"Folsom Prison Blues" is an American country music song written by Johnny Cash in the early 1950s and originally recorded with his trio in 1955 for the Sun Records label. The song combines elements from two popular folk genres, the train song and the prison song, both of which Cash would continue to use for the rest of his career. It has become one of Cash's signature songs.
In the lyrics, the jailed protagonist listens to the whistle of a train outside his cell and recounts his crimes ("I shot a man in Reno/just to watch him die"), imagines the free people inside the train ("They're probably drinking coffee and smoking big cigars") and dreams of what he would do if he were free. "I know I had it coming/I know I can't be free," sings the imprisoned man. "But those people keep a'moving/and that's what tortures me."
The song does not clarify why the protagonist is serving time in California despite having committed murder in Nevada (unless he is serving time in Folsom for another offence, and is recalling the Reno murder as he reflects on a life of crime, and his unwillingness to follow his mother's advice not to "play with guns").
Cash was inspired to write this song after seeing the movie Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison (1951) while serving in West Germany in the United States Air Force. Cash recounted how he came up with the "Reno" line: "I sat with my pen in my hand, trying to think up the worst reason a person could have for killing another person, and that's what came to mind."
The song borrows heavily, both lyrically and melodically, from a Gordon Jenkins composition on his 1953 Seven Dreams concept album (the Jenkins song is often referred to as Crescent City Blues. Jenkins later reportedly filed an infringement lawsuit and received a settlement after Cash's 1968 live recording achieved widespread success. Cash included the song in his repertoire for decades. The definitive live performance is considered to be the opening song of a concert recorded at Folsom Prison itself on January 13, 1968. This version was eventually released on the At Folsom Prison album the same year. That opening song is more up-tempo than the Sun studio recording, as befits a concert-opening number. However, the recording's most notable feature — the whoops from the audience at the "Reno" line — was actually added in post-production, according to Michael Streissguth. A special on the Walk the Line DVD indicates that the prisoners were careful not to cheer at any of Cash's comments about the prison itself, fearing reprisal from guards.
WIN JOHNNY CASH CDs; EXCLUSIVE TO READERS IN IRELAND Featuring: Ring Of Fire, I Walk The Line, Hurt, Wanderer (with U2), Folsom Prison Blues, Boy Named Sue, Man In Black and many more..(Competition/ Offers)
Jan 15, 2006; WE'VE teamed up with our friends at HMV to offer TEN lucky Irish People readers the chance to get their hands on a copy of the...