Folsom Prison Blues

Album: Live From Folsom Prison (1956)
Charted: 32
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  • One of his earliest songs, Cash first recorded this for Sun Records in 1956, but it was the thrilling, electric version recorded live at Folsom Prison in California on January 13, 1968 that came to define his outlaw persona. The Live From Folsom Prison album helped revitalize his career - his last Country chart-topper and Top 40 Hot 100 entry was "Understand Your Man" in 1964.

    "Folsom Prison Blues" was a #1 Country hit for four weeks and generated a great deal of interest in the rebellious Johnny Cash, who made prison reform his political cause of choice and started regularly performing in jails, doing about 12 shows a year - for free - mostly in Folsom and San Quentin. Said Cash: "I don't see anything good come out of prison. You put them in like animals and tear out the souls and guts of them, and let them out worse than they went in."

    Standing up for the rights of prisoners is not a popular stance, but Cash came off as a champion for the oppressed. His next hit, recorded in San Quentin Prison, was the humorous "A Boy Named Sue," which proved that he could be clever and funny (at least while singing words written by Shel Silverstein). Cash got his own national TV show in 1969 and became one of the most popular entertainers of his era. Regarding his mystique, his daughter Rosanne later said, "He was a real man with great faults, and great genius and beauty in him, but he wasn't this guy who could save you or anyone else."
  • The most famous line in this song, "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die," Cash said he wrote while "Trying to think of the worst reason for killing another person." He added, "It did come to mind quite easily, though." He came up with the line after watching the 1951 movie Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison while serving in West Germany with the US Air Force. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Julian - Oakland, AR, for above 2. Quote from Rolling Stone magazine.
  • This song makes a great case that song lyrics do not encourage people to kill. As rap lyrics got more violent, many activists claimed that listeners would emulate the songs, which often detail graphic murder. In this song, Cash sings about killing a man in cold blood, and 50 years later, no one has shot a man in Reno as a result of this song.
  • The lyrics to this song were based on a 1953 recording called Crescent City Blues by a bandleader named Gordon Jenkins with Beverly Maher on vocals. The song was part of an album called Seven Dreams, in which a narrator describes various dreams, including this one where he finds himself conducting a train. After filing a lawsuit, Gordon Jenkins received an out-of-court settlement from Cash in 1969.
  • This is the first song Cash performed at his show where Live From Folsom Prison was recorded. Bob Johnston, famous for his work with Bob Dylan, produced the album and arranged for the prison performance. According to Johnson, he told Cash to "just go out and say who you are" when he took the stage, so Cash opened the set with what became his catch phrase: "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash."

    These are the words he used to start every episode of his TV series The Johnny Cash Show, which ran from 1969-1971.
  • In 1968, Cash won a Grammy award for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male, for the live version.
  • The imminently influential yet commercially hapless Charlatans performed a track of "Folsom Prison Blues" on their 1969 eponymous debut album, which was also their only studio release.

