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The Meaning of Tyler Childers’ “Whitehouse Road”

tyler childers live in charleston, sc
Tyler Childers live at Charleston Music Hall, April 2019. Photo by Mia Naome Al-Taher.

“Whitehouse Road” was the breakout single from Tyler Childers’s 2017 album, Purgatory, becoming the country song of the summer alongside single “Lady May” and the non-single but ultra-popular “Feathered Indians”. From there, Childers’s career has blossomed, and today he is widely renowned for helping to bring an element of genuine songwriting back into country music.

While some of his other songs have more depth to them, “Whitehouse Road” is a fun song that lends itself to backyard parties and catching a buzz in warm weather. Because of this, the song has found its way into the hearts and minds of both frat boys and fans of genuine country music alike, making it one of the definitive songs that Tyler Childers has released thus far.

“Whitehouse Road” Lyrics Meaning

Lyrically, “Whitehouse Road” is an anthem of freedom and living life on your own terms, and was inspired by Tyler’s experiences growing up in Lawrence County, Kentucky. It has the attitude that you’d expect from outlaw country and a working class life, and served to introduce the world to the relatable songwriting style of Tyler Childers.

According to a 2017 interview with Rolling Stone, the song was not actually named after a real country road, but rather after a guy he knew who liked to get drunk and spin tall tales:

I was just thinking about this dude I worked with – his tall tales and flat-out lies and how much of a wild cat he was. He was an interesting character, but I always tried to steer clear of that when I was living back home, as far as getting into that much orneriness. Then I ended up moving to Lexington and getting into different kinds of orneriness, but orneriness nonetheless. I ain’t too much different. Same game, different baseball field.

Tyler Childers on the meaning of “Whitehouse Road”.

Apparently, the name “Whitehouse Road” comes from this wildc man that Childers describes, telling him that he knew people in the White House. Yes, the White House.

Let’s dive into the meaning of the lyrics, starting with the first verse:

Early in the mornin’ when the sun does rise
Layin’ in the bed with bloodshot eyes
Late in the evenin’ when the sun sinks low
That’s about time my rooster crows
I got women up and down this creek
And they keep me goin’ and my engine clean
Run me ragged but I don’t fret
‘Cause there ain’t been one slow me down, none yet

First verse to “Whitehouse Road” by Tyler Childers.

The opening lyrics, delivered with a gusto and what has become the signature rasp of Tyler Childers, describe the daily routine of our protagonist.

When the sun comes up, early in the morning, and most other people wake up to start their day, he’s just getting into bed from the night before. Later on, when the sun begins to set, is actually when he gets out of bed, and he’s ready to keep going.

He has relationship with women all up and down the creek that help him stay motivated to get through each day, and “keep his engine clean”. Meaning they help keep his mind and body in some semblance of shape so that he can keep on living his rough and rowdy lifestyle.

It’s taking a toll on him, but he doesn’t mind because no matter what he puts himself through he hasn’t slowed down one single bit. He simply keeps on going. Or at least that’s what he tells himself.

The chorus gives us a hint as to why:

Get me drinkin’ that moonshine
Get me higher than the grocery bill
Take my troubles to the high-wall
Throw ’em in the river and get your fill
We’ve been sniffin’ that cocaine
Ain’t nothin’ better when the wind cuts cold
Lord, it’s a mighty hard livin’
But a damn good feelin’ to run these roads

Chorus to “Whitehouse Road” by Tyler Childers.

Ah yes, there’s nothing quite like the fuel of substance abuse to keep you going. The reason our protagonist is up til sunrise has to do with some combination of drinking moonshine, getting “higher than the grocery bill”, and sniffing that cocaine.

All of these things combine to make a hard life, and according to the other imagery in the chorus, this hard life is further exacerbated by the fact that the narrator is also broke. Perhaps because he’s spending his money on cocaine, but we don’t judge here at Extra Chill.

Besides, he says it’s a damn good feeling, and we sure as hell believe that.

The second verse brings in just as bit of concern:

I got people try to tell me, Red
Keep this livin’ and you’ll wind up dead
Cast your troubles on the Lord of lords
Or wind up layin’ on a coolin’ board
But I got buddies up White House Road
And they keep me strutting when my feet hang low
Rotgut whiskey gonna ease my pain
An’ all this runnin’s gonna keep me sane

Second verse to “Whitehouse Road” by Tyler Childers.

People in his life (“Red” is a childhood nickname for Tyler) have told him that he’s going to end up dead if he doesn’t change his ways, but again he remains defiant towards anybody who tells him how to live. This is right in line with the spirit of rebellion that is present in many outlaw country songs.

People encourage him to look to God for help with his troubles, rather than booze and cocaine, or else he’ll end up “on a coolin’ board”. This is a reference to a wooden platform known as a “cooling board” that used to be used to keep dead bodies on ice before a funeral.

A commenter on Genius also noted that this lyric may be “coal room floor”, suggesting more of a threatening tone to the lyrics. As in, perhaps some people are telling him that if he doesn’t get his act together, they’re going to kill him (if his lifestyle doesn’t get him first, of course).

Despite these warnings, Tyler’s got some friends on “White House Road” who help him keep on going. These are likely to be his buddies that he stays up all night partying with, and the whiskey keeps him sane in the end.

Before the bridge, the chorus is repeated once more:

When you lay me in the cold hard clay
Won’t you sing them hymns while the banjo plays?
You can tell them ladies that they ought not frown
‘Cause there ain’t been nothin’ ever held me down

Bridge to “Whitehouse Road” by Tyler Childers.

In the bridge, Childers contemplates his mortality and reflects on the legacy he hopes to leave behind. He acknowledges that there have been people who have tried to hold him down, but ultimately nothing has been able to stop him from living life on his own terms.

Again, he reiterates this in the pre-chorus:

Lawmen, women or a shallow grave
Same ol’ blues just a different day

Pre-chorus to “Whitehouse Road” by Tyler Childers.

Lawmen, women, and shallow graves threaten his life and well-being, but he continues to do the same thing every single day. Meaning, he isn’t worried about it one bit (at least that’s what he tells himself). Why? Well, the closing chorus sings it loud and clear.

Listen to “Whitehouse Road” by Tyler Childers below, and hear a popular live solo version of the track below that.