Study Guide

Folsom Prison Blues Introduction

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Folsom Prison Blues Introduction

In a Nutshell

When you're grounded, it stinks to be stuck at home. And even though you maybe kind of deserved it, it's so annoying that all of your friends have the option to go out and do whatever they want.

Legendary musician Johnny Cash feels the same way in his classic hit "Folsom Prison Blues." Sure, he's not so much "grounded" as "jailed," and prison is no cup of tea. But he knows that if he wanted to stay out of prison, he probably shouldn't have shot that man in Reno. 

What really makes him mad is thinking about all those people out there on the train headed away from Folsom Prison. "Those people keep a-movin'," he laments, "And that's what tortures me!" 

They say someone's always got it worse than you, but "Folsom Prison Blues" is about all those people who've got it better. And gosh darnit, don't they just bum you out?

About the Song

ArtistCash, Johnny
LabelColumbia Records
Writer(s)Johnny Cash
Producer(s)Bob Johnston
Musician(s)Johnny Cash
Learn to playChords
AlbumAt Folsom Prison

Music Video

Influences on Cash, Johnny

Johnny Cash on his greatest influences:

In my little world, in northeast Arkansas on a cotton farm, it was my brother, Jack. He was my inspiration. He was two years older than I and he was killed at the age of 14. I always wanted to be like him. He was a strong person, he was a Bible student, he was in perfect shape, physically. I always wanted to be like him. And when he died, my best friend was still my mother, and she always encouraged me to sing. As a matter of fact, we were very poor and she took in washing from the school teachers, washed their clothes to make money to give me singing lessons, voice lessons. After about three lessons the voice teacher said, 'Don't take voice lessons. Do it your way.'

Musically, my inspirations were whoever was popular on the radio: Jimmy Rodgers, the Carter Family—which is my wife's family—black blues, black gospel and white gospel groups, like the Blackwood Brothers, and the Chuckwagon Gang. Or cowboy singers like Gene Autry, and Bob Wills. I liked the image of the man with the white hat correcting all the wrongs out there.


Influenced by Cash, Johnny

Bob Dylan
Tom Petty
The Civil Wars

Folsom Prison Blues Resources


Johnny Cash, Cash: The Autobiography (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.

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

Michael Streissguth, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: The Making of a Masterpiece (2005)
This book offers an in-depth look at the recording of the live Folsom Prison concert and the subsequent lift it gave to Cash's dwindling career. Streissguth explores Cash's 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

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.

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

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 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.

Zeth Lundy, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: The Making of a Masterpiece by Michael Streissguth (2005)
Zeth Lundy goes into detail explaining Michael Streissguth's book on Cash's defining performance and album.

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.

Johnny Cash on Larry King Live
Here's a transcript of the television interview.

Video & Audio

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

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

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

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