John Prine and Johnny Cash have a wonderful history together in the world of music. Prine had so much respect for Cash that he was willing to change one of the songs he wrote for the man.
Sam Stone is a song about a combat veteran who got addicted to drugs. Prine narrates that Cash was then collaborating with Cowboy Jack Clement when he voiced his desire to record the said song. However, the second half of the song’s key line proved to be a hard-hitting challenge to take on for Johnny Cash. The lyrics went: There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes/ And Jesus Christ died for nothing, I suppose.
Prine expressed that to him, that particular line was the heart of his composition. The line accurately describes that there is no hope, because “if a veteran’s gonna come home to be treated like that and nobody’s gonna help him with his drug habit, then what’s the use in living?” Prine adds, “It’s everything in the song kind of fell out of that one line. I know where I’m coming from when I say that.”
Despite the heart-wrenching message behind the lyrics, Cash was still uncomfortable singing that line. Being a devout man himself, he could not bear to sing a line that depicts losing faith in Jesus. He was well-aware of how the lyrics could be interpreted by thousands of listeners and fellow believers.
After Prine gave Cash the go-signal to make his own alterations to the song, he changed the line to ‘Daddy must have hurt a lock back then, I suppose.’
You can listen to Cash’s rendition of Sam Stone on the 2005 LP, Live From Austin, TX. The tracks featured on the album were discarded from a taping session that dates back in 1987.