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A Boy Named Sue by Johnny Cash

Album: Johnny Cash At San QuentinReleased: 1969Charted:
2
4
  • This was written by the multitalented Shel Silverstein, who later wrote several hits for Dr. Hook, including "Sylvia's Mother" and "Cover Of The Rolling Stone." Silverstein also wrote several popular children's books. He got the idea for the song from his friend Jean Shepherd - a guy who had to deal with a girly name. Shepherd was a writer/humorist like Silverstein; he narrated the 1983 movie A Christmas Story, which is based on his writings.
  • This is about a boy who grows up angry at his father not only for leaving his family, but for naming him Sue. When the boy grows up, he sees his father in a bar and gets in a fight with him. After his father explains that he named him Sue to make sure he was tough, the son understands.
  • Cash recorded this live at San Quentin Prison in February, 1969. Silverstein's nephew Mitch Myers tell the story: "In those days in Nashville, and for all the people that would visit, the most fun that anyone really could have would be to go over to someone's house and play music. And they would do what one would call a 'Guitar Pull,' where you grabbed a guitar and you played one of your new songs, then someone else next to you would grab it and do the same, and there were people like Johnny Cash or Joni Mitchell, people of that caliber in the room. Shel sang his song 'Boy Named Sue,' and Johnny's wife June Carter thought it was a great song for Johnny Cash to perform. And not too long after that they were headed off to San Quentin to record a record - Live At San Quentin - and June said, 'Why don't you bring that Shel song with you.' And so they brought the lyrics. And when he was on stage he performed that song for the first time ever, he performed it live in front of that captive audience, in every sense of the word. He had to read the lyrics off of the sheet of paper that was at the foot of the stage, and it was a hit. And it wasn't touched up, it wasn't produced or simulated. They just did it, and it stuck. And it rang. I would say that it would qualify in the realm of novelty, a novelty song. Shel had a knack for the humorous and the kind of subversive lyrics. But they also were so catchy that people could not resist them." (Learn a lot more about Shel Silverstein in our interview with Mitch Myers.)
  • Shel Silverstein went on to write another song titled "The Father of the Boy Named Sue." It's the same story, but from the father's point of view. (thanks, Bashu - Nanoose Bay, Canada)
  • Johnny Cash performed this song in the East Room of the White House on April 17, 1970 when he and his wife were invited by President Richard Nixon. Nixon's staff had requested the song along with Okie From Muskogee and a song by Guy Drake called "Welfare Cadillac," but Cash refused to perform those songs, saying he didn't have arrangements ready.
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Comments: 63

