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.’
Written and first recorded by Nine Inch Nails (1994).
Hit version by Johnny Cash (C&W #56/ALT #33/UK #39 2002).
From the wiki: “‘Hurt’ was written by Nine Inch Nails leader Trent Reznor for the group’s second studio album, The Downward Spiral (1994). The song received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock Song in 1996, but ultimately lost to Alanis Morissette’s ‘You Oughta Know’.
“In 2002, ‘Hurt’ was covered by Johnny Cash to commercial and critical acclaim; it was one of Cash’s final hits released before his death, and the related music video was considered one of the greatest of all time by publications such as NME. Reznor praised Cash’s interpretation of the song for its ‘sincerity and meaning’, going as far as to say ‘that song isn’t mine anymore.’ The line ‘crown of shit’ was changed by Cash to ‘crown of thorns’, not only removing profanity from the lyrics, but also more directly referencing Christ and Cash’s devout Christianity.
Co-written and first recorded by Charlie Phillips (1957).
Hit versions by The McGuire Sisters (US #1 1957), Johnny Cash (C&W #13 1961).
From the wiki: “‘Sugartime’ was written by Charlie Phillips and Odis Echols, and was first recorded in 1957 by Phillips with Buddy Holly on guitar and production by Norman Petty. The biggest hit version was also recorded in 1957, by the McGuire Sisters who topped the charts with the song in 1958. In 1961, the song briefly returned to the Country charts in a version by Johnny Cash he first recorded for Sun Records in 1958.”
Early recording by The Silver Leaf Quartet of Norfolk (1930).
Popular versions by The Carter Family (1935), Johnny Cash & June Carter (1968), Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1972).
From the wiki: “‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken?’ is a popular Christian hymn written in 1907 by Ada R. Habershon with music by Charles H. Gabriel. The song is often now recorded unattributed and, because of its age, has lapsed into the public domain. One of the earliest recordings of the song was made by The Silver Leaf Quartette of Norfolk (Virginia) in 1930. Already in New York City for an extended performance tour, including 21 straight nights at the Metropolitan Baptist Church, the Quartet’s recording was released and distributed by Okeh Records. In 1935, A.P. Carter adapted the original hymn and, with The Carter Family, recorded the song as ‘Can the Circle be Unbroken (By and By)?’. That version (often using the original ‘Will the Circle’ title) has been covered by a large number of artists. Its refrain has also been incorporated into the Carl Perkins song ‘Daddy Sang Bass’ and the Atlanta song ‘Sweet Country Music’.
Written and first recorded by Ervin T. Rouse (1939).
Hit versions by Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys (1942), The Spotnicks (UK #29 1964), Doug Kershaw (CAN #9 1970).
Also recorded by Johnny Cash (1965).
From the wiki: “‘Orange Blossom Special’, written by Ervin T. Rouse in 1938 and first recorded by him in 1939 with his brother, Gordon, is often referred to as ‘the fiddle player’s national anthem’. By the 1950s, it had become a perennial favorite at Bluegrass festivals, popular for its rousing energy. For a long time no fiddle player would be hired for a Bluegrass band unless he could play it. Bill Monroe, regarded by many as ‘the father of Bluegrass music’, recorded the song, with Art Wooten on fiddle, in 1942 and made it a hit. ‘Orange Blossom Special’ was further popularized by Chubby Wise’s weekly performances of it on the nationally-broadcast Grand Ole Opry radio show.
“Swedish instrumental Rock band The Spotnicks recorded ‘Blossom’ for their first album – The Spotnicks in London – Out-a-Space! – and it became a UK Top 30 for them in 1962. Cajun fiddler Doug Kershaw’s 1970 recording went Top 10 in Canada. Johnny Cash titled his 1965 album after the song. While Bluegrass performers tend to play ‘Blossom’ strictly as an instrumental, Cash sang the lyrics and replaced the fiddle parts with two harmonicas and a saxophone – with Cash playing both harmonicas himself.”
First recorded (as “Histe Up the John B.”) by Cleveland Simmons Group (1935).
First popular version recorded (as “The Wreck of the John B.”) by The Weavers (1950).
Also recorded by Blind Blake Higgs (1952), The Kingston Trio (1958), Johnny Cash (1959), Jimmie Rodgers (1960), Dick Dale & His Del-Tones (1962).
Hit version (titled “The Sloop John B.”) by The Beach Boys (US #3/UK #2 1966).
From the wiki: “According to Blind Blake Higgs, the Bahamanian calypso entertainer, the John B had been a sponger boat that one day went under. That’s not so unusual, all thing considered. So, what made this tragedy so special? One possible explanation is the name of the vessel: to illiterate ears, ‘John B’ sounds like ‘Zombie’. So, when said sloop vanished with no one returning, that’s the stuff where legends are made of.
“The popularity of the song triggered interest in the wreck’s whereabouts. The hull was found and rescued from under the sands of Governor’s Harbor in 1926. John T. McCutcheon, philosopher and cartoonist on holiday with his wife in the West Indies at that time, learned the song and brought the song to New York where poet Carl Sandberg collected it for his songbook The American Songbag (1927).
Written and first recorded by Peter LaFarge (1962).
Hit version by Johnny Cash (C&W #3 1964).
Also recorded by Bob Dylan (1973).
