June 20, 2024

The sound of Rocky Top: it’s in the name

The very mention of college gameday brings to mind an image for everyone. A sea of orange clothing waiting to get into the stadium, the smell of food cooking on the way to your seat, or perhaps the booming voice of the announcers declaring that it is football time in Tennessee all indicate it is time for the Vols to come onto the field. Though a plethora of images come to mind, sounds also permeate the Volunteer experience.

Three songs make up a staple of sounds for the Tennessee Volunteers: “Rocky Top,” “Down the Field” and “Fight Vols Fight.” Many Vol fans knows the tunes, though these songs origins could remain a mystery.

“Rocky Top” is not the official fight song of the Tennessee Vols, but it is possibly the most well known of the three. Dr. W.J. Julian, the longtime band director who brought the Pride of the Southland Marching Band to national attention, is the man behind the song, at least for the university. He first played the song during a halftime show in 1972 as a tribute to country music, according to Tennessee Athletics. The song spread like wildfire among the fans. Now known perhaps as well as “Amazing Grace” by the folks in East Tennessee, “Rocky Top” is one of the most well known songs for Volunteers.

Felice and Boudleaux Bryant penned the lyrics to the tune while staying in Gatlinburg in 1967. The harmonic melody became a classic and went on to skyrocket in popularity thanks to recorded versions by the Osborne Brothers and Lynn Anderson, according to the Torchbearer alumni magazine for the university.

But “Rocky Top” is not the official fight song of the university. That honor goes to “Down the Field.”

The fight song plays after the Vols score and when the team runs through the Power T before the games start. While many can hum the tune, what may be surprising is that there are words behind that melody. Tennessee’s version was written by an engineering professor, Robert Clayton Matthews, who drafted new lyrics for the original song, which was written by two alumni from Yale, according to the Torchbearer.

Finally, “Fight Vols, Fight” is the staple that makes up the triumvirate of Volunteer gameday sounds.  Copyrighted in 1939, this song dates back before “Rocky Top” debuted on the field. “Fight Vols, Fight” was written by  Gwen Sweet and her husband, Milo Sweet, along with Thorton W. Allen composed the music. The songs popularity among fans brings it back year after year to center it at the heart of Volunteer football.

Who shows up on the field for gameday changes year to year. Players and coaches change. The Volunteers win and lose, but the distinctive songs of “Rocky Top” remain the same.