Cash did perform this at San Quentin "live", but like his Folsom Prison album (also live) both albums were re mixed by the legendary producer Bob Johnston. Johnston's mixes did much to make both records hits.Coy - Palestine, Tx
In light of some of the ridiculous names my kids' classmates were saddled with, this song rings truer than ever.Esskayess - Dallas, Tx
Back in 1997-98 I was driving a big truck from Florida to Atlanta along I-75 when I heard someone singing on the C.B. it was around 2:00 a.m.
and this man driving a black and chrome stage coach bus was talking to me saying that he left from texas to south carolina to sing back up in a studio
and I asked him if he would sing a couple of my favorites including this one. which he did. Easy to recognize HIS voice. What a nice guy.
Michael Scott - Punta Gorda, Fl
The comment previously posted by user "Ekristheh" in Halath about at least one other recording of its being aired is accurate. I too remember the version where "Tarzan" was exclaimed amongst the other names at the end. I only heard that version once, on the radio, as a kid in California, contemporaneously while the song was on the charts in the U.S.Lois - Oakland, Ca
Anyone who wants a good laugh (and perhaps a minor shock at the end) should do a web search for "Father of a Boy Named Sue." It's a follow-up/parody of BNS that Shel did in the late 70s, perhaps because he had gotten tired of hearing it.Esskayess - Dallas, Tx
The song MIGHT have been written about Judge Sue K. Hicks (HE was a man) that was also the judge in the Scopes Monkey Trial!!! "MIGHT" being the operative word - Silverstein DID attend a meeting that was directed by Judge Hicks and commented about his "funny female" first name!!! But Silverstein never admitted anything!! And YES - Silverstein was a cartoonist for Playboy - and he also wrote one of the highest selling childrens book of all time - "The GIving Tree" first printed in 1964 - and STILL in print today!!!!!Jeff - Atlanta, Ga
Boy name Sue is Sue K. Hicks, the an American jurist in the 1925 trial of John T. Scopes, a Dayton, Tennessee.Bogoizbrania - Sofia, Bulgaria
I remember very well Johnny Cash singing in the prison of San Quintin; it was a real succes. When he sang "A boy named Sue" all the people in prison were laughing and shouting.Teresa - Mechelen, Belgium
There is a scene from the film ( which was also shown on video and now shown on DVD ), where Johnny was trying to see the Prisoners from onstage , but couldn't ; and he got a bit upset because the others wouldn't move out of the way . So what he did was he turned to the camera , and gave the bird ( the middle finger ). Years later before he died , Johnny Cash told about the incident in a interview .Chomper - Franjkin County, Pa
Here are the names from the Original released album : ( Side One ) Wanted Man / Wreck of the Old 97 / I walk the Line / Darling Companion / Starkville City Jail . ( Side Two ) San Quintin / San Quintin / A Boy Named Sue / (They'll Be )Peace in the Valley / Folson Prison Blues . The CD reissue ( 2000 )contains these 18 songs : 1. Big River 2. I Still Miss Someone 3. Wreck of the Old 97 4. I Walk the Line 5. Darlin' Companion 6. I Don't Know Where I'm Bound 7. Starkville City Jail 8. San Quintin 9. San Quintin 10. Wanted Man 11. A Boy Named Sue 12. ( They'll Be ) Peace in the Valley 13. Folson Prison Blues 14. Ring of Fire 15. He Turned the Water Into Wine 16. Daddy Sang Bass 17. The Old Account Was Settled Long Ago 18. Closing Medley : Folson Prison Blues / I Walk the Line / Ring of Fire / The Rebel - Johnny Yuma.Chomper - Franjkin County, Pa
In the "Remastered Recording" (the actual UK broadcast recording ) , Johhny said these words to the Prisoners at San Quintin : "I tell you what ..This show is being televised from ..England .." ( Prisoners cheers ) "..They said ..They said , 'You gotta do this song , you gotta do that song ; You gotta stand like this , act like this ..' ; And I just don't give a damn , you know . I'm here ..I'm here to do what you want to do , and to do what I want to do ." Then the Prisoners cheered again . It was so cool the way he said it son stage .Chomper - Franjkin County, Pa
Awesome lyrics, Johnny Cash was the coolest.Theresa - Murfreesboro, Tn
If you look at the lyrics of Shel Silverstein's "The Father of a Boy Named Sue,", it should begin to dawn on you (as it did me) that "The Father of a Boy Named Sue," is really a parody of "A Boy Named Sue." There aren't many composers who can write good parodies of their own work (probably because they are personally too close to their own songs), but the late Shel Silverstein was a great exception.Ted - Phoenix, Az
I am from Madisonville, TN. I live right down the street from Judge Sue K. Hicks house. I have been there many times. This song is about this judge, Sue K. Hicks, who was also one of the main persons instigaters of the scopes monkey trial. He died in 1980. Shel Silverstein wrote this wrong after seeing Sue Hicks at a judges conference in Gatlinburg, TN. Although the lyrics are made up, the inspiration for the song was this man's name. It is true.Hans Randall - Madisonville, Tn
Also check out "Lola" by the KinksMixermatt - Bloomington, Mn
One of John R. Cash's better songs. I have the version where sob is bleeped out. Hilarious.Briar - Hazard, Ky
Shel did a great song later. If you can find it get it and listen...
"A Front Row Seat to Hear Ol' Johnny Play" Top!
Ric - Erskine, United Kingdom
A note on Shel Silverstein: He was one of the original cartoonists for Playboy magazine before becoming a songwriter/author.Barry - Bastrop, La, La
Bailey had it right...the song was inspired by Scopes attorney Sue Hicks - for sure at least the seed of an idea of a song about a boy named Sue. Rich, RockOfAgesTriviaRich - El Segundo, Ca
I went to see Johnny with my parents at Lakewood Stadium in atlanta, where the NASCAR drivers ran.It must have been about '61 or '62. Johnny was there with June Carter( they were not married at the time). He sang last, of course. He had larengitus! He said if we would be patient that he would sing every song that he knew! and he did! And he saved "Ring of Fire" for last!!! I have enjoyed telling folks it was my first concert of many!!! Since then I've enjoyed everyone from Crosby, Stills and Nash to Saliva! I'm 51 and I hope to keep on Rockin'! MikeMike - Atlanta, Ga
when johnny was in san Quentin, the last line was "I think im gonna name him Bill or George or any ol' damn thing but sue"Caleb - Burton, United States
This song is on both Cash's "San Quentin" and "Madison Square Garden" albums.At the end of the Madison Square Gardens recording he says "im gonna name him ..after YOU!" Instead of the original line "Bill or George or any damn thing but Sue" used on the "San Quentin" album.I was never sure who the 'you' referred to but Cash does introduce Silverstein, who was in the audience, after the song.Mark - Byrdstown, Tn
Great song by a helluva writer. Shel also wrote another wonderful little ditty called "Tequila Sheila" that Bobby Bare performed that has another funny twist ending. I first heard of him through the kid's book "The Giving Tree," and that still remains one of my all time favorites. Sweet yet poignant without being preachy; just one of those simple tales that teaches by example and seems to stay with you.Bubba Zanetti - Austin, Tx
Well, look at the bright side. At least his name was not Elisha or Leslie. Now those REALLY sound like girls' names, and (mercifully) they are now used solely as such.Darrell - Eugene, United States
My father in law met Johnny in an airport bar in minneapolis, and offered to buy him a beer. He respectfully delcined by saying "no thanks fella"s but let me buy you one. Jim Mn.James M. Eull - St. Cloud, Mn
This was Johnny Cash's first hit in Britain and Ireland. It's a novelty song. The reason he speaks most of the song rather than sing it is because he had only heard the song and had not rehearsed it.

