MARVIN ‘POPCORN’ SUTTON (1946-2009)
rose from hardscrabble roots in Southern Appalachia to become the world’s most recognizable moonshiner. His embrace of tradition put him at odds with both contemporary American life and the law – but his savvy self-promotion as the last of the old-time moonshiners was thoroughly modern.
He was not only a character and a performer but a truly gifted craftsman who cared above all to create a product worthy of moonshine’s privileged place in mountain heritage… and which would keep his customers coming back.
Posthumously, Sutton has become larger than life in the eyes of admirers, often called the ‘king of the moonshiners’ and viewed as the very embodiment of Appalachian heritage, symbolizing the independence, ingenuity, and resilience of mountain people. The real Popcorn Sutton, however, was much more complex – and arguably much more interesting. The full story of the man behind the legend is now revealed for the first time in extensive personal interviews, exclusive behind-the-scenes photography, first-hand remembrances, and vital historical context. Ultimately speaking to the complexity of Appalachian identity in a time of rapid transformation, The Moonshiner Popcorn Sutton is a celebration of craft, heritage, and irrepressible character.
I’ve dug ditches. I’ve worked on construction. I’ve done everything. And there ain’t nothin’ no harder than what I’m a-doin’, but it’s just in my blood.
My granddaddy… he made likker all his life, and he took the likker and sold it, and then took the money and helped buy the materials it took to build the first Baptist church on Hemphill that was ever built. I guess don’t matter how you get your money, if you put it in the right place, I guess the good lord’d probably bless you for it anyway, whether you got it a-sellin’ ’taters or makin’ likker. When I went to church, once a month I’d drop a hundred dollar bill in the collection plate and I knowed damn well they knowed I didn’t get it a-sellin’ ’taters.
Me and Daddy made it together for thirty years in one place and never was caught. His daddy was a moonshiner too, but Daddy’s like myself – he more or less learned it on his own what he knowed about it. Of course, I’ve had people tell me things that I tried and it worked. Some of it didn’t work. But most of it I more or less invented it on my own what I know about it. I swore when I was a little ol’ kid, if I ever got big enough, I’d make likker and haul it. And I did.[ How many jars of liquor do you think you’ve made in your life? ]
The hell fire! I don’t even guess they even make numbers that damn long! Feller asked me one time, said, ‘You got any likker?’ I said, ‘I tell you what you do.’ I said, ‘You bring you a eighteen-wheeler and I’ll bust the damn tires on it.’