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)

Miss O’Dell: Hard Days and Long Nights with The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton… by Chris O’Dell and Katherine Ketcham

I enjoyed this book immensely. It’s almost like a fantasy book. You are a fan and suddenly you get thrown into the world with The Beatles as friends and co-workers. You move from the Beatles to the Stones, CSNY, Bob Dylan and the list kept growing. 

I will say this… as a Beatle fan, this book gave me insight that I never had before. Chris O’Dell happened to meet Derek Taylor (press officer of the Beatles) in Los Angeles in 1968…she worked for him for a few weeks in LA as a PA. He told her she should come over to London to check out the new company that The Beatles were starting called Apple. He didn’t promise her a job but she took a chance and sold her records and borrowed from her parents to go to London. She was like Alice down the rabbit hole, O’Dell stumbled upon a life even she could not have dreamed of.

She took a chance and went over and that started her career working at The Beatles record company Apple. It took her a few months to get hired full time but after the Beatle’s inner circle knew she could be trusted she was there. She met Paul on her very first day. She said all of them were extremely nice and made her feel welcome. She spent the first few months showing up at the office and making herself useful and securing her place. She was especially close to George as a friend and later Ringo as a little more. 

Chris O'Dell George

After all was said and done…she had 3 songs written about her. Two by Leon Russell called Hummingbird, Pieces Apple Lady, and George Harrison’s Miss O’Dell. She was also the “Mystery Woman” on the Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street cover. She was in the Joni Mitchell song “Coyote” with the line He’s got another woman down the hall…the song about Sam Shepard who Chris O’Dell and Joni Mitchell were seeing. She ended up singing on the Hey Jude recording in the final Na Na chorus.

She was one of the first if not the first female tour manager in rock. The tours she worked on were The Rolling Stones, CSNY, Santana, Bob Dylan, Earth Wind and Fire, Jennifer Warnes, Fleetwood Mac, Linda Ronstadt, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Led Zeppelin, Phil Collins, Echo and the Bunnymen, ELO, and more.

We also get a glimpse into the personalities of Bob Dylan, Jagger and Richards, CSNY (and the disfunction), Eric Clapton, and more. 

Chris O'Dell's Rockstar Life Revealed

Like all of us through life…she made some cringe-worthy decisions. I’m not trying to play it down but most of the time everything worked out in the end. She was in the right place at the right time and took advantage of that. She remains close friends with Pattie Harrison, Ringo Starr (her son’s Godfather), and many of her old famous acquaintances.

This is not a kiss-and-tell book and she doesn’t trash people which made me happy. The only person to come out of this book bad at all is Eric Clapton who was admittedly jealous of Pattie and Chris’s friendship. After the Stones tour, she got into drugs really bad but managed to quit them only to start up again. She, later on, became a drug counselor and helped people. 

This book is for more than just Beatle fans…it gives you what life was like on the road in the 1970s. Some of the highlights in the book for me were: 

  • How the Apple Office worked including the Hell’s Angels visitors
  • How even the biggest stars had deep insecurities
  • Bob Dylan forgot his harmonicas before the Isle of Wight concert and Chris O’Dell arrived by helicopter to give them to him.
  • Keith Richards sending her to pick up a “package” in LA in the middle of a tour
  • Reading about David Crosby’s complaints of no “cross ventilation in his hotel room”
  • When Roger Taylor of Queen realized that she was Miss O’Dell from George’s song.
  • Insight into Pattie Boyd and Maureen Starkey who is hardly covered in Beatles books
  • Reading about how Bangledesh started and how George got his musician friends to participate. 
  • Being on the roof during Get Back brief concert

Chris O’Dell: I think being a Beatle became very difficult for them. They had a different set of problems than the Stones and CSN&Y.  They didn’t tour that much, they couldn’t go out of their hotel rooms, and they lived in a bubble. I think breaking up for them, and I can only guess, was a relief and very difficult at the same time.

Chris O’Dell:  It was like being let go in Disneyland. That’s what it felt like. It’s like here are the keys to Disneyland, go and enjoy yourself. And I was constantly aware that I was watching history in the making and that was exciting. So every day had some, or certainly every week, had something, a twist to it that made it really exciting

Chris O’Dell now: I am happily remarried to a wonderful man who supports me and accepts me as I am. My twenty-three-year-old son is amazing and gives me some credibility as a parent! I have a private practice in Tucson, specializing in addiction and mental health counseling.  My two dogs are happy and life is just better than I would have expected. 

Excerpt from the book: On being in a room with Mick and Keith before the 72 tour. 

