Johnny Cash – Folsom Prison Blues

But I shot a man in Reno, Just to watch him dieJohnny Cash

It doesn’t get much better than that.

The man in black was The Man. Not many performers can cross genres like Johnny Cash did and still does. He first recorded this song in 1955 at Sun Records as the B side to “S3o Doggone Lonesome” but it was the live 1969 version that hit.

The At Folsom Prison album helped revitalize Cash’s career. Up to this point, his last Country top 40 entry was in 1964. This was recorded live at Folsom Prison in California on January 13, 1968, and that album came to define his outlaw image. The record company told him it wouldn’t work but Johnny recorded at the prison anyway.

Folsom Prison Blues peaked at #1 on the Billboard Country Charts, #1 on the Canadian Country Charts, #32 on the Billboard 100,  and #17 on the Canadian Pop Charts.  The song and album generated a lot of interest in the rebellious Johnny Cash, who made prison reform his political cause of choice. He started regularly performing in jails, doing about 12 shows a year for free mostly in Folsom and San Quentin.

The album peaked at #1 in the Billboard Country Charts, #13 in the Billboard Album Charts, and #27 in Canada.

Johnny Cash Flipping Bird

This iconic picture came from Folsom Prison. According to photographer Jim Marshall…he asked Cash to express what he thought of the prison authorities when he played the show. Marshall told Cash “let’s do a shot for the warden” and the picture was born. 

Cash saw Crane Wilbur’s 90-minute film Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison while stationed in Germany. It left an impression on Cash, who emphasized the tale of the imprisoned men, and inspired him to write a song. Johnny Cash: “It was a violent movie, I just wanted to write a song that would tell what I thought it would be like in prison.”

Cash’s first prison performance occurred in 1957 when he performed for inmates at Huntsville State Prison. The favorable response inspired Cash to perform at more prisons through the years. His next hit, recorded in San Quentin Prison, was the humorous “A Boy Named Sue,” which proved that he could be clever and funny.

Cash came off as a champion for the oppressed.  He got his own national TV show in 1969 and became one of the most popular entertainers of his era. His guests included Derek and the Dominos,  Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, Kris Kristofferson, Mickey Newbury, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, Merle Haggard, James Taylor, Tammy Wynette, and Roy Orbison.

Isn’t that list incredible? Cash was considered a Country-Folk artist but look at the range of performers. The late sixties and seventies were like this ….and it’s the reason I like them so much…all the generations intersected at that point in time. I mean you have Eric Clapton and then you have Tammy Wynette on the guest list.

The lyrics to this song were based on a 1953 recording called Crescent City Blues by a bandleader named Gordon Jenkins with Beverly Maher on vocals. After filing a lawsuit, Gordon Jenkins received an out-of-court settlement from Cash in 1969. I have to say it does sound really close.

Johnny Cash: “I don’t see anything good come out of prison. You put them in like animals and tear out the souls and guts of them, and let them out worse than they went in.”

Rosanne Cash: “He was a real man with great faults, and great genius and beauty in him, but he wasn’t this guy who could save you or anyone else.”

Folsom Prison Blues

(Hello, I’m Johnny Cash)

I hear the train a-comin’
It’s rollin’ ’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 blowin’
I hang my head and cry (play it to the verse, yeah)
(Sue it)

I bet there’s rich folks eatin’
From a fancy dining car
They’re probably drinkin’ coffee
And smokin’ big cigars
Well, I know I had it comin’
I know I can’t be free
But those people keep a-movin’
And that’s what tortures me (hit it)

(Howdy-ho)

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

(yeah)

Gordon Lightfoot – The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald

A song that was unfortunately a true story. It was written and performed by Gordon Lightfoot. The Edmund Fitzgerald was an American Great Lakes freighter that sank in a Lake Superior storm on November 10, 1975.

This is a factual retelling of a shipwreck on Lake Superior in November 1975 that claimed the lives of 29 crew members. On November 10, 1975, the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald broke in half and sunk in Lake Superior. The storm she was caught in reported winds from 35 to 52 knots, and waves anywhere from 10 to 35 feet high.

She was loaded with 26,116 tons of taconite pellets at the Burlington Northern Railroad, Dock #1. Her destination was Zug Island on the Detroit River. There were 29 crew members who perished in the sinking.

The song released in 1976 peaked at #2 in the Billboard 100.

Gordon Lightfoot: “The Edmund Fitzgerald really seemed to go unnoticed at that time, anything I’d seen in the newspapers or magazines were very short, brief articles, and I felt I would like to expand upon the story of the sinking of the ship itself,”  “And it was quite an undertaking to do that, I went and bought all of the old newspapers, got everything in chronological order, and went ahead and did it because I already had a melody in my mind and it was from an old Irish dirge that I heard when I was about three and a half years old.”

“I think it was one of the first pieces of music that registered to me as being a piece of music,” he continued. “That’s where the melody comes from, from an old Irish folk song.”

 

For those interested…I have a bio of the event at the bottom.

From Songfacts

In the US, this was held out of the #1 spot by Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s The Night.”

This was nominated for the Song of the Year Grammy, but it was beaten by Barry Manilow’s “I Write The Songs.” >>

Paul Gross hoped to use this tune for his episode of the TV show Due South, “Mountie on the Bounty.” He discreetly tried to secure the right to use the song, but out of respect for the families who wished not to be reminded of the tragedy, he didn’t pursue the option aggressively. He instead wrote the similarly themed song “32 down On The Robert MacKenzie.” 

Ohio-based Great Lakes Brewery produces a beer called Edmund Fitzgerald Porter. 

