Thursday, October 05, 2006

Weekend Five: Moonshine

Image from one of my favorite sites, hazardkentucky.com

I'm not gonna' say I've ever partaken of sippin' liquor. There are all sorts legal connotations to that. Probably. But, if you're from the Mountains and you haven't ever had any moonshine, you've almost undoubtedly seen it. And, if you're not from the Mountains and are asked about defining characteristics of Mountainfolk, odds are you're gonna' bring up moonshine. That's just how it is.

All that said, I thought I'd find some sites for ya'll on the subject. Better to know the Devil than just, you know, like, wander around some yard in North Carolina on New Year's Eve, all confused and liquored up, smelling of formaldehyde and peaches, drooling slightly, singing Hank Williams, Sr. tunes, your arm slung around a Kermit the Frog doll, and wake up the next day all, like, covered in scratches and leeches.

Um.

Yeah.

Howstuffworks.com: You're not an expert on moonshine? That's not your fault. Blame your family, church, and system of public education for sheltering you from "lead poisoning". Ho-hum. You need a quick tutorial, or even a refresher? Sure you do. This is just site for you.

Virginia Moonshine: So you've never had shine and don't plan on heading to Cocke County, Tennessee or Franklin County, Virginia or, in your willingness to defer to President Washingtons' 1790s tax policies, you just aren't interested in violating Federal Law, but you still want highly distilled, underaged, high-proof alcohol? Try Virginia Moonshine's Virginia Lightning. I recommend, of course, that you put a substantial quantity of fruit into the mix before you drink it, leaving it there for like, um, three to six months. Trust tree.

North Carolina Moonshine
: Ibiblio.org, one of the major internet library sites, has a great exhibition right now about moonshining in North Carolina from the mouths of the moonshiners - subsections? How to make it, how to drink it, and how to sell it. Really interesting stuff.

Hot Rod: I'm not a frequent reader of Hot Rod magazine - heck, I drove a minivan for years - I'm kinda' lame that way. That said, I know a good article when I read it, and this one is worth a few minutes of anyone's time. In essence, its about the vehicles that 'shiners used to transport their wares during the so-called golden age of shining. You know, the activity that spawned NASCAR (and, ultimately, NASCAR dads)?

George Jones
: Not only did the the good Mr. George Jones write the masterful tune "Yabba Dabba Doo" (about a fictional conversation between the Elvis Presley, Fred Flintstone, and, um, George Jones), his first number one hit was 1959's "White Lightning," about, well, read the lyrics:

Well in North Carolina, way back in the hills
Me and my old pappy had a hand in a still
We brewed white lightnin' 'til the sun went down
Then he'd fill him a jug and he'd pass it around
Mighty, mighty pleasin, pappy's corn squeezin'
Whshhhoooh . . . white lightnin'

Chorus

Well the "G" men, "T" men, revenuers, too
Searchin' for the place where he made his brew
They were looking, tryin to book him,
But my pappy kept a-cookin'
Whshhhoooh . . . white lightnin'

Well I asked my old pappy why he called his brew
White lightnin' 'stead of mountain dew
I took a little sip and right away I knew
As my eyes bugged out and my face turned blue
Lightnin' started flashin' and thunder started crashin'
Shhhoooh . . . white lightnin'

Chorus

Well the "G" men, "T" men, revenuers, too
Searchin' for the place where he made his brew
They were looking, tryin to book him,
but my pappy kept a-cookin'
Whshhhoooh . . . white lightnin'

Well a city slicker came and he said "I'm tough"
I think I wanna taste that powerful stuff
He took one g-g-glug and drank it right down
And I heard him a moaning as he hit the ground
Mighty, mighty pleasin, pappy's corn squeezin'
Whshhhoooh . . . white lightnin'

Chorus

Well the "G" men, "T" men, revenuers, too
Searchin' for the place where he made his brew
They were looking, tryin to book him,
but my pappy kept a-cookin'
Whshhhoooh . . . white lightnin'...

Yeah. It's great. I know. Now the question is, can you locate the area this song was probably set in? My guess - probably Cocke County, Tennessee near the North Carolina border (thus the "T" men, or Tennessee Men). Near Hux's store in Newport.

9 comments:

J. Michael Mason said...

The Blue Ridge Institute at Ferrum College has a moonshine exibit on display now. In fact, when the Feds bust folks (as they still do in the Roanoke Valley, google Operation Lightning Strike-Moonshine) and their operation is small enough, they hand over the equipment to the Institute. As a libertarian, this exibit represents the worst in government supression but one of the best examples of mountaineering freedom.

Tyler said...

Good article, Eric. Let me go ahead and punch a hole in your theory. "T-Men" refers to Treasury agents, not "Tennessee men." There is actually a really old film noir that I saw late one night on Turner Classic Movies about "T-Men" uncovering a counterfeit ring. And, since you went to Graham High School, you know that a "T-Man" is different from a "G-Man" because the latter is an FBI agent. So, the possum did have his geography right when he said it was in North Carolina (and I doubt he had any specific holler in mind).

J. Michael Mason said...

Oh, T-men refers to US Treasury agents. Of course, G-men = FBI and, of course, revenuers are the IRS. After the civil war when the yanks put a heavy tax on home made liquor, most southerns took this as a slap in the face and hid their production and sales. This is why the tax man first got involved. After the income tax was established, moonshine was illeagal so producers got hit twice when caught.
I think George Jones was singing about Rockingham, Stokes or Caswell Counties in NC. They border VA near Danville, Martinsville, Stuart, birthplace of NASCAR.

Eric Drummond Smith said...

Ahh. Well, let me at least explain the reason for my mistake. First, Cocke County, TN is the center of east Tennessee's modern stilling, from what I've read in a couple books, in particular the small town of Cosby. One of the main reasons that this was the case lay in the fact that the twisty, turny mountain roads coud be navigated by locale drivers in souped up cars rather easily, allowing escape into North Carolina. Thus, while the Wilkes County, NC area does claim the to be the home of NASCAR, so does the Tennessee-North Carolina area - not to mention the ridge-runners on the Alabama/Georgia border or the folks in Daytona, FL where from early in the century folks were already using the area to set automobile speed records and where shiners were often brought to race from early on.

Eric Drummond Smith said...

Ohhh - and the T-Man mistake, well, that's a product of having heard people in Knoxville, probably incorrectly, refer to officers from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation as "T-Men." Oy.

the Contrary Goddess said...

Don't forget as a resouce the book, _The Lore of Still Building_ by Kathleen Howard & Norman Gibat.

Eric Drummond Smith said...

Contrary,
I'll check it out. .. right now I'm reading The Mountain Spirits series by Joseph Earl Dabney, which is a two-volume history of and explantory text on moonshine, whiskey, wine, ciders, beers, and so forth in the Appalachians. Great so far - I'll post review when I get done.

Jeremy Peters said...

To coat tail on Mike's comment re: modern production and law enforcement, the following story from Franklin Co., VA aired on NPR about a year ago. It's about 5 minutes long and worth a listen.
Window Media Player Version

Real Player Version

the Contrary Goddess said...

One I haven't read yet is Gene Logsdon's book on Demon Alcohol. I've read so much of his other stuff (Contrary Farmer, et al.)