Under the Mountain: The Story Behind the Song

When I was a little girl and life was simple, there were only two kinds of people: the ones who lived On the Mountain and those who lived Under the Mountain. Everyone I knew talked about going Under the Mountain. It was a real place, not a fantasy world. We traveled there along a winding ribbon of road on Sunday afternoons and special occasions to visit great-grandparents and other relatives.

It is a mountain term to describe the beautiful valleys of Pall Mall and Little Crab, Tennessee. My parents had grown up in those opposite valleys below the mountaintop. They moved away and eventually met at college. Those valleys eventually led them to Jamestown, which sits on top of the mountain. That is where I grew up.

We all have phrases that we use so often we forget their origin. I didn’t think Under the Mountain was unusual until I was in college. Somehow in conversation I mentioned that my parents had grown up Under the Mountain. The person I was talking to, spit and stared at me in stunned amazement as if I had told them I came from Middle Earth. The term sounds funny now, but at the time it seemed perfectly normal.

When the frontier explorers entered the Cumberland Gap and crossed Kentucky on their way to Tennessee, they eventually reached a less mountainous area with some rolling hills near the Cumberland River. This flatter land was great for farming. The pioneers could see the mountains in the distance without climbing them. I imagine it was comforting to look to those mountains as a giant shoulder against the storms of life. Clinton County, Kentucky is located in that area below the mountains. Most of my ancestors settled there in the late 1790s and early 1800s. Once Tennessee was opened for settlement, many farming families moved into the area that became Pickett, Fentress and Overton counties.

As I began writing new songs for the concept record in 2012, I contacted songwriter Thomm Jutz about co-writing. I loved his beautiful 1861 Civil War Project. We share a kindred interest in telling history through music. At our first writing appointment, I was a little nervous because we knew very little about each other. As we were getting acquainted, I described the area where I grew up and told him about Under the Mountain. Thomm immediately liked the term and said we should write about it. Thankfully, a lovely melody showed up that day, and we found fitting poetic lyrics to tell the story of my ancestors search for a new home.

Song Credits:“Under the Mountain”

Mark Fain: bass
Thomm Jutz: acoustic guitars
John Mock: mandolin & bouzouki
Jeff Taylor: accordion
Denise Reagan: vocals
Sierra Hull & Justin Moses: backing vocals

Produced by Jeff Taylor & John Mock

© 2013 Denise Reagan/Songs of Arabesque (ASCAP)
Thomm Jutz/Thomm Songs, admin by Bluewater Music (SESAC)

Listen to “Under the Mountain” at this link now: https://open.spotify.com/track/4aLuYhUqCOUtfaOjCQfxpP

To read the stories behind all the songs on “Where Did the Time Go,” order the book on Amazon at this link: https://www.amazon.ca/Where-Did-Time-Go-Companion/dp/0692731318

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