If you watch him in the filmed live version you see that he is actually reading the words from a sheet of paper.

As Bob Dylan said of Johnny; '' The greatest of the Greats''
Clive - Omagh, Northern Ireland, Ireland
My mistake-the parody was "A Girl Named Johnny Cash"Steve - Jamesburg, Nj
I never heard it, but there was a parody song called "A Boy Named Johnny Cash"Steve - Jamesburg, Nj
Johnny Cash is my all time favorite artist because my dad used to love him and I grew up listening to him!! L8ter.... LLill Kt - Sunny, Ny
He must have played it live at least one other time. My school friend had heard a live recording in which he concluded "Bill or George, or Tarzan! Anything but Sue!"Ekristheh - Halath, United States
Oh my God, I love you, Terry from Northampton, England.Joe - Lockport, Il
I heard Johnny Cash talk about this song once and he said that the first time he heard it was at a "guitar pull" at his Nashville home. (A guitar pull for the uninitiated is a meeting of song writers where they perform their newest stuff for each other. Many times the songs are not even protected.) Those present at the pull were Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Steven Stills (then Judy Collins' love interest and Shel Silverstein. Dylan did "Lay Lady Lay." Judy did "Both Sides Now." Stills did "Suite Judy Blue Eyes," written for Judy Collins, of course. And Silverstein did, "Boy Named Sue." When asked what he performed he responded something like, "Nothing that impressive." Silverstein also wrote the final song from "Postcards From the Edge" titled "I'm Checking Out of This Heartbreak Hotel," which was sung by Meryl Streep.John - Houston, Tx
Did you guys know that this song has some historical significance. There was a court case in 1925 called the Scopes Monkey Trial (having to do with the teaching of evelution in public schools). The original prosecutors in the case were two brothers named Herbert E. Hicks and Sue K. Hicks. They were both friends of Scope. Anyway, Sue got his name because it was his mother's name and she died giving birth to him. The rumor has it that Johnny Cash or Shel Silverstein or whoever wrote the song thought that the fact that there was a boy named Sue was funny, and then wrote a song about it. So the boy that was named Sue actually had some significance. Yup and that's my bit to put in.

-Thank you AP U.S. History!!
Bailey Wa.
Bailey - Moses Lake, Wa
What? No, the lyrics are pretty self-explanatory. I don't think this song is really open to interpretation.

I think it's a nice little song with a cute message. I like the rhythm, but that's about it. I love Shel Silverstein, though. :-)
Spencer - Los Angeles, Ca
This is about a boy named Georgie who changed his name by deed poll to Sue,because he thought Georgie was a Gay name.Terry - Northampton, England
I think the somg is actually about a girl who thought she was a guy.

