Country music legend Johnny Cash is very famous for his delight in neutral colors especially the color black. Hence, he got the title, Man in Black. Nevertheless, his voice was still his main instrument. He is very much passionate about country music and its sub-genres. Cash grew up living a true country dream. He wrote his own songs, thus, he is original.
His songs are mostly narrative and they talk about his stories in life. The most notable ones include “Ring Of Fire“, “Sunday Morning Coming Down“, “Man In Black“, “I Walk The Line“, and “Hurt” to name a few. Cash had a distinct voice, which sets him apart from other artists. His artistry in music is a true gift and a grace from above and no one can ever deny that.
Despite all these, one of his most remembered yet controversial songs is “Folsom Prison Blues“. It became a chart-topper and is one of Cash’s signature songs. However, it was one of his records that faced controversy. Read and know more about the song and why it became controversial.
About the Song
“Folsom Prison Blues” is a rockabilly and rock & roll style of music that rocked the radios in the mid-50s. Johnny Cash wrote it in 1953 and first recorded it two years later. American record producer Sam Phillips produced it under Sun Records. This two-minute and fifty-second song is a combination of elements from two folk styles namely, the train song and the prison song. In fact, Johnny Cash was known for using both folk styles throughout his career. Hence, “Folsom Prison Blues” became one of his many signature songs.
Furthermore, the song was actually recorded twice. First, in 1955 and then re-recorded in 1968. “Folsom Prison Blues” was a top hit for both recordings especially in 1968 where it was proclaimed the best country song on the Billboard Hot Country Songs. Aside from that, it was also no. 1 on the Canadian RPM Country Tracks.
Meanwhile, Rolling Stone placed the song on the 51st spot on its list of the 100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time in 2014.
5 Things About “Folsom Prison Blues” That You Didn’t Know
A country classic dating back to the 1950s, “Folsom Prison Blues” has made its way not only as an established country tune but also crossover hit to other genres. The producer of the song, Sam Phillips of Sun Records, chronicled in an interview the birth of rock and roll highlighting the promising careers of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and other artists alike. Further, he also revealed some of the things you didn’t know about this 1955 Cash hit.
1. A part of the song is plagiarized.
The opening line of the song, which goes “I hear the train a’comin’; it’s rollin’ ’round the bend…“, was actually lifted from “Crescent City Blues” by Gordon Jenkins. Reportedly, Cash spent over $100,000 for the copyright infringement filed against him by Jenkins. The rest is history.
2. Originally a country music tune since the ’50s, the song has made its way to several other genres.
Undeniably, Cash’s music is simply worthy to be covered. A number of artists have tried and put their hands on the song. Transforming from psychobilly percussion to pop and rock versions, many have attempted to put a mark and twisted Cash’s twang on the song.
3. The cheers heard on the live version of the song was faked.
Interestingly, it is notable to know if the audience really cheers, applaud and scream authentically during a live show recording. Just as other songs have done, “Folsom Prison Blues” featured hoots and hollers spliced in it. It was actually added by producer Bob Johnson. The fake live cheers are heard after the lyric,
“I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die…”
4. Cash started performing “Folsom Prison Blues” for more than a decade before releasing the album At Folsom Prison.
In 1957, Cash already began singing the song for inmates at a prison in Huntsville, Texas. This was actually more than ten years before he eventually released the album containing the single. In addition, during rainy days and whenever the bad weather messes his band’s equipment up, he performs the show alone.
5. “Folsom Prison Blues” earned Cash a two-time major hit.
As mentioned earlier, the song was first recorded in 1955 and after more than a decade, it was re-recorded by Johnny Cash himself. Both recordings turned out to be chart-toppers entering and re-entering music charts.
WATCH: Johnny Cash sings one of his signature hits, “Folsom Prison Blues” live at Folsom Prison in 1968.
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Folsom Prison Blues, Johnny Cash