“Listen to this fucking article in Rolling Stone about Harrison’s Bangladesh concert,” Keith said. He started reading from the article.
“The Concert for Bangladesh is rock reaching for its manhood.” Keith raised an eyebrow. “Under the leadership of George Harrison, a group of rock musicians recognized, in a deliberate, self-conscious, and professional way, that they have responsibilities, and went about dealing with them seriously.”
Keith looked at Mick and then at me. “Do you believe this shit? But wait, it gets better. Harrison is “a man with a sense of his own worth, his own role in the place of things… with a few parallels among his peers.”
“Bollocks.” Keith laughed, tossing the magazine on the coffee table. “What a fucking load of shit.”
I knew that Keith wasn’t really amused. He could be terribly insecure.
What a paradox Keith was- a sweet sensitive soul who wrote songs about needing love to be happy and yet he lived his life as if he couldn’t give a shit about anything.
But at that moment I wasn’t too interested in Keith’s feelings. I sat at the far end of the sofa, my legs and arms crossed, smoking a cigarette and drinking my Scotch and Coke as if it were straight Coke. I was pissed. Sure, I knew they were just being competitive, but I couldn’t stand listening to them make fun of George. I wanted to jump into the conversation and tell them to leave him alone. But what could I do? I worked for the Stones now, not the Beatles. This is weird, I know, and particularly strange in the context of the Stone’s remarkable longevity, but at that moment I had a sinking feeling that I was beginning my climb down the ladder. I’d started at the very top with the Beatles and now I was on the rung below. I found myself thinking at that moment that the Stones were sometimes a little too raw, too raunchy, too negative. I liked their music, and I liked each of them individually, but if I had to choose, the Beatles would win.
“You know,” I said, trying to smile but having a hard time of it,
“George is my friend.”
Mick looked over at me as if he had forgotten I was there. “Oh yeah, Chris, you’re a Beatle person, aren’t you? Sorry about that”
We let it go, then, but after I dropped Mick at his house and headed home through the dark canyons, I felt a sudden, intense longing to see Pattie and George. Mick was right. When it came right down to it, I was a Beatle person.”

Miss O’Dell

I’m the only one down here
Who’s got nothing to say
About the war
Or the rice
That keeps going astray on its way to Bombay.
That smog that keeps polluting up our shores
Is boring me to tears.
Why don’t you call me, Miss O’Dell?

I’m the only one down here
Who’s got nothing to fear
From the waves
Or the rice
That keeps rolling on right up to my front porch.
The record player’s broken on the floor,
And Ben, he can’t restore it.
Miss O’Dell.

I can tell you
Nothing new
Has happened since I last saw you.

I’m the only one down here
Who’s got nothing to say
About the hip
Or the dope
Or the cat with most hope to fill the Fillmore.
That pushing, shoving, ringing on my bell
Is not for me tonight.
Why don’t you call me, Miss O’Dell?

Why don’t you call me, Miss O’Dell?

Chuck Berry – Back In The USA

What better way to celebrate July 4th than to play a Chuck Berry song. It’s nice to be back to music. I’m traveling today so I may not be able to comment until later on.

Chuck’s guitar playing got most of the publicity but his storytelling of his time is what I like best. Was it poetry? I’m not qualified to answer that but his words flowed like water and he puts you in the lunch room, classroom, dance hall, and riding in a coffee color Cadillac.

Music critic and opera composer Gregory Sandow calls him “a poet of the practical life.” John Lennon reports that Berry’s lyrics influenced his own and calls him “the greatest rock and roll poet.” Keith Richards invokes the tradition of troubadour to emphasize the poetic qualities of Berry’s lyrics. In the end, I don’t guess it matters but what we get are self-contained stories that live on today.

This was a double A-sided single…the B side was Memphis Tennessee. The song peaked at #37 on the Billboard 100 and #16 in the Billboard R&B Charts.

This song has the same sound as Roll Over Beethoven but I can’t blame Chuck for sounding like Chuck. If he could have sued everyone that ripped off his riffs…he would have lived in a courtroom.

When Berry wrote this… he was returning to the United States following a trip to Australia and witness the living standards of Australian Aborigines. This song inspired Paul McCartney to put a twist on it and he wrote Back In The U.S.S.R. on the White Album.

Linda Ronstadt covered this in 1978. Her version went peaked at #16 on the Billboard 100, #8 in Canada, #24 in New Zealand.

Chuck and Linda played the song in the highly entertaining Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll and Linda’s voice is just incredible.

Back In The USA

Oh well, oh well, I feel so good today
We touched ground on an international runway
Jet propelled back home, from over the seas to the U.S.A.

