With last Saturday’s shellacking at the hands of the Florida Gators, the University of Tennessee Volunteers are off to their first 1-3 start since 2008, and it’s not looking good for the rest of the season.
While I am by no means an authority on the Vols football program — I leave prognostications, predictions and strategic dissection in the capable hands of The Daily Times sports staff — I am, as a lifelong fan, concerned about the direction in which this team is headed. Clearly, some changes need to be made, and because I’ve bled orange since I was sitting at my daddy’s knees, watching him scream at the television every autumn Saturday until blood vessels burst in his eyes, I would like to do my part to encourage a season turnaround.
The clock, however, is ticking, which means drastic measures must be considered. And that brings us to my wheelhouse: “Rocky Top.”
That’s right: It’s time for a sequel.
Lest you think I’m committing sacrilege, hear me out: There is absolutely nothing wrong with “Rocky Top.” Felice and Boudleaux Bryant were, I think, divinely inspired by a deity wearing Big Orange robes when they wrote it in 1967, and from the first iteration by the Osborne Brothers, it’s served us well. But we’re talking about a possible 2-10 season, friends. It’s time to pull out the stops.
Secondly, there is precedent for writing a sequel to classic songs, and as an example of what I’m proposing for “Rocky Top,” I’ll point to the iconic Skynyrd classic, “Free Bird.” While a number of bands have attempted it, my personal favorite is by the East Tennessee outfit Todd Steed and the Suns of Phere, which included “Freebird 2” on its 2002 record, “Heartbreak and Duct Tape.” It’s essentially the story of a guy lamenting the fact that his favorite band is now too cool to play “Free Bird,” and I had the honor of putting that record into the hands of Skynyrd’s Rickey Medlocke at the 2010 Foothills Fall Festival in downtown Maryville.
I’m not sure what he thought about it, or even if it really matters, considering he wasn’t a part of the classic Skynyrd lineup that recorded the song, but I digress. The point is, cutting a sequel to a classic song has been done — and if the Vols are ever going to get a little wind in their sails this season, it needs to be done again. In that regard, I’ve taken the liberty of deconstructing some of the lyrics, and I’ll throw them out to some of my favorite local bands to do with as they will:
“Once I had a girl on Rocky Top / half bear, the other half cat:” Beastiality overtones aside, there’s some serious science fiction vibes going on here. Granted, the Bryants probably didn’t intend for this lyric to be interpreted literally … but what if some intrepid songwriter did? I can think of no band better suited to take this lyric and run with it than The Menace From Earth, the Blount-based rock band featuring Ben Sterling and Brad Spires, who traffic in all things sci-fi. A tale of a feral bear-cat girl in the Appalachian woods who’s “wild as a minx and sweet as soda pop?” I’m down, fellas. Are you?
“Once two strangers climbed ol’ Rocky Top / looking for a moonshine still / strangers ain’t come down from Rocky Top, reckon they never will:” If this lyric isn’t the setting for a dark country murder ballad, I don’t know what is. I feel confident my buddy Philip Sharp and his band, The Jailhouse Review, can do this one justice, penning a macabre tale along the lines of “Cottonseed” by the Drive-By Truckers. Who were those two strangers, and what happened to them? If they started poking their noses around a backwoods ‘shine operation, chances are they’re feeding wild hogs in a sinkhole way back in the Smokies. And who wouldn’t want to hear that story?
“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:” Wrestling life from the unforgiving ground is a country lamentation if I’ve ever heard one, and I feel confident that Randy Woody and his band, Southbound, can come up with a mournful ode to hard living in the holler. I can picture it now: an old farmer who finally realizes his family can’t survive on what he tries to grow, so he turns to a life on the other side of the law to make ends meet. I’ve got my Bic ready to flick and lift up just thinking about it.
“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:” Jason Isbell almost did right by this lyric with his song “Last of My Kind,” but I’m thinking the right songwriters could put an East Tennessee spin on it. I can think of no singer or picker better suited than my buddy Roscoe Morgan, who often laments on social media about the loss of simpler times. Our protagonist is clearly sentimental in his reflection of change, and such a story set to “the Blue Grass Music,” as Roscoe calls it, would be perfect.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the gist. And while I can’t say for certain that “Rocky Top 2” will turn the tide of a football season on the brink of the abyss, I think I speak for all Vol faithful when I say that at this point, we’re willing to throw anything at the wall and see what sticks. (Because clearly throwing the football, or running it, isn’t working.)
So consider it more of a call to arms than a challenge, ladies and gentlemen of the East Tennessee music scene. Will you give your all for Tennessee, and “Rocky Top,” today?