Folsom Prison Blues
|"Folsom Prison Blues"|
|Single by Johnny Cash|
|from the album With His Hot and Blue Guitar|
|B-side||"So Doggone Lonesome"|
|Released||December 15, 1955
April 1968 (re-release)
|Recorded||July 30, 1955|
|Genre||Rockabilly, rock and roll, country blues|
|Johnny Cash singles chronology|
"Folsom Prison Blues" is a song written and recorded by American country music artist Johnny Cash. The song combines elements from two popular folk genres, the train song and the prison song, both of which Cash would continue to use for the rest of his career. It became one of Cash's signature songs. It was the eleventh track on his debut album With His Hot and Blue Guitar but was also included (same version) on All Aboard the Blue Train.
Cash was inspired to write this song after seeing the movie Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison (1951) while serving in West Germany in the United States Air Force at Landsberg, Bavaria (itself location of a famous prison). Cash recounted how he came up with the line "But I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die": "I sat with my pen in my hand, trying to think up the worst reason a person could have for killing another person, and that's what came to mind."
Cash took the melody for the song and many of the lyrics from Gordon Jenkins's 1953 Seven Dreams concept album, specifically the song "Crescent City Blues". Jenkins was not credited on the original record, which was issued by Sun Records. In the early 1970s, after the song became popular, Cash paid Jenkins a settlement of approximately $75,000.
Cash included the song, considered one of his signature songs, in his repertoire for decades. Cash performed the song at Folsom Prison itself on January 13, 1968, and this version was eventually released on the At Folsom Prison album the same year. That opening song is more up-tempo than the Sun studio recording. According to Michael Streissguth, the cheering from the audience following the line "But I shot a man in Reno / just to watch him die" was added in post-production. A special on the Walk the Line DVD indicates that the prisoners were careful not to cheer at any of Cash's comments about the prison itself, fearing reprisal from guards. Pitchfork Media placed this live version at number 8 on its list of "The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s." The live performance of the song won Cash the Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male, the first of four he would win in his career, at the 1969 Grammy Awards.
A unusual goof in the song is that the singer, "Shot a man in Reno." Reno is in the State of Nevada; Folsom Prison is just outside of the city of Folsom, California.
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (September 2013)|
- Charley Pride covered the song on Country Charley Pride (RCA, 1966) before it hit number one on the charts.
- Bob Dylan and The Band covered the song during their 1967 "Basement Tapes" sessions, officially released on November 4, 2014 on The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Complete.
- Merle Haggard recorded the song on his 1968 Album Mama Tried.
- The International Submarine Band included a recording of the song on their 1968 album Safe at Home.
- Blues musician Slim Harpo released a version as a single in 1968.
- Waylon Jennings covered the song on Jewels in 1968; the same recording appeared on Heartaches By The Number in 1972; and a new version on the album Black on Black in 1982.
- Ernest Tubb covered the song on his 1969 album Saturday Satan Sunday Saint.
- The Charlatans included a covered version of the song on their 1969 album The Charlatans.
- Lester Flatt covered the song in 1971.
- Charlie Feathers covered the song, which was released as a single in 1980.
- Jerry Lee Lewis on his 1981 album, Killer Country
- Willard covered the song on their 1992 album, Steel Mill.
- Brooks & Dunn recorded the song on the 1994 album, Red Hot + Country. The cover featured Cash singing along on the last verse.
- The Reverend Horton Heat covered the song on the 1999 greatest hits album, Holy Roller.
- Keb' Mo' covered it on the 2002 tribute album Kindred Spirits: A Tribute to the Songs of Johnny Cash.
- Everlast covered the song on his 2008 album Love, War and the Ghost of Whitey Ford.
- South African singer Ray Dylan covered the song on his album "Goeie Ou Country - Op Aanvraag". 
- Psychobilly band The Geezers covered the song probably in 1982 - it appeared in the Big Beat 1983 album "Rockabilly Psychosis And The Garage Disease".
|U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles||1|
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100||32|
|Canadian RPM Country Tracks||1|
|Canadian RPM Top Singles||17|
by Tammy Wynette
|Billboard Hot Country Singles
July 20-August 10, 1968
"Heaven Says Hello"
by Sonny James
|RPM Country Tracks
July 20-August 3, 1968
"What's Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)"
by Jerry Lee Lewis
"All the Time"
by Jack Greene
|Billboard Hot Country Singles
number-one single of the year
"My Life (Throw it Away If I Want To)"
by Bill Anderson
From the album At Folsom Prison. The most popular live version of the song.
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- Anecdotage.Com - Thousands of true funny stories about famous people. Anecdotes from Gates to Yeats
- Los Angeles Times: Roots of Cash's hit tunes, Robert Hilburn, 22 August 2006
- Streissguth 2004, p. 19–21.
- The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s Retrieved June 19, 2012
- Stefan Wirz, Slim Harpo Discography. Retrieved 17 March 2014
- Jerry Lee Lewis, Killer Country Retrieved June 19, 2012.
- http://www.musica.co.za/cd/id/6005298026996/Ray_Dylan-Goeie_Ou_Country_-_Op_Aanvraag#contents Retrieved 10 January 2014
Pop culture references
In the film Little Nicky (2000), when Nicky's brother, Adrian, is holding Valerie hostage and hears a subway approaching, Adrian sings "I hear a train a coming..." in a Cash-esque manner.
In the comic strip "Over the Hedge" for April 8, 2014, Verne, the turtle, is flying a kite. RJ, the raccoon, tries to figure out why and thinks that Verne must have done something terrible. Hammy, the red squirrel, asks, "Did he shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die?"
In an episode of The Red Green Show, Mike Hamar recounts a strange dream he'd had while in the local jail: He was sharing a cell with his mother, while a midget in an adjacent cell was singing The Folsom Prison Blues. Red comments that this is indeed strange, to which Mike replies "I haven't even gotten to the part where I fell asleep yet!"
In the episode Brother From Another Series of The Simpsons, Krusty the Clown parodies both the song and Cash's performance at Springfield Penitentiary. His version opens with the lines "I slugged some jerk in Tahoe, they gave me 1-3. My high-priced lawyer sprung me on a technicality!"
- Streissguth, Michael. Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: The Making of a Masterpiece, Da Capo Press (2004). ISBN 0-306-81338-6.