From the wiki: “‘The Ballad of Ira Hayes’ was written by folk singer Peter La Farge (himself a Nargaset Indian, poet, and novelist, and Native American rights advocate), and first recorded by him in 1962. It tells the story of Ira Hayes, one of the five Marines and one Navy Corpsman who became famous for having raised the US flag on Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima of World War II. Hayes was a Pima Native American and a United States Marine corporal who was one of the six flag raisers immortalized in the iconic Iwo Jima photograph.
Written and first released by Tim Hardin (1966).
Hit versions by Bobby Darin (US #8/UK #9 1966), The Four Tops (US #20/R&B #17/UK #7 1968), Johnny Cash & June Carter (US #36/C&W #2 1970).
From the wiki: “‘If I Were a Carpenter’ was written by Tim Hardin (‘Reason to Believe‘), and first released by him in 1966 as the B-side to ‘How Can We Hang On to a Dream’. The recording would see a subsequent release in 1967 on the album Hardin 2. According to Mojo magazine (February 2012), the song was partly inspired by engineer John Judnich, who built for Hardin a small recording setup in Lenny Bruce’s Sunset Plaza house.
“Hardin and Bobby Darin attended each others recording session at the studio and swapped songs, with Hardin recording Darin’s ‘Simple Song Of Freedom’ that became Hardin’s only charting recording (US #47 1969). Darin’s Top-10 recording of ‘If I Were a Carpenter’ used the same arrangement and instrumentation as Hardin’s original.
First recorded (as “Jail House Blues”) by Whistler & His Jug Band (1924).
Also recorded by Earl McDonald’s Original Louisville Jug Band (1927), Jim Jackson (1928), Tim Blake Nelson (2000).
Popular versions by Jimmie Rodgers (US #14 1928), Webb Pierce (C&W #1 1955), Johnny Cash (C&W #8 1962), Sonny James (C&W #15 1977), Willie Nelson & Webb Pierce (C&W #72 1982).
From the wiki: “‘In The Jailhouse Now’ is an American novelty Blues song originally found in vaudeville performances from the early 20th century. In 1924, Whistler’s Jug Band from Louisville, Kentucky, recorded it under the title ‘Jail House Blues’. In 1927, Earl McDonald’s Original Louisville Jug Band made another recording of the song; in January 1928, Jim Jackson recorded ‘Jailhouse’ and established the first song’s first copyright titled as ‘In the Jailhouse Now’ although the song is usually now credited to Jimmie Rodgers. Rodgers recording of ‘In the Jailhouse Now’ was recorded February 15, 1928, in Camden, New Jersey, and features Rodgers’ famous yodel throughout the song. In 1938, Gene Autry and his side-kick, Smiley Burnette (as ‘Frog’), sang the Jimmie Rodgers version in the movie Prairie Moon.
Written and first recorded by Bob Dylan (1964).
Also recorded by Joan Baez (1964).
Hit versions by Johnny Cash & June Carter Cash (US #58/C&W #4 1965), The Turtles (US #8 1965).
From the wiki: “‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ was written by Bob Dylan and originally appeared on his fourth album Another Side of Bob Dylan. Dylan’s biographers generally agree that the song owes its inspiration to his former girlfriend Suze Rotolo. Dylan reportedly began writing the song during his visit to Italy in 1963 while searching for Rotolo, who was studying there.”
First recorded (as “Love’s Ring of Fire”) by Anita Carter (1963).
Hit version by Johnny Cash (US #17/C&W #1/AUS #12 1963).
From the wiki: “Co-written by June Carter Cash (wife of Johnny Cash) and Merle Kilgore, ‘Ring of Fire’ was originally recorded by June’s sister, Anita Carter, on her Mercury Records album Folk Songs Old and New.
“After hearing Anita’s version, Cash claimed he had a dream where he heard the song accompanied by ‘Mexican horns’. Cash stated, ‘I’ll give you [Anita] about five or six more months, and if you don’t hit with it, I’m gonna record it the way I feel it.’ When Carter’s recording failed to become a major hit, Cash recorded it his own way; adding the mariachi-style horns.”
Written and first recorded by Shel Silverstein (1969).
Hit version by Johnny Cash (US #2/MOR #1/CW #1/CAN #3/UK #4 1969).
From the wiki: “‘A Boy Named Sue’ is a poem by Shel Silverstein that has been made popular by Johnny Cash. The core story of the song was inspired by humorist Jean Shepherd, a close friend of Silverstein, who was often taunted as a child because of his feminine-sounding name.
“Cash was at the height of his popularity when he recorded the song live at California’s San Quentin State Prison at a concert on February 24, 1969. The song became Cash’s biggest hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and his only top ten single there, spending three weeks at #2 in 1969, held out of the top spot by’ Honky Tonk Women’ by The Rolling Stones. The track also topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs and Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks charts that same year.
“Cash wrote that he had just received the song and only read over it a couple of times before including it in the San Quentin concert to try it out – he did not know the words and on the filmed recording he can be seen regularly referring to a piece of paper. Cash was surprised at how well the song went over with the audience. The rough, spontaneous performance with sparse accompaniment was included in the Johnny Cash At San Quentin album, ultimately becoming one of Cash’s biggest hits.
First recorded by Billy Edd Wheeler (1963).
Also recorded bv The Kingston Trio (1963).
Hit versions by Johnny Cash & June Carter (C&W #2 1967), Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood (US #14 1967).
From the wiki: “‘Jackson’ is a song written in 1963 by Billy Edd Wheeler and Jerry Leiber, and first recorded by Wheeler. It is best known from two 1967 releases: a Pop hit single by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood and a Country hit single by Johnny Cash and June Carter.
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