New York, Los Angeles, oh, how I yearned for you
Detroit, Chicago, Chattanooga, Baton Rouge
Let alone just to be at my home back in ol’ St. Lou

Did I miss the skyscrapers, did I miss the long freeway?
From the coast of California to the shores of Delaware Bay
You can bet your life I did, till I got back to the U.S.A.

Looking hard for a drive in, searching for a corner cafe
Where hamburgers sizzle on an open grill night and day
Yeah, and a jukebox jumping with records like in the U.S.A.

Well, I’m so glad I’m livin’ in the U.S.A.
Yes, I’m so glad I’m livin’ in the U.S.A.
Anything you want, we got right here in the U.S.A.

Warren Zevon – Poor Poor Pitiful Me

I love this song. Not many songs deal with a failed suicide, domestic abuse, and a brush with sadomasochism. I’m a huge Warren Zevon fan. His songs tend to be on the dark side…and anyone who has listened to Excitable Boy will testify to that.

When I heard Zevon’s version of this song for the first time I was sold. I first heard the Linda Ronstadt version and I loved it. I’m a Linda Ronstadt fan but something about Zevon’s version draws me in. It’s raw and crude and I love the way he sings it.

Zevon wrote and recorded the song and it appeared on his self-titled album in 1976. It became a hit when Linda Ronstadt covered it the next year. She cleaned up the song a little. Ronstadt’s cover was a cleaned-up version with the gender reversed. Still, her character fails at suicide, but the S&M (sadomasochism) references are gone.

Like other Zevon songs this is a pretty crude and risqué song. His character is such a disaster that he can’t even kill himself: he puts his head on the railroad tracks, but the train doesn’t run anymore.

I met a girl at the rainbow bar
She asked me if I’d beat her
She took me back to the hired house
I don’t wanna talk about it, hut

It’s thought that the song was a friendly swipe at Jackson Browne, whose songs such as “Here Come Those Tears Again” and “Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate” from The Pretender could be quite dark. The album was produced by Jackson Browne and had backing vocals by Lindsey Buckingham.

Another hit cover version of the song was recorded by Canadian country singer Terri Clark in 1996. It peaked at #1 in the Canadian Country Charts and #5 in the Billboard Country Charts.

Poor Poor Pitiful Me

I lay my head on the railroad tracks
I’m waiting on the double E
The railroad don’t run no more
Poor poor pitiful me

Poor poor pitiful me and poor poor pitiful me
These young girls won’t let me be
Lord have mercy on me, woe is me

Well I met a girl in West Hollywood
Well I ain’t naming names
But she really worked me over good
She was just like Jesse James

She really worked me over good
She was a credit to her gender
She put me through some changes Lord
Sort of like a waring blender

Poor poor pitiful me, poor poor pitiful me
These young girls won’t let me be
Lord have mercy on me, woe is me

Poor poor pitiful me and poor poor pitiful me
Oh these girls won’t let me be
Lord have mercy on me, woe is me

I met a girl at the rainbow bar
She asked me if I’d beat her
She took me back to the hired house
I don’t wanna talk about it, hut

Poor poor pitiful me
Poor poor pitiful me
Hut, never mind
Poor poor pitiful me
Yeah poor poor pitiful me

Linda Ronstadt – You’re No Good

Great song by the one and only Linda Ronstadt. “You’re No Good” was written by Clint Ballard, Jr., who also wrote songs for Connie Francis and The Hollies.

This song had been around for a while before Linda Ronstadt took it to the top of the chart. It was originally recorded by Dee Dee Warwick in 1963. Her version stalled at #117.

The song was on the album Heart Like A Wheel produced by Peter Asher and it peaked at #1 in the Billboard Album Chart and #7 in Canada.

Heart Like a Wheel became Ronstadt’s first album to hit the top spot on the Billboard Top 200 album chart and spent four weeks at number 1 on the Billboard Country Album chart in early 1975.

The song peaked at #1 in the Billboard 100, #7 in Canada, and #24 in New Zealand in 1975.

Linda Ronstadt:  “I thought the production on ‘You’re No Good’ was very good but [that] I didn’t sing it very well. As a song it was just an afterthought. It’s not the kind of song I got a lot of satisfaction out of singing.”

 

From Songfacts

One of the most blatant and memorable songs in the “no-good man” milieu,

Betty Everett had more success with her version, which went to #51 in 1964. First released on her 1963 album of the same name, Everett recorded the song at Chess Records in Chicago, with Maurice White on drums (White, who later formed Earth, Wind & Fire, was a staff drummer at Chess early in his career). Everett was a former gospel singer who, like Ronstadt, had a very powerful voice. Her next single, “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss),” became her biggest hit.

