‘Church on Cumberland Road’ by Shenandoah: History Behind Incredible 80s Country Anthem

by Jennifer Shea
Andrew Toth/Getty Images

The song “Church on Cumberland Road” has made music history as a durable country anthem. But it all started with a lot of liquor and a little church outside London.

The Original Church

Bob DiPiero, John Scott Sherrill and Dennis Robbins of the band The Billy Hill Boys wrote “Church on Cumberland Road” in the late eighties.

According to Clear 94, the idea for the song came to DiPiero one night while he was carousing on the outskirts of London with some songwriting friends. They got smashed in a pub and then stumbled outside. Across the street from the pub, illuminated by moonlight, was a small stone church with a big steeple.  

DiPiero was so moved by the sight that he wandered over to the church, hugged it and said, “I’m going to write a song about you someday.” When he got back to Nashville, he told his friends about the experience. And sure enough, they made it into a song.

The song tells the tale of a carful of drunken revelers trying to get to a church, where a girl is waiting for the narrator. They’ve been partying all night and the girl is crying, but they’re doing 95 to get there.  

The real Cumberland Road is in Nashville, off of River Road, per Songfacts.com.

First Shenandoah, Then Rascal Flatts

The Billy Hill Boys recorded one record with Warner Brothers and half of another one. But they got a chance to perform their songs out on the road, including “Church on Cumberland Road.”

At some point, the band Shenandoah heard the song. They recorded it and released it in 1989 on their album The Road Not Taken.

The song reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart and No. 1 on RPM’s Country Tracks chart in Canada.

Later on, the country band Rascal Flatts performed “Church on Cumberland Road” – initially as the first song they played as a trio, and then on “The Bobby Bones Show” to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Their take on the song was sunny but stayed mostly faithful to the original.