Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Tagged: Beverly Mahr

Folsom Prison Blues

Based on “Crescent City Blues” by Beverly Mahr (1953).
Hit versions by Johnny Cash (C&W #4 1956), Johnny Cash (US #32/C&W #1/CAN #1 1968).

From the wiki: “Although ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ is still widely thought to have been a Johnny Cash original, he based its melody and many of the lyrics on Gordon Jenkins’s ‘Crescent City Blues’ (which itself borrowed heavily from the 1930s instrumental ‘Crescent City Blues’ by Little Brother Montgomery) from Jenkins’ 1953 Seven Dreams concept album. Jenkins was not credited on the original ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ release. But, by the early 1970s, after the song had become popular, Cash paid Jenkins a settlement of approximately US$75,000 following a lawsuit.

“Cash heard ‘Crescent City Blues’ during his stint with the U.S. Air Force in Germany. He said ‘At the time, I really had no idea I would be a professional recording artist; I wasn’t trying to rip anybody off.’ One very distinct and memorable lyric of ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ that Cash can claim as being wholly original is the line ‘But I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die’. Cash later recalled: ‘I sat with my pen in my hand, trying to think up the worst reason a person could have for killing another person, and that’s what came to mind.’

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