Dock Boggs | Photo credit: folkways.si.edu

Country legends Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard are among the artists who had recorded songs with reference to the prison. One of Cash’s signature hits called Folsom Prison Blues” fuses the elements of a train and a prison song. He has performed it many times for inmates at a Huntsville, Texas prison. On the other hand, having been once an inmate, himself, Merle Haggard either wrote or recorded several singles centered on this subject. His first top country hit I’m a Lonesome Fugitive” almost reflected his real-life experiences in the prison.

Prior to Cash and Haggard, a gentleman whose music emerged in the 1920s recorded one of the earliest songs with reference to the prison. Considered as an influential singer, songwriter, and banjo player, Dock Boggs, started recording in the late 1920s. Available sources confirmed two of his works appear at this era. Because of this, a lot of folk musicians and performers considered him as an influential figure.  One of his demos during this period was entitled “Country Blues” which poses a warning to the audience. Learn more about this tune below.

Brief Song Background

Boggs had recorded another prison-related song before “Country Blues.” This was his second and bulk of its content was based on the first one called “Darling Cora.” In the song, the narrator refers to himself as a “rounder.” That is he drinks, gambles, and shoots. His involvement in those acts led the protagonist to find himself in a prison one day. While alone, he began predicting the miserable end to his immoral way of living.

While the song does not exactly exemplify a traditional blues form, the blues theme still exists in it. Oftentimes, he’s being mentioned as one of the white performers who’s able to completely incorporate into his music the blues element. (This style was introduced by the blacks in the early 20th century). Moreover, the switching of the song to a first-person point-of-view can arguably be thought of as a transformation of a traditional mountain tune into a more modern ballad.

Listen to Dock Boggs’ “Country Blues” below.

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