The Moonshiner

Traditional | Roud 4301, Ballad Index San142

I’ve been a moonshiner
For seventeen long years
I’ve spent all my money
On whiskey and beer
I’ll go to some hollow
And set up my still
And if whiskey don’t kill me
Then I don’t know what will

I’ll go to some bar room
And drink with my friends
Where the women can not follow
And see what I’ve spent
God bless her pretty woman
I wish she was mine
Her breath is as sweet as
The dew on the vine

I’ll eat when I’m hungry
I’ll drink when I’m dry
Whiskey when I’m livin’,
Salvation when I die
The whole world’s a bottle
And life is but a dram
And when the bottle gets empty
It sure ain’t worth a damn

I’ve been a moonshiner
For seventeen long years

Additional Verses

Let me eat when I’m hungry
Let me drink when I’m dry
Dollars when I’m hard up
Religion when I die
The whole world’s a bottle
And life’s but a dram
When the bottle gets empty
It sure ain’t worth a damn

Pretty women, pretty women
Done trouble on my mind
If whiskey dont’ kill me
I’ll live a long time
I’ll go up some dark holler
I’ll set up my still
I’ll make you one gallon
For a two dollar bill

Lyrics Published in Folk-Songs of the Southern United States (1967)

Contributed by Monroe Combs from Hindman, Knott County, KY

I’ve been a moonshiner for eighteen long year’;
I’ve spent all my money on whiskey and beer.
I buy my own whiskey, I make my own stew,
If I get drunk, madam, it’s nothing to you.

I’ll get up on some mountain, I’ll put up my still;
I’ll sell you one quart, boys, for a one dollo bill.
I’ll get up on some mountain, the mountain so high;
As the wild geese fly over, I’ll bid them goodbye.

Pretty Betsy, pretty Betsy, would you think it unkind
For me to sit down by you and tell you my mind?
My mind is to marry and never to part,
For the first time I saw you, you wounded my heart.

Oftimes I have wondered how women love men;
Then again I have wondered how men can love them.
They’ll cause your heart trouble, and many downfall;
They’ll cause you to labor in many a stone wall.

The bluebirds are flying from branch to each tree,
A-chirping and singing their sorrows away.
The breath smells so sweet-ly, like the dew on the vine—
God bless those moonshiners, I wish they were mine!

Lyrics from Daw Henson's 1937 Recording

Recorded by Alan Lomax & Elizabeth Lyttleton in Billy’s Branch, KY on October 11th, 1937.

I’ve been a moonshiner for seven long years
I’ve made my own whiskey, I steal my own beer
I’ll go to the grocery and I’ll drink with my friends
No woman to follow, to see what I spent
No woman to follow, no children to squall
If you want to live happy, don’t marry a doll

God bless them little women, I wish they was mine
Their breath smells as sweetly as good, old moonshine
Come all you little women, take warning by me
Don’t place your affection on a young man like me
I’ll eat when I’m hungry, I’ll drink when I’m dry
If trouble don’t kill me, I’ll live till I die

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Old Time American Music

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About the Song:

Few songs are as far reaching as “The Moonshiner”. Despite being very well known in both the Anglo-American and Irish traditions, very little is known about its origin. Delia Murphy was performing it in Ireland in the late 1930s. However, it first appeared under the name “Kentucky Moonshiner” in The American Songbag, a collection of American Folksongs collected by Carl Sandburg and published in 1927.

Between the Irish and American versions, few folk songs have as many melodies associated with it as this one. The minor melody used on this recording has its roots in The American Songbag, which credits the arrangement to Alfred George Wathall. Further dilluting this song’s origins, in The American Songbag, Gilbert R. Combs notes that this melody carries a sorrow that “relates directly to ancient Gaelic lamentations over dead kings.”

Other titles inlcude: Kentucky Moonshiner”