The Tennessee Volunteers marching band forms a T on the field before the start of their game against the South Carolina Gamecocks on October 29, 2005 at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee.
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'Rocky Top': The Story Behind Bluegrass' Contribution to SEC Football


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Foundational bluegrass song "Rocky Top" became synonymous over the years with the state of Tennessee courtesy of one of the great unifying forces of the South: college football.

Country Music Hall of Famers Felice and Boudleaux Bryant wrote it in 1967 while staying at the Gatlinburg Inn. Though some tellings of the song's backstory identify Thunderhead Mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as its inspiration, Felice Bryant said that the lyrics do not reference a specific mountain peak.

Bluegrass siblings the Osborne Brothers recorded what remains its signature version in 1967. Back then, country and country-adjacent artists covered each other way more frequently. Thus, the likes of Lynn Anderson, Conway Twitty and Dottie West interpreted it in the '60s and '70s.

The song's biggest break came during the 1972 installment of the universities of Tennessee and Alabama's football rivalry. A halftime performance of it by Tennessee's Pride of the Southland Band became an instant hit with home team fans at Knoxville's Neyland Stadium.

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It has remained a staple of the University of Tennessee's marching band for half a century, with the school's athletic program having permission from the copyright holders (House of Bryant) to blare it as often as possible to rally fans and intimidate Southeastern Conference (SEC) rivals. However, it's not the official school fight song. That designation goes to the lesser-known "Down the Field."

"Rocky Top" became one of Tennessee's state songs in 1982. And despite opposition from the House of Bryant, the East Tennessee town of Lake City (formerly Coal Creek) changed its name in 2014 to Rocky Top. The rechristened city in Anderson County is home to Norris Lake and Norris Dam State Park.

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'Rocky Top' Lyrics:

Wish that I was on ol' Rocky Top
Down in the Tennessee hills
Ain't no smoggy smoke on Rocky Top
Ain't no telephone bills
Once I had a girl on Rocky Top
Half bear, other half cat
Wild as a mink, but sweet as soda pop
I still dream about that

Rocky Top, you'll always be
Home sweet home to me
Good ol' Rocky Top
Rocky Top, Tennessee
Rocky Top, Tennessee

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Once two strangers climbed ol' Rocky Top
Lookin' for a moonshine still
Strangers ain't come down from Rocky Top
Reckon they never will
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

Rocky Top, you'll always be
Home sweet home to me
Good ol' Rocky Top
Rocky Top, Tennessee
Rocky Top, Tennessee

I've had years of cramped-up city life
Trapped like a duck in a pen
All I know is it's a pity life
Can't be simple again

Rocky Top, you'll always be
Home sweet home to me
Good ol' Rocky Top
Rocky Top, Tennessee
Rocky Top, Tennessee
Rocky Top, Tennessee

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