During the early 20th century, the lighthearted song “In the Jailhouse Now” became a popular vaudeville piece. The song has been covered several times by the likes of Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard, but one of the most popular recordings and the earliest one was by country musician Jimmie Rodgers.
Recorded in 1928 in Camden, New Jersey, it features Rodgers signature yodeling all through the song.
The Song That Lived Through Many Decades
Written by Jimmie Rodgers and Elsie McWilliams, “In the Jailhouse Now” tells the tale of a man who met a small-time criminal named Ramblin’ Bob who got locked up after stealing, robbing, and cheating at cards. In its final verse, the narrator in the song met a girl named Susie. However, they both ended up in a jailhouse after taking every cabaret in town.
“We’re in the jailhouse now. We’re in the jailhouse now. I told the judge right to his face. We didn’t like to see this place. We’re in the jailhouse now,” the song goes.
There were several different versions of “In the Jailhouse Now” recorded and copyrighted. The earliest was recorded in 1915 by Davis and Stafford, which tells the stories of a man named Campbell who cheated during a card game and the incident of election fraud.
Shortly after Rodgers recorded the song, Webb Pierce’s version became the most notable one as he snagged a No. 1 country hit in 1955; it held that position for twenty-one weeks, making it the third song in the history with the most weeks on Billboard country chart.
In 1962, Johnny Cash released his cover of “In the Jailhouse Now” based on Davis and Stafford’s version but with a much more comical set of lyrics where Campbell was locked up while his wife Sadie carried on an affair with the sheriff. Cash got this version from an African-American jug band musician in Memphis.
For several decades, the song was kept alive in vaudeville as well as in jug band tradition. It once again came into popularity in 1976 when Sonny James recorded a live version of his concert at Tennessee State Prison. Tennessee State Prison Band sang as the background vocals. It reached the 15th spot on the Hot Country Singles chart.
Indeed, the song “In the Jailhouse Now” lived through many decades. You can listen to Jimmie Rodgers’ version in the video below.