Folsom Prison Blues is a song written and recorded by American country music artist Johnny Cash. 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 became one of Cash’s signature songs. It was the eleventh track on his debut album With His Hot and Blue Guitar but was also included (same version) on All Aboard the Blue Train. Folsom Prison Blues was in the country Top Five in 1956, though Cash had written it while in the Air Force somewhere before 1954.
Cash performed the song at Folsom Prison itself on January 13, 1968, and 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.
Folsom Prison Blues (clip from 1959):
The remarkable accomplishment of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” is its success in eliciting sympathy for the lonely, cold-hearted prisoner who “shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.” Riding a chugga-chugga train rhythm, the song gives voice to the frustrations of a condemned man sentenced to life in prison.
-Bill Janovitz (allmusic)
Folsom Prison Blues:
I hear the train a comin’
It’s rolling round the bend
And I ain’t seen the sunshine since I don’t know when,
I’m stuck in Folsom prison, and time keeps draggin’ on
But that train keeps a rollin’ on down to San Antone..
When I was just a baby my mama told me. Son,
Always be a good boy, don’t ever play with guns.
But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die
When I hear that whistle blowing, I hang my head and cry..
I bet there’s rich folks eating in a fancy dining car
They’re probably drinkin’ coffee and smoking big cigars.
Well I know I had it coming, I know I can’t be free
But those people keep a movin’
And that’s what tortures me…
Well if they freed me from this prison,
If that railroad train was mine
I bet I’d move it on a little farther down the line
Far from Folsom prison, that’s where I want to stay
And I’d let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away…..
– Johnny Cash