Saturday, August 29, 2009

Off Beat - Ballad of Thunder Road

Robert Mitchum a singer? Well, yeah, apparently. And not only did he sing The Ballad of Thunder Road he co-wrote the song and based the music on an old folk-dance tune his mom used to sing to him. The song was the theme to the movie Thunder Road, a 1958 film about a moonshine runner. Mitchum starred in the movie, produced the film, co-wrote the screenplay and reputedly directed much of the film. 1958 was evidently a busy year for Robert Mitchum.

A little rock and roll trivia: The movie inspired Bruce Springsteen's 1975 song Thunder Road and is referenced in 1988's Copperhead Road by Steve Earl.

Mitchum's character - Lucas Doolin - dies in the song, not to mention the movie - a familiar tune storyline of such 50s and 60s hits as Leader of the Pack, Tell Laura I Love Her and Deadman's Curve.


Let me tell the story, I can tell it all
About the mountain boy who ran illegal alcohol
His daddy made the whiskey, son, he drove the load
When his engine roared, they called the highway Thunder Road.

Sometimes into Ashville, sometimes Memphis town
The revenoors chased him but they couldn’t run him down
Each time they thought they had him, his engine would explode
He'd go by like they were standin’ still on Thunder Road.

And there was thunder, thunder over Thunder Road
Thunder was his engine, and white lightning was his load
There was moonshine, moonshine to quench the Devil’s thirst
The law they swore they'd get him, but the Devil got him first.

On the first of April, nineteen fifty-four
A Federal man sent word he’d better make his run no more
He said two hundred agents were coverin’ the state
Whichever road he tried to take, they’d get him sure as fate.

Son, his Daddy told him, make this run your last
The tank is filled with hundred-proof, you’re all tuned up and gassed
Now, don’t take any chances, if you can’t get through
I’d rather have you back again than all that mountain dew.


Roarin’ out of Harlan, revvin’ up his mill
He shot the gap at Cumberland, and screamed by Maynordsville
With T-men on his taillights, roadblocks up ahead
The mountain boy took roads that even Angels feared to tred.

Blazing right through Knoxville, out on Kingston Pike,
Then right outside of Bearden, they made the fatal strike.
He left the road at 90; that’s all there is to say.
The devil got the moonshine and the mountain boy that day.


  1. I seriously had no idea. Great find and great trivia. Makes me want to whip up a batch of my own moonshine out back in the still (yep, have one just waiting for moments like this ;).

  2. UR: Neat, huh? It's amazing some of the things you find on the internets. Appreciate your comment.