Folsom Prison Blues
|"Folsom Prison Blues"|
|Single by Johnny Cash|
|from the album Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar!|
|B-side||"So Doggone Lonesome"|
|Released||December 15, 1955|
|Recorded||July 30, 1955|
|Studio||Sun (Memphis, Tennessee)|
|Johnny Cash singles chronology|
"Folsom Prison Blues" is a song by American singer-songwriter Johnny Cash. It was written in 1953 and first recorded in 1955 for his debut studio album Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar! (1957), appearing as the album's eleventh track. The song combines elements from two popular folk styles, the train song and the prison song, both of which Cash continued to use for the rest of his career. It was one of Cash's signature songs. Additionally, this recording was included on the compilation album All Aboard the Blue Train (1962). In June 2014, Rolling Stone ranked it No. 51 on its list of the 100 greatest country songs of all time.
Cash performed the song live to a crowd of inmates at Folsom State Prison in 1968 for his live album At Folsom Prison (1968), released through Columbia Records. This version became a No. 1 hit on the country music charts and reached No. 32 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the same year. This version also won the Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male, at the 11th Annual Grammy Awards in 1969.
Original recording, 1955
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."
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 US$75,000 following a lawsuit.
"Folsom Prison Blues" 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). Like other songs recorded during his early Sun Records sessions, Cash had no drummer in the studio, but replicated the snare drum sound by inserting a piece of paper (like a dollar bill) under the guitar strings and strumming the snare rhythm on his guitar. The song's sound has been described as country, rockabilly, and rock and roll. The song was released as a single with another song recorded at the same session, "So Doggone Lonesome". Early in 1956, both sides reached No. 4 on the Billboard C&W Best Sellers chart.
When photographer Jim Marshall asked Cash why the song's main character was serving time in California's Folsom Prison after shooting a man in Reno, Nevada, he responded, "That's called poetic license."
Live recording, 1968
|"Folsom Prison Blues (Live)"|
|Single by Johnny Cash|
|from the album At Folsom Prison|
|B-side||"The Folk Singer"|
|Released||April 30, 1968|
|Recorded||January 13, 1968|
|Venue||Folsom State Prison (Folsom, California)|
|Johnny Cash singles chronology|
Cash opened almost all of his concerts with "Folsom Prison Blues," after greeting the audience with his trademark introduction, "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash," for decades. Cash performed the song at Folsom Prison itself on January 13, 1968, which was recorded and later released as a live album titled At Folsom Prison. That opening version of the song is more up-tempo than the original Sun 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. According to a special feature on the DVD release of the 2005 biopic Walk the Line, the prisoners avoided cheering 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 W.S. Holland (drums).
Released as a single, the live version reached number 1 on the country singles chart, and number 32 on the Hot 100, in 1968. 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 won in his career, at the 1969 Grammy Awards.
|US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)||4|
|US Billboard Best Sellers in Stores||5|
|US Billboard Most Played in Juke Boxes||5|
|US Billboard Most Played by Jockeys||4|
|Canadian RPM Country Tracks||1|
|Canadian RPM Top Singles||17|
|US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)||1|
|US Billboard Hot 100||32|
|US Billboard Adult Contemporary||39|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Silver||250,000|
Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.
In popular culture
- Gram Parsons and the International Submarine Band recorded the track in 1967 and it was released on their 1968 album Safe At Home.
- Blues musician Slim Harpo released a version as a single in 1968.
- Organist Lenny Dee includes an instrumental version on his 1969 Decca Records release, Turn Around, Look At Me. It was also released as a promotional 45 RPM single with the title track.
- Jerry Lee Lewis included the song on his 1981 album, Killer Country
- South African singer Ray Dylan included the song on his album Goeie Ou Country - Op Aanvraag.
- Artist Everlast included the song on his album Love, War and the Ghost of Whitey Ford
- Jerry Reed covered and included the song in his 1973 album: Lord, Mr. Ford
- The Reverend Horton Heat included the song on their 1999 release Holy Roller.
- Johnny Cash recorded another version of the song in 1988 and it is on his Classic Cash: Hall of Fame Series album.
- German EBM band Accessory featured this track on their 2007 album Underbeat.
- British band Blyth Power released a cover as the B-side of their 1987 single, "Ixion".
- American mashup artist Neil Cicierega mashed this song up with Baby and The Reason on his album Mouth Dreams
- American Reggae band Stick Figure covered the song on their 2009 album Smoke Stack
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- "Anedotage.com". Archived from the original on 24 May 2011. Retrieved 29 April 2021.
- Robert Hilburn (2010-02-21). "Roots of Cash's hit tunes - latimes". Articles.latimes.com. Retrieved 2015-08-25.
- Streissguth 2004, p. 19–21.
- PragueFrank's Country Music Discography: Johnny Cash, Part 1A. Retrieved 25 August 2015
- Morris, Charles (February 24, 2020). "Folsom Prison Blues — Johnny Cash's chilling ballad became a country classic". Financial Times. Retrieved February 27, 2021.
- Davies, David Martin (October 13, 2017). "Johnny Cash And The Story Behind 'Folsom Prison Blues'". Texas Public Radio. Retrieved July 16, 2019.
- "Johnny Cash Biography | The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on March 25, 2010. Retrieved February 27, 2021.
- Lambert, James (2 July 2018). ""Folsom Prison Blues": 5 Things About This Johnny Cash Hit". Country Daily. Retrieved July 16, 2019.
- "Prison Tracks: "Folsom Prison Blues" - Sierra Detention Systems". Sierracompanies.com. 1968-01-13. Archived from the original on 2016-01-08. Retrieved 2015-08-25.
- Joel Whitburn, Top Country Singles 1944-1993, Record Research Inc., 1994, p.62
- Schleuter, Roger (2017-12-30). "Johnny Cash song leaves some with a burning question". Belleville News-Democrat. Retrieved 2018-12-04.
- "Staff Lists: The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s | Features". Pitchfork. 2006-08-18. Retrieved 2015-08-25.
- "Johnny Cash Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard.
- Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944-2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 74.
- "Johnny Cash Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
- Whitburn, Joel (1993). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961–1993. Record Research. p. 44.
- "British single certifications – Johnny Cash – Folsom Prison Blues". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 26 July 2019.Select singles in the Format field. Select Silver in the Certification field. Type Folsom Prison Blues in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.
- Fogarty, Paul (2 August 2021). "The Suicide Squad soundtrack: Every song in the DC movie explored". HITC.
- Trenholm, Richard. "The Suicide Squad: All the classic songs and awful murders, ranked". CNET.
- "Illustrated Slim Harpo discography". Wirz.de. Retrieved 2015-08-25.
- "Lenny Dee (2) - Turn Around, Look At Me / Folsom Prison Blues (Vinyl)". Discogs.com. Retrieved 2016-08-22.
- "Killer Country [Elektra] - Jerry Lee Lewis | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2015-08-25.
- Musica.co.za Archived June 6, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
- Love War & The Ghost of Whitey Ford, Three Ring Project, 2008-09-23, retrieved 2018-05-25
- "Jerry Reed - Folsom Prison Blues". YouTube. Retrieved 29 April 2021.
- "Accessory - Underbeat". Discogs.com. Retrieved 29 April 2021.
- "MOUTH DREAMS". Neilcic.com. Retrieved 29 April 2021.
- Streissguth, Michael. Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: The Making of a Masterpiece, Da Capo Press (2004). ISBN 0-306-81338-6.