In 1970, baseball commissioner Bud Selig’s co-founding partner in the Brewers was fellow Milwaukee businessman Edmund B. Fitzgerald, a patron of Milwaukee arts and civic projects, and the son of a family that owned Great Lakes shipyards. In 1958, the freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald was named for Edmund B.’s father. Fitzgerald later became a professor at Vanderbilt University.

An initial investigation suggested that the crew was partly to blame for the disaster by not securing the ship’s hatches. Lightfoot’s song reflected the original findings in the verse, “…at 7 p.m. a main hatchway gave in.” However, in 2010 a Canadian documentary claimed to have proven the crew of the ship was not responsible for the tragedy. It concluded that there is little evidence that failure to secure the ship’s hatches caused the sinking.

Lightfoot said he intended to change it to reflect the new findings. “I’m sincerely grateful to yap films and their program The Dive Detectives for putting together compelling evidence that the tragedy was not a result of crew error,” he said in a release. “This finally vindicates, and honors, not only all of the crew who lost their lives, but also the family members who survived them.”

Lightfoot wrote the lyrics after coming up with the melody and chords. He recalled: “When the story came on television, that the Edmund had foundered in Lake Superior three hours earlier, it was right on the CBC here in Canada, I came into the kitchen for a cup of coffee and saw the news and I said ‘That’s my story to go with the melody and the chords.'”

In a 2015 interview with NPR’s Scott Simon, Gordon Lightfoot explained that the article he read in Newsweek about the tragedy was, “Short shrift for such a monumental event.” Lightfoot says the song came about when he discovered the newspaper writers kept misspelling the name of the ship, rendering it as “Edmond Fitzgerald” rather than “Edmund Fitzgerald.” Though he didn’t say whether or not the misspelling was deliberate, he was quoted as telling Scott, “That’s it! If they’re gonna spell the name wrong, I’ve got to get to the bottom of this!” 

This is referenced in the Seinfeld episode “Andrea Doria,” when Elaine mistakenly believes Gordon Lightfoot was the name of the ship and Edmund Fitzgerald was the name of the singer. Jerry quips: “Yeah, and it was rammed by the Cat Stevens.”

 

Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called ‘gitche gumee’
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty
That good ship and crew was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early

The ship was the pride of the American side
Coming back from some mill in Wisconsin
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
With a crew and good captain well seasoned
Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
And later that night when the ship’s bell rang
Could it be the north wind they’d been feelin’?

The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
And a wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the captain did too,
T’was the witch of November come stealin’
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the gales of November came slashin’
When afternoon came it was freezin’ rain
In the face of a hurricane west wind

When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck sayin’
Fellas, it’s too rough to feed ya
At seven pm a main hatchway caved in, he said
Fellas, it’s been good t’know ya
The captain wired in he had water comin’ in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when his lights went outta sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Does any one know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searches all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay
If they’d put fifteen more miles behind her
They might have split up or they might have capsized
They may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters

Lake Huron rolls, superior sings
In the rooms of her ice-water mansion
Old Michigan steams like a young man’s dreams
The islands and bays are for sportsmen
And farther below Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
With the gales of November remembered

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed,
In the maritime sailors’ cathedral
The church bell chimed till it rang twenty-nine times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call ‘gitche gumee’
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early

Gordon Lightfoot – Sundown

I first noticed  Candian Gordon Lightfoot riding in the car with my sister …with the AM radio station playing this song. Sundown got a lot of airplay back then. It peaked at #1 in the Billboard 100, #1 in Canada, and #33 in the UK in 1974.

The inspiration for this song was his girlfriend Cathy Smith who would later have a romantic relationship with Richard Manuel of The Band and a fatal encounter with John Belushi.

Hard to believe but Gordon turned 80 last month. 

 

From Songfacts.

The inspiration for this song came from Lightfoot worrying about his girlfriend, who was out at bars all day while he was at home writing songs. He recalled during a Reddit AMA: “I had this girlfriend one time, and I was at home working, at my desk, working at my songwriting which I had been doing all week since I was on a roll, and my girlfriend was somewhere drinking, drinking somewhere. So I was hoping that no one else would get their hands on her, because she was pretty good lookin’!”

“As a matter of fact, it was written just around Sundown,” he added, “just as the sun was setting, behind the farm I had rented to use as a place to write the album.”

Lightfoot most likely wrote this about the stormy relationship with his one time girlfriend Cathy Smith, who was later sentenced for delivering a lethal dose of heroin to John Belushi.

 

Sundown

I can see her lyin’ back in her satin dress
In a room where ya do what ya don’t confess
Sundown you better take care
If I find you beenn creepin’ ’round my back stairs
Sundown ya better take care
If I find you been creepin’ ’round my back stairs

She’s been lookin’ like a queen in a sailor’s dream
And she don’t always say what she really means
Sometimes I think it’s a shame
When I get feelin’ better when I’m feelin’ no pain
Sometimes I think it’s a shame
When I get feelin’ better when I’m feelin’ no pain

I can picture every move that a man could make
Getting lost in her lovin’ is your first mistake
Sundown you better take care
If I find you been creepin’ ’round my back stairs
Sometimes I think it’s a sin
When I feel like I’m winnin’ when I’m losin’ again

I can see her lookin’ fast in her faded jeans
She’s a hard lovin’ woman, got me feelin’ mean
Sometimes I think it’s a shame
When I get feelin’ better when I’m feelin’ no pain
Sundown you better take care
If I find you been creepin’ ’round my back stairs
Sundown you better take care
If I find you been creepin’ ’round my back stairs
Sometimes I think it’s a sin
When I feel like I’m winnin’ when I’m losin’ again