watch: A cover version by the great John Fogerty.
3. Big Rock Candy Mountain
This 1928 song tells the tale of a hobo fantasizing about a made-up peak called Big Rock Candy Mountain. Life would later imitate art when a cluster of hills in Utah were named after the fictional paradise depicted in the song; today, there’s even the Big Rock Candy Mountain Resort. The tune later gained fame when it was included on the hit soundtrack for the Coen Brothers film Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?
Oh, the buzzing of the bees in the cigarette trees
By the soda water fountains
By the lemonade springs
Where the bluebird sings, in the Big Rock Candy Mountain
Watch: Original footage of the song being performed by the first to record it, Harry McClintock.