‘Rocky Top’ Anniversary

by Cassandra Sproles September 15, 2017

In just 10 minutes in August of 1967, Felice and Boudleaux Bryant wrote a song that would endure through generations to become the university’s unofficial fight song. Of course, we’re talking about “Rocky Top,” and this year is the bluegrass tune’s 50th anniversary and the 45th anniversary of the first time it was played at a UT football game.

The Bryants, who also penned “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” “Wake Up Little Susie,” and “Bye Bye Love,” were holed away at the Gatlinburg Inn working on a collection of slow songs for Archie Campbell and Chet Atkins when they wrote the rollicking “Rocky Top” as a diversion. The Osborne Brothers recorded the song that same year, hitting number 33 on the US country charts. In 1970, Lynn Anderson’s version landed at number 17 on the Billboard Country Top 100.

However, the real popularity boost for “Rocky Top” came on October 21, 1972, when W J Julian, director of the Pride of the Southland Band, had the Pride play the song during the Alabama game in Neyland Stadium. The football crowd loved the tune and its words; the more the band played it, the more people wanted it. The Bryants were given a citation of special thanks by Julian and the Student Government Association in the early 1980s.

So, on October 21, as the Vols take on Alabama once again, sing “Rocky Top” extra loud to mark exactly 45 years since the song first echoed through the stadium and became one of our most-loved traditions.

Who sang it best?

There’s no way to know how many artists, country or otherwise, have covered “Rocky Top” in concert. The Vermont jam band Phish played the song pretty regularly in concert until 2003. Tennessee favorite Dolly Parton performed the song at UT’s commencement in 2009. And don’t forget about Peyton Manning’s performance of the song in 2016 at the Whiskey Jam concert series in Nashville. Who does your favorite cover of the song? Let us know at torch@utk.edu.

What about that woo?

It’s a mystery for the ages. When did the woo first make an appearance in “Rocky Top”? We want to know, too! Email us at torch@utk.edu with your best guess and supporting evidence.

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9 comments

M Washburn August 17, 2017 at 6:32 pm

Happy Anniversary Rocky Top! With love and a thankful heart for all that you represent. <3

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John E Moore August 18, 2017 at 1:00 am

We live in a cabin owned by Archie Campbell in the 70’s. He knew my wife’s uncle and sold it to him, because his son was entertaining the Hee Haw to much. Archie sold the cabin for approximately $40,000 that was the same cost Archie paid for it. It was an apparent retreat for Archie and his family and friends. It has undergone major renovations but is the same structure. Thought about making contact with Phil to see if he would want to visit but just haven’t taken the time. Thought maybe Archie could have been staying here when Rocky Top was written, don’t know.

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John E Moore August 18, 2017 at 1:02 am

Meant to say, entertaining the Hee Hal girls too much

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McArthur Douglass August 19, 2017 at 2:05 pm

I was a freshman in the band when Rocky Top was played 45 years ago during our famous circle drill.

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Jeffery Rowland September 21, 2017 at 6:06 pm

I was a Junior in 1972 and was definitely at the game and had forgotten all about the world famous “circle drill.” Happy Anniversary “Rocky Top” which is without a doubt the best-known fight song in all of college sports. No doubt the most loved and hated as well. Just another reason to be proud of The University of Tennessee. Go Vols!!!

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Randall Weaver October 17, 2017 at 8:03 pm

I have never been so sick of one piece of music in my life…this song that is an embarrassment to our entire community.

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Cindy Boyer October 17, 2017 at 8:28 pm

I was in the Pride of the Southland Marching Band in the mid 70s. I can hear Rocky Top in 100 degree weather and still get chill bumps!

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Frances Cottrell October 17, 2017 at 11:46 pm

I was a freshman in the Pride the first time we played Rocky Top in 1972. Great memories!!

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Jay Turnmyre October 29, 2017 at 3:02 am

The night before my graduation from UTK June 1986 my Uncle a Vietnam Veteran shared with me the first time he heard Rocky Top while deployed. The song was a favorite on the Armed Services Radio and it made my Uncle homesick.

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