Comments: 31

  • Angie from Houston TexasWhy does Johnny randomly say "Suey" in the middle of the song
  • Lisa Jo from Bentonville Arkansas This beautiful man I love is from Arkansas. When he says Sooiiee in some of the recordings of Folsom, is it for the Arkansas Razorbacks or referring to the police?
    Serious Question, hope for the Razorbacks
    Thanks if you k ow please let me put to rest this question.
  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaJust watched the bio of the making of the Lp Live at Folsom and according to it, John didn't know he was doing anything wrong by changing the lyrics and using the same tune.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn April 23rd 1969, Johnny Cash performed "Folsom Prison Blues" on the CBS-TV program 'The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour'...
    The song was track 5 of side 2 on Johnny Cash's debut album, 'Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar', the album was the first one released by Sun Records of Memphis...
    Four tracks featured on the album made the Country singles chart; "Cry Cry Cry" (#14), Folsom Prison Blues (#3), "So Doggone Lonesome" (#4), and "I Walk the Line" (#1)...
    And "I Walk the Line" became his first crossover hit; it reached #17 on the Billboard's Top 100 chart...
    R.I.P. Mr. Cash (1932 - 2003) and Mr. Campbell celebrated his 78th birthday yesterday on April 22nd, 2014...
    May God bless and watch over Mr. Campbell.
  • Chomper03 from Chambersburg, PaActually, he said that the program was being televised from England.
  • Chomper03 from Chambersburg, PaThe following are the actual words Johnny Cash said onstage while he was performing at San Quentin: Johnny - "I tell you what ... This is being recorded live from .. England ..." (prisoners cheering) Johnny - "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 wanna do, and to do what I wanna do. Is that clear...?" (prisoners cheering again).
  • Christian from Berlin, GermanyJohnny Cash's "signature tune" was stolen line for line from Gordon Jenkins' "Crescent City Blues". Shame on wikipedia for trying to downplay and whitewash the lawsuit over this song.
  • Megan from Stevenson, AlSuper catchy! lol This song is awesome!
  • Tom from Los Angeles, CaPearl, Boy Named Sue was after either version of this song. And though at first blush it seems implausible if not inappropriate to refer to a boy named Sue at a men's prison, Cash did exactly that, apparently, recording Sue at San Quentin in 69
  • Tom from Los Angeles, CaWell, if he was captured in California, he would be held in a local jail until transported back to Nevada to face trial. He would not be housed in Folsom prison, which is for sentenced felons. However, there are alternative theories. Perhaps he is doing time in Folsom for an unrelated California crime and simply reminiscing, or perhaps bragging, about a prior offense in Reno for which he was never prosecuted.
    Or perhaps he was standing on California soil at the Nevada state line and using a high powered rifle managed to shoot a man in Reno from there, thus giving California joint jurisdiction to prosecute the crime. Cash actually attended University of Tennessee law school for three weeks before being flunked out for drunkenness and cruelty, but not before developing a passion for matters of criminal jurisdiction that stayed with him throughout his life.
  • Eva from Las Vegas, Nvi totally disagree with the person that commented saying that Johnny Cash started the rap movement and putting violence in his songs. when he wrote a song usually it was from experience or how he was feeling. a majority of his songs are non violent so seriously get your facts straight before posting a comment like that on a site like this.
  • Chomper from Franjkin County, PaAccording to his one autobiography , "Man In Black" , Johhny Cash onced shot a man in self defense ; and regretted it . So he made a vow afterwards to himself that he would would wear the color black for the rest of his life . He was arrested in Starkville , Mississippi , for picking flowers ; and spent one night in jail. He was also arrested in El Paso , Texas ( I think it was El Paso ) for having drugs ( the drugs were either prescription drugs or barbiturates he hid inside his guitar) .
  • Ric from Erskine, United KingdomLittle known fact.... Go to YouTube and look for 'Crescent City Blues'. After watching a prison film, in the Air Force in 1954, Johnny put the structure of his song together... not realising he borrowed so heavily from the Gordon Jenkins' original. Johnny Cash paid Gordon Jenkins $100,000 for copyright infringments in 1967.
  • Pearl from Mayer, Azguy, johnny yells sooey in reference to another one of his hit befor this one called 'a boy named sue'
  • Pearl from Mayer, Azis it just me or does it seem that everybody is obsesed with johnny cash ever sence the movie about him came out. nothing personal to johnny but it is undoubtedly true
  • Steve from Boston, MaHe would end up in a California prison if he shot the man in Reno, then fled to CA, where he was captured ;)
  • Bob from Roseville, CoBut if he shot a man in Reno,Nevada
    how did he end up in a California prison?
  • Mark from Byrdstown, TnIt's hard to say what the definite lyrics are since Cash recorded several studio and live versions of this song.The first recording of it was done inthe 50's and was a minor hit for him then in the late 1960's he recorded it live at Folsom prison and it became a bit hit and that album became probably the best live album anyone has ever recorded,certainly in country music.

    The 'sooey' may refer to the guards, 'pigs', at the prison during the recording?
  • Guy from Woodinville, WaWhy does Johnny yell "Sooeey" before verse 3?
  • Dave from Scottsdale, AzIt's quite bizarre that after the line "I shot a man in Reno..." the prisoners can be heard cheering wildly.
  • Dan from Orange Park, FlYeah, it does sing about regret and what you deserve for doing that sin. See Johnny Cash started all this rap crap today you hear on the radio so pointless, singing about, drugs, sex without wedlock, breaking the law, killing, ect. Except that Johnny C sung about getting caught and the consequences. Great SONG! and I love the way they put it in the movie "Walk The Line" with the Music Producer's awesome monologue that made John wanna sing the song he wrote in the air fore, thats just AWESOME!!!
  • Hal from Los Angeles, CaThis song introduced me to Johnny Cash. I found it on a cassette tape in my friend's grandma's house. I have been hooked ever since. The lyrics on the last verse are awesome too. But I think they are wrong here. They should read:

    "Well, if they freed me from this prison, if that railroad train was mine, I bet I'd move on over a little farther down the line"
  • Geroge from Jacksonville, FlThis is an awsome song by one of the greatest artists that has ever lived, this song is about someone in folsom prison, cash got the idea after seeing a movie about folsom prison, and may have got some of his ideas from the rough life he had lived, he had been in hard situations before, so in these ways he could relate to someone in prison. Cash did a great job writing and preforming this song, one of the greatest songs of all time, not to mention one of the songs that got him started in music.
  • Lou from Sydney, AustraliaI agree, one of the the best lines in music, sent up in every country and western spoof since!
  • Andrea from Las Vegas, NvPeople dont realize the effects that music alone has on people even without the lyrics. Johnny Cash's music is not violent. It's got those great simple gospel hymn type roots.

  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScThe reason this song doesn't encourage peopleto kill is the guy talks about paying for what he did. I'm refering to one of the songfact paragraphs above. I like the fact that Johnny Cash sings it like he lived it. I was just listening to it and it's great.
  • Angela from Nashville, TnImagine Saturday night on music row...The band begins to play this song....EVERYONE goes crazy...EVERY night downtown...what a great legendary song from a great legendary man.
  • Ken from Louisville, KySometimes when performing this live, Cash would deliberatly mix up words as in: "they're probably smoking coffee, and drinking big cigars" to see if he could get a laugh out of the audience. He'd to this with a big grin on his face.

  • Leon from Waterbury, CtOne of the greatest lines in all of music history. Enough said.
  • Ariel from Denver, CoI love this song. For me it represents exactly what Johnny Cash was-whatever the heck he wanted to be.
  • Zola from Dublin, OhWhat a damn great line
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