The song made one more chart appearance in 1964 when the British male band Swinging Blue Jeans switched the gender and took the song to #97 in the US and #3 in the UK, where it became the best-known rendition of the song.

A decade later, Ronstadt started performing the song and recorded it with her producer Peter Asher. Released as a single from her fifth album, the song was a huge breakthrough for Ronstadt, whose chart success to this point was sporadic (her biggest hit to then: “Long, Long Time” at #25). She became one of the biggest stars of the ’70s, known for her musical versatility and impressive vocal range. Most of her hits were cover songs, including the follow-up, “When Will I Be Loved,” originally recorded by the Everly Brothers.

This song makes it quite clear that the lowdown guy is no good, but in the second verse, Ronstadt turns it around, as she’s done some bad things herself and deserves some comeuppance:

I broke a heart that’s gentle and true
Well I broke a heart over someone like you
I’ll beg his forgiveness on bended knee
I wouldn’t blame him if he said to me
You’re no good

By the third verse, she’s back to bashing the guy:

I’m telling you now baby and I’m going my way
Forget about you baby ’cause I’m leaving to stay

Heart Like A Wheel was the first album Peter Asher produced for Ronstadt, and the results were spectacular. With his duo Peter & Gordon, Asher had a #1 hit in 1964 with “A World Without Love,” and later became head of A&R at The Beatles’ Apple Records, where he began a longstanding relationship with James Taylor.

In a Songfacts interview with Asher, he explained that getting the most out of Ronstadt meant listening to her and honoring her ideas. “I may have listened to her with a bit more attentiveness than others had in the past,” he said. “There was, particularly back in that era, an element of, ‘Don’t you worry your pretty little head about that, I know what’s best.’ Linda knew a lot and was not given credit for it.”

Van Halen recorded this for their second album. It was one of many successful cover songs by the group; Others include Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman,” The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” and Martha & the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street.” This is the only cover on the album. Between 1978-1983, Van Halen released an album a year. Since they toured constantly, including cover songs on the albums helped ease the songwriting burden.

You’re No Good

Feeling better now that we’re through
Feeling better ’cause I’m over you
I learned my lesson, it left a scar
Now I see how you really are

You’re no good
You’re no good
You’re no good
Baby you’re no good

I’m gonna say it again
You’re no good
You’re no good
You’re no good
Baby you’re no good

I broke a heart that’s gentle and true
Well I broke a heart over someone like you
I’ll beg his forgiveness on bended knee
I wouldn’t blame him if he said to me

You’re no good
You’re no good
You’re no good
Baby you’re no good

I’m gonna say it again
You’re no good
You’re no good
You’re no good
Baby you’re no good

I’m telling you now baby and I’m going my way
Forget about you baby ’cause I’m leaving to stay
You’re no good
You’re no good
You’re no good
Baby you’re no good

I’m gonna say it again
You’re no good
You’re no good
You’re no good
Baby you’re no good
Oh, oh no
You’re no good
You’re no good
You’re no good
Baby you’re no good

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heart_Like_a_Wheel

 

Hail! Hail! Rock ‘N’ Roll 1987

This documentary starts off in 1986 with Chuck Berry reminiscing about the Cosmopolitan Club where he played in the earlier days.

The film is centered around Chuck Berry’s 60th birthday and Keith Richards assembling an All-Star Band to support Chuck in concert. Chuck had been touring since the 60s by traveling town to town and playing with any pickup band he found…all he brought was his guitar. He would get paid with cash in a paper bag in many places. That was his motivation more than playing with a good band. Chuck could be very sloppy playing live.

Chuck could also be difficult, to say the least. Keith was determined that Chuck was going to be backed by a great band for this concert… Chuck was Keith’s idol but Chuck seemed to want to give Keith as much trouble as possible. Richards says in the documentary that Chuck was the only man that hit him that he didn’t hit back. During the rehearsals for the song “Carol”, you can feel the tension in the air between the two.

Seeing Keith’s reaction to Chuck at times is worth the price of admission and I’m glad Keith was persistent and patient and got this done. It’s great footage of Chuck playing his classics.

The concert at the Fox Theatre ended up a success. Chuck sounded great and so did the band.

During the documentary, there are some great comments by Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Bruce Springsteen, Jerry Lee Lewis, Willie Dixon and more.

Little Richard, Bo Diddley, and Chuck have a very interesting conversation about how hard it was to get played on the radio because of being African American in the 50s. They also talk about payola and Alan Freed.

The band was incredible… Keith Richards, Robