Study Guide

A Boy Named Sue Introduction

A Boy Named Sue Introduction

In a Nutshell

There may be worse things in life than getting a terrible name, but that's probably not much of a comfort to people with unfortunate appellations. 

We were lucky and got "Shmoop" (phew!), but the poor little boy in this song gets "Sue." And has to live with the consequences.

Written by Shel Silverstein of Where the Sidewalk Ends fame, this song provides healthy doses of humor, action, family drama, and life-lesson learning. Johnny Cash performed it for the first time at a prison in 1969, to a whole lot of enthusiastic laughter and cheering from his inmate audience. 

We have to agree with the prisoners on this one. What with Cash's famous gravelly voice and the zany plot, this song's a keeper. (Even if the name of the title character isn't.)

About the Song

ArtistCash, Johnny
Year1969
LabelColumbia Records
Writer(s)Shel Silverstein
Producer(s)Bob Johnston
Musician(s)Johnny Cash
Learn to playChords
AlbumAt San Quentin

Music Video

Influences on Cash, Johnny

Cash's late brother, Jack
Jimmie Rodgers
The Carter Family
The Blackwood Brothers
The Chuck Wagon Gang
Gene Autry
Bob Wills
(Source)

Influenced by Cash, Johnny

With Cash's music encompassing nearly every genre, we wouldn't be able to come close to listing all of the artists who are likely influenced by him.

Bob Dylan
Charlie Daniels
Neil Young
Garth Brooks
Tom Petty

A Boy Named Sue Resources

Books

Cash: The Autobiography, by Johnny Cash (2003)
Published in the year of his death, this definitive autobiography begins: "My line comes down from Queen Ada, the sister of Malcolm IV, descended from King Duff, the first king of Scotland" and continues from there.

Man In Black: His Own Story in His Own Words, by Johnny Cash (1985)
Cash's first autobiography, penned in 1985, focuses on his early life, drug addictions, and June Carter.

The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein (1964)
Shel Silverstein's touching story of a tree who loved a little boy and gave everything she had to make sure he was always happy. A lesson in generosity and appreciating what you have.

Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison: The Making of a Masterpiece, by Michael Streissguth (2005)
This book gives an in-depth look at the recording of the live Folsom Prison concert and the subsequent lift it gave Cash's dwindling career. Streissguth explores his early childhood, time in the Air Force, and first record deal in context of how they helped create the man in black who would one day wow a crowd at the highest security prison in California.

Movies & TV

Johnny Cash: The Line, Walking with a Legend (2008)
Following the success of the movie, Walk the Line, this documentary provides an in-depth look at Cash's successes and failures on the road to stardom.

The Johnny Cash Show: The Best of Johnny Cash 1969-1971 (2007)
A compilation of the best performances from Cash's variety show that he hosted from '69-'71 including performances by Kris Kristofferson, Neil Young, and Cash himself.

Walk the Line (2005)
A stunning biopic of Johnny Cash's life starring Joaquin Phoenix as Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter. Witherspoon won the Oscar for Best Actress and Phoenix was nominated for Best Actor.

Websites

The Official Johnny Cash Website
Everything you ever wanted to know about the man in black.

The Academy of Achievement - Johnny Cash
The website celebrating living legends featuring a profile, biography, and interview with Cash.

Shel Silverstein's Official Site
A list of his books, poems, songs, and cartoons.

Johnny Cash Bio on CMT.com
A great bio from the Country Music Television website.

Shel Silverstein Bio
Famous poets and poems.com provides a great summary of the poet's life.

Shel Silverstein: The Aardvark Interview
Notorious for rarely giving interviews, Silverstein opened up here for one of his most comprehensive and revealing discussions.

An Impolite Interview with Shel Silverstein @the realist
An indie magazine's little-known chat with the great artist.

Shel Silverstein on Fire Island
Playboy sent Silverstein to the infamous gay haven of New York to report on the alternative lifestyle that flourished there despite the stifling conservatism of the 1950s.

Johnny Cash on Bio.com
Another comprehensive biography. The man was actually born with the name J.R. Cash since neither of his parents could decide on a name, just initials. He chose the name Johnny later as a stage name when he signed with Sun.

Playboy's Silverstein Around the World
By Mitch Myers (Shel's nephew and biographer), Hugh Hefner, and Silverstein himself, the three men wax poetic on Shel's contributions to Playboy.

The Man in Blue: Johnny Cash
A look at Johnny Cash, the military man, by Major Van Harl USAF Ret., who remembers him not only for his incredibly songwriting and singing ability, but for his service to the United States Air Force and his country.

CNN: Johnny Cash on Larry King Live
Transcript of the television interview.

Video & Audio

"Hurt," Johnny Cash
Originally by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Cash made the song his own with this striking cover version. Official video.

"Jackson," Johnny and June Carter
The happy couple sing their Grammy-winning track together.

"It Ain't Me Babe," Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon
The stars of Walk the Line sing their rendition of Johnny Cash and June Carter's famous song.

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