Don’t mess with Rocky Top

rocky_topBluegrass bands that perform in clubs or at private outdoor events know about the wrath of the Rocky Top fan. Attempts to gracefully decline a request to perform the song can be met with anything from forcefulness to aggressive persuasion. In the end, you’ll probably have to do the song. If you’re in the state of Tennessee, where Rocky Top serves as the fight song for the University of Tennessee’s football team, the insistence will be especially strong.

But it’s not just the song that has such influence. The House of Bryant, which own the rights to Rocky Top, written by the husband/wife songwriting team Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, are very protective of their valuable brand. The Bryants, now deceased, wrote the song in 1967 and The Osborne Brothers recorded and released it right away. It was never a major chart hit, but has become something of a cult classic over the years.

Now, according to a CNN piece, a legal battle is brewing between the House of Bryant, managed by Felice and Boudleaux’s sons, and the town of Lake City just north of Knoxville. There is a move afoot to change the name of the town to Rocky Top, and build it into a theme park attraction for music lovers and UT fans. But the Bryants have sought an injunction preventing any further action on the name change.

From CNN…

“Rocky Top is a world-famous and distinctive mark that popularly conjures notions of the copyrighted song owned by House of Bryant,” says the suit, filed in U.S. District Court. “Lake City’s attempt to change its name to Rocky Top represents an unlawful government taking and violation of House of Bryant’s due process rights.”

Judge Thomas A. Varlan heard legal arguments Monday in Knoxville on whether to issue a preliminary injunction that would put the plans on hold — a decision that could, perhaps, decide the fate of the town. The judge took the case under advisement and will issue his ruling later, court clerk Julie Norwood said.

There is no shortage of businesses and other ventures in East Tennessee who use the name Rocky Top in some fashion, so the Bryants may have a tough row to hoe convincing the courts to stop Lake City. And the CNN report also indicates that not everyone in the town likes the idea of the name change. Some don’t want the song’s moonshiner imagery to become the way others view their hometown, and others simply don’t want to change the name of where they grew up.

But it seems that the town’s political leadership is ready to go, and CNN says that a water park could be open in time for the 2015 tourist season.

Rocky Top is the talk in town. The week CNN visited, the Tennessee state House and Senate approved the name change. Eighteen eighth-graders were bused to the state capitol in Nashville to witness the historic House vote.

The City Council now must ratify the legislature’s approval, but it has said it won’t act until the judge makes a decision on the lawsuit.

Read the extensive CNN piece online.

Share this:

About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.