Prison Songs Two: Johnny Cash – “Folsom Prison Blues” (pick a version)

Johnny Cash is available on iTunes.

by Walter Price

 

“Folsom Prison Blues” is etched into pop culture and the foundations of Outlaw Country forever. First recorded in 1955 for Sun Records, it was one of Johnny Cash’s very first tracks. But it wasn’t until 1968 when Cash started to use his talent to express his concern for the prison system. Playing, for free, for prisoners and recording the seminal album, Live From Folsom Prison.

Using his rebellious voice to shine the light on prison reform, “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.”.  And this patriotic show of support for the proper treatment of the incarcerated gave us one of the best and most influential records of all time.

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

The song is a reality check from the perspective of an inmate who can hear the freedom from outside his jail cell and takes some time to reflect on the times and crimes that led to his confinement. Heartbreaking and tactile. A song that has mesmerized me and millions of fans worldwide for decades. Defining the loneliness of a life gone wrong resonates not just with criminally minded but with those in tough spots that seem hopeless to escape.

I hear the train a comin’
It’s rollin’ ’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

I have had an enduring question since I was a young boy though, the most famous line in the song, a line about one of the harshes crimes a human can commit, gets cheers and rowdy acknowledgment ever time its uttered, “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die,”. A line Cash later explained, “Trying to think of the worst reason for killing another person. It did come to mind quite easily, though.”.

Folks like the idea of an outlaw, mostly in song and movies. Fighting for the underdog is what Johnny Cash was all about. So, find the era and version of “Folsom Prison Blues”, and solute the Man In Black and his commitment to the everyday men and women.

 

JOHNNY CASH

1932 – 2003

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