Folsom Prison Blues

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"Folsom Prison Blues"
Folsom Prison Blues.jpg
Single by Johnny Cash
from the album With His Hot and Blue Guitar, Sings Hank Williams, All Aboard the Blue Train, and I Walk the Line
B-side "So Doggone Lonesome"
Released December 15, 1955
April 1968 (re-recording)
Format 7" single
Recorded July 30, 1955, Sun Studio, Memphis, Tennessee
Genre Rockabilly,[1][2] country blues,[3] rock and roll[4]
Length 2:50
Label Sun
Writer(s) Johnny Cash
Producer(s) Sam Phillips
Johnny Cash singles chronology
"Hey, Porter"
"Folsom Prison Blues"
"I Walk the Line"

"Folsom Prison Blues" is a song written and first recorded in 1955 by American singer-songwriter Johnny Cash. The song combines elements from two popular folk styles, the train song and the prison song, both of which Cash would continue to use for the rest of his career. It was one of Cash's signature songs. It was the eleventh track on his debut album With His Hot and Blue Guitar and it was also included (same version) on All Aboard the Blue Train. A live version, recorded among inmates at Folsom State Prison itself, became a #1 hit on the country music charts in 1968.

Original recording, 1955[edit]

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 the 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."[5]

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".[6] 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 US$75,000 following a lawsuit.[7]

The song was recorded at the Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee on July 30, 1955. The producer was Sam Phillips, and the musicians were Cash (vocals, guitar), Luther Perkins (guitar), and Marshall Grant (bass).[8] The song was released as a single with another song recorded at the same session, "So Doggone Lonesome". Early in 1956, both sides reached #4 on the Billboard C&W Best Sellers chart.[9]

Live recording, 1968[edit]

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. The performance again featured Cash, Perkins and Grant, as on the original recording, together with Al Casey (guitar) and W.S. Holland (drums).[8]

Released as a single, the live version reached #1 on the country singles chart, and #32 on the Hot 100, in 1968.[9] Pitchfork Media placed this live version at number 8 on its list of "The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s."[10] 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.

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1968) Peak
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[11] 1
US Billboard Hot 100[12] 32
Canadian RPM Country Tracks 1
Canadian RPM Top Singles 17
Preceded by
by Tammy Wynette
Billboard Hot Country Singles
number-one single

July 20-August 10, 1968
Succeeded by
"Heaven Says Hello"
by Sonny James
RPM Country Tracks
number-one single

July 20-August 3, 1968
Succeeded by
"What's Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)"
by Jerry Lee Lewis
Preceded by
"All the Time"
by Jack Greene
Billboard Hot Country Singles
number-one single of the year

Succeeded by
"My Life (Throw it Away If I Want To)"
by Bill Anderson

Other versions[edit]


  1. ^ Bill Janovitz. "Folsom Prison Blues - Johnny Cash | Song Info". AllMusic. Retrieved 2016-08-22. 
  2. ^ "Johnny Cash Biography | The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum". Retrieved 2015-08-25. 
  3. ^ "– The Home of the Cigar Box Guitar Movement! – Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash – 3-string Open G GDG – Cigar Box Guitar Tablature". Retrieved 2015-08-25. 
  4. ^ "Prison Tracks: "Folsom Prison Blues" - Sierra Detention Systems". 1968-01-13. Retrieved 2015-08-25. 
  5. ^ Archived May 24, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ Robert Hilburn (2010-02-21). "Roots of Cash's hit tunes - latimes". Retrieved 2015-08-25. 
  7. ^ Streissguth 2004, p. 19–21.
  8. ^ a b PragueFrank's Country Music Discography: Johnny Cash, Part 1A. Retrieved 25 August 2015
  9. ^ a b Joel Whitburn, Top Country Singles 1944-1993, Record Research Inc., 1994, p.62
  10. ^ "Staff Lists: The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s | Features". Pitchfork. 2006-08-18. Retrieved 2015-08-25. 
  11. ^ "Johnny Cash – Chart history" Billboard Hot Country Songs for Johnny Cash.
  12. ^ "Johnny Cash – Chart history" Billboard Hot 100 for Johnny Cash.
  13. ^ "Illustrated Slim Harpo discography". Retrieved 2015-08-25. 
  14. ^ "Lenny Dee (2) - Turn Around, Look At Me / Folsom Prison Blues (Vinyl)". Retrieved 2016-08-22. 
  15. ^ "Killer Country [Elektra] - Jerry Lee Lewis | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2015-08-25. 
  16. ^ Archived June 6, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  17. ^ "Folsom Prison Blues by Adam Young Music | Free Listening on SoundCloud". Retrieved 2015-08-24. 
  18. ^ "15 Songs That Changed Country Music". ABC. 2014-11-03. 


  • Streissguth, Michael. Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: The Making of a Masterpiece, Da Capo Press (2004). ISBN 0-306-81338-6.

External links[edit]