Steve, Canada
Steve St. Michael - Renfrew, Canada
out of respect for Johny Cash it's an o.k. novelty song and not much else.Greg - Victoria, Canada
Shel Silverstien was a genius! He wrote many songs for Dr Hook, as well as this one done by Johnny Cash, but the song of his I like most is "Redneck and Hippie Romance" by Bobby Bare. i currently live in an area where that song is SO true! shel could also write a serious song: "A Couple More Years" is one of the sweetest songs I have ever heard! I couldn't picture anyone but Johnny cash doing "A Boy Named Sue" however; it is his song!Lawrence - Saranac Lake, Ny
one of the science teachers read this poem at school today in poetry cafe whitch was kinda boring since the kids did it and they did terribleTristan - Omaha, Ne
Was this his biggest hit? I sure don't remember hearing any other songs of his on top 40 radio as a kid (in the New York area). I first heard this on a family vacation trip, and I remember my father saying (maybe to my mother) that it was Johnny Cash, and I was impressed that it seemed like he was someone who I should know who he was, but I'd never heard of him before, and it was years before I ever heard any of his other music! First heard Ring Of Fire from Wall Of Voodoo...Fyodor - Denver, Co
my grandpa played in a band with johny cash way back when ... the band never got famous, only the people in the community really new about them, so they went their seperate ways and johny cash got famous. my grandpa and johny cash died just over a week apart =)Kristy - Whitehorse, Canada
The goo goo dolls titled an album "a boy named goo". It's a great album.Rick - Humboldt, Ia
I never knew that Shel Silversein wrote this...I loved his books as a kid.Angie - Osawatomie, Ks
This song is so funny. I love Johnny Cash. RIP. I miss tou Johnny.Stefanie - Rock Hill, Sc
I saw Johnny Cash at an airport in Florida several years ago. He was a very polite wonderful person. "A Boy Named Sue" still is my favorite.Dotty - Skokie, Il
The fact that the words are bleeped out makes it even funnier. I always wondered what those words rwere.Stefanie - Rock Hill, Sc
This is one of the funniest songs ever recorded by Johnny Cash. I have heard both the bleeped and unbleeped versions and it is also an outstanding story song.Howard - St. Louis Park, Mn
My name is SUE...how do you DO? Good father/son song. Father walks out. Son tries to kick his ass. They make up.Brian - Meriden, Ct
all bleeped out words are-"cause im the 'son-of-a-bitch' that named you sue"
"and if i ever have a son, i think im going to name him...bill or george! and 'damn' thing but sue!"
Joey - Woodstock, Ga
Contray to what someone else has said, Johnny did perform this song again. In Fact, he not only performed it but also added the line "and i did have a son" at the end, at which point he would bring out his then young son John.Ben - Nottingham, England
I perform this song. Its got a different ending on Dash;s San Quentin. At the end he say "If I ever have a son Ill name him after you" I use that ending instead of "Bill or George anything but Sue" I use it because people are not expecting it. I like the way I growl "A kikin and a gougin in the mud and the blood and the beer"Kevin - Canada, Canada
When I was in middle school, I did a report on Shel Silverstein, which is how I found out that he wrote this song. I also found out that he wrote a sort of companion song, The Father of a Boy Named Sue, which is sung to the same tune and the original and is quite funny. For lyrics, go here: http://www.sonicuke.com/c_father.php
-Lia, Cleveland, OH Kittigal2@aol.com
Lia - Cleveland Heights, Oh
Johnny said in an interview on tv I saw that this was the first and last time he ever played this song.Does anyone know why?Johnny - Bridgeport, Oh
Johnny Cash remained true to his word and named his son anythiong but Sue. Johnny Cash's son's name is John Carter.Julian - Oakland, Ar
The words that are beeped out are son of a bitch, and were beeped out because this was recorded for a TV show.Julian - Oakland, Ar
the man in black ...singin' for the pope nowPete - Nowra, Australia
Anyone know what words are beeped out at the end? I've always wondered what he was saying there. Call it morbid curiosity.Chris - Auxvasse, Ne
Actually, how I heard it happened was Silverstein was at a party the night before with Cash and Carter and he sang it and gave it to Cash and Cash wasn't going to play it until he was convinced by his wife (or someone) to play it. He didn't even know many of the lyrics or the music. He had a copy of it on the floor when he was playing and he was reading from that.

Gotta love this song, though. Silverstein was my idol when I was little. I used to love his book, "Where the Sidewalk Ends".

-=The Prynce
The Prynce - Dillon / Hamer, Sc
Jonny cash was not going to perform this song. It was presented to him right before he was to do a concert at a prison. His wife June Carter cash heard it and begged him to perform it live.

He never even rehearsed it.. The first time he sang it.. is the version you hear.
Cale - Atlanta, Ga
One of the most clever and well written songs in history and complimented perfectly by johnnys voice

if u like this, check out; My girl Bill, by Jim Stafford, alike in that its VERY cleverly written and is VERY deceptive

Take a listen
Hetfield - Manchester, England
i love love love this song and johnny cashCaitlin - Sailsbury, Nc
I think the best part of this is the last line, because we're expecting he's going to carry on the tradition -- but NO!Lauren - Maryville, Mo
I always thought this song was kind of funnyWill - Portland, Or