Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash

August 4, 2021

Today’s song of the day is the rockabilly classic “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash. With its freight-train rhythm and Cash’s signature deep voice, this song has been an outlaw country staple since its 1955 debut.

Fun Facts

  • Cash got the idea for the song while serving in Germany in 1953 after seeing the movie Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison.
  • It was originally recorded on July 30, 1955, in Sam Phillips’s famous Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee.
  • The original recording features instrumentation by the Tennessee Two: Luther Perkins on guitar and Marshall Grant on bass.
  • The Tennessee Two turned into three in 1960 with the addition of drummer WS Holland.
  • Of the famous line, “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die,” Cash says it was “the worst reason a person could have for killing another person” he could think of.
  • As a military radio operator, Cash was supposedly the first American to record the message that Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had died. 
  • Rolling Stone ranked the song as 51 in a list of the 100 greatest country songs of all time.
  • Cash frequently performed the song during his famous prison concerts, including the albums Live at Folsom Prison and At San Quentin.
  • Guitarist Luther Perkins created the “boom chicka boom” style featured in the song.
  • Perkins died in a house fire in August of 1968. On the 1969 At San Quentin album, Cash asks the audience to take a moment to remember his friend.
SOTD lyrics

Lyrics

(Musixmatch)

I hear the train a comin’, it’s rolling round the bend

And I ain’t seen the sunshine since I don’t know when

I’m stuck in Folsom prison, and time keeps draggin’ on

But that train keeps a rollin’ on down to San Antone

When I was just a baby, my mama told me “son”

“Always be a good boy, don’t ever play with guns”

But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die

When I hear that whistle blowin’, I hang my head and cry

I bet there’s rich folks eating in a fancy dining car

They’re probably drinkin’ coffee and smoking big cigars

Well I know I had it coming, I know I can’t be free

But those people keep on movin’

And that’s what tortures me

Well if they freed me from this prison

If that railroad train was mine

I bet I’d move it on a little farther down the line

Far from Folsom prison, that’s where I want to stay

And I’d let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away

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