Steve Earle – The Devil’s Right Hand

The first time I heard this song I was actually playing it on guitar. A buddy of mine started to play it in the late eighties and I started to follow him with the chords. I asked him where he heard it and he played me the Copperhead Road album. This one became one of my favorites off of the album.

It’s a great piece of songwriting.

The Copperhead Road album peaked at #56 in the Billboard Album Charts in 1989… which is hard to believe it wasn’t higher than that. It did peak at #7 in the Country Billboard Chart in 1989.

It’s a great song that has been covered by many artists including Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, and the Highwaymen.

From Songfacts

Songwriter Steve Earle is well known as a vocal opponent of capital punishment; running to 3 minutes 1 second, this classic miniature has a message for those who are likely to end up facing it; an attack on what Louis Farrakhan called “the glorification of the gun,” it makes the point that though a gun can get you into a lot of trouble, it can’t get you out of it.

In the song, the unfortunate storyteller fails to heed his mother’s warnings about carrying a pistol, and his youthful fascination ends with him shooting a man dead after being cheated at cards. When the authorities come for him, he protests they have the wrong man because “nothing touched the trigger but the Devil’s right hand”, which in the 21st Century would amount to an insanity defense, but would have probably not have swayed a jury in late 19th Century America wherein this cameo is set. 

Waylon Jennings released this song before Earle did – he included it on his 1986 album Will the Wolf Survive. Jennings and Earle were good friends and kindred spirits; during one of Earle’s stints in prison, Jennings wore a bandana in his honor (Earle wears a bandana on his right wrist). 

The Devil’s Right Hand

About the time that Daddy left to fight the big war
I saw my first pistol in the general store
In the general store, when I was thirteen
I thought it was the finest thing I ever had seen

So l asked if I could have one someday when I grew up
Mama dropped a dozen eggs, she really blew up
She really blew up, and she didn’t understand
Mama said the pistol is the devil’s right hand

The devil’s right hand, the devil’s right hand
Mama says the pistol is the devil’s right hand

Me very first pistol was a cap and ball Colt
Shoots as fast as lightnin’ but it loads a mite slow
It loads a mite slow, and soon I found out
It’ll get you into trouble but it can’t get you out

So about a year later I bought a Colt 45
Called a peacemaker but I never knew why
I never knew why, I didn’t understand
Mama says the pistol is the devil’s right hand

The devil’s right hand, the devil’s right hand
Mama says the pistol is the devil’s right hand

Got into a card game in a company town
I caught a miner cheating, I shot the dog down
I shot the dog down, I watched the man fall
He never touched his holster, never had a chance to draw

The trial was in the morning and they drug me out of bed
Asked me how I pleaded, not guilty I said
Not guilty I said, you’ve got the wrong man
Nothing touched the trigger but the devil’s right hand

The devil’s right hand, the devil’s right hand
Mama says the pistol is the devil’s right hand

The devil’s right hand, the devil’s right hand
Mama says the pistol is the devil’s right hand

Author: badfinger20

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

15 thoughts on “Steve Earle – The Devil’s Right Hand”

  1. Fantastic writer. Great musician. Whenever I hear Steve Earle, I’m reminded of moving to Nashville in ’87. There was a lot of energy in the music scene then and Earle and Jason and the Scorchers and Lucinda Williams were leading the way in the “new” outlaw country/cowpunk sound.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jason and the Scorchers…that brings back great memories. I didn’t find Lucinda Williams until the early 2000s.
      I saw Earle open up for Dylan…he was great. Love his songwriting.

      Liked by 1 person

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