Cash recorded this live at San Quentin Prison in February 1969. Shel Silverstein's nephew Mitch Myers told us 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