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Rocky Top: The history behind the song

You know the lyrics but how well do you know Rocky Top? Here's the story behind the song and brand
This plaque commemorates the site where Boudleaux and Felice Bryant penned Rocky Top.

Since the early 1970s, hundreds of thousands of University of Tennessee Football fans have been singing Rocky Top at the top of their lungs as they cheer on the Tennessee Volunteers.

Not only does the song stir up pride in the "Power T" but it has also become a powerful marketing brand with t-shirts, koozies, shot glasses, and banners all paying tribute to the lyrics of the song written in August of 1967 at the Gatlinburg Inn.

On August 28, 1967, songwriters Felice and Boudleaux Bryant checked into room 388 of the Gatlinburg Inn. The couple, known for such hits as Wake up little Susie, Bye Bye Love, and Love Hurts, were frequent guests of the inn and friends of it's owners, Rel and Wilma Maples.

GALLERY: Little known facts about the Rocky Top writers

"The Bryants would come up and they liked this room. They would come up and relax and enjoy each other's company and unwind and write songs," said David Cross, nephew of the Maples' and member of the Gatlinburg Inn board of directors.

The couple came to Gatlinburg in 1967 to work on an album for Archie Campbell.

"It was an album about golden memories or something along that line and they thought that was a little depressing and said 'let's go a little up tempo on something'," said Cross. "They sat down and they penned most of Rocky Top in about 10 minutes."

The song was recorded first by the Osborne Brothers and released in late 1967. It was Nashville Disc Jockey Ralph Emery who first understood the song's potential.

"Ralph played the A-side(of the Osborne record), which was My Favorite Memory, it was a song that was a little bit mournful perhaps, an old time bluegrass song." said Cross. "Ralph decided one day to play the B-Side and he flipped over and played Rocky Top. The Osbornes had made it more up tempo and according to what Ralph Emery said, he said 'the phones started ringing'. The song had a life of its own after that."

Cross says his aunt and uncle often closed the Gatlinburg Inn down for the winter but gave the Bryant's a key so they could come up and write at the Inn.

"Very gracious people. They had the first Mercedes Benz I had ever saw," he recalled. "They loved coming up here. They had such a good relationship with my aunt Wilma that when they were inducted into the National Songwriters Hall of Fame, not the Country Music Hall of Fame, they went to New York and they took my aunt with them."

As a tribute to the Bryant's and their work, the Gatlinburg Inn has left room 388 virtually untouched with just a few modern updates.

'I suspect you will in the future see a historical marker in front of this Inn which will indicate that this is the birthplace of Rocky Top," said Cross.

As the Gatlinburg Inn pays tribute to the song's past, The University of Tennessee is working on its present and future through The Rocky Top Institute.

"The Rocky Top Institute started in 2011 through a partnership with the Bryant family," said Ann Fairhurst, head of the University's Retail, Hospitality, and Tourism Department. "They reached out to U.T. and thought about possibilities to engage students with developing a brand around Rocky Top. We pull out the lyrics and create different products using those lyrics. The students actually have designed the logo and then every semester, they design new products that will then be produced and then sold in local retail stores."

Fairhurst says the University's partnership with the House of Bryant is a way of honoring the couple in life and in song.

"I think they're very pleased that not only are they leaving a legacy for their parents and the family name but they're also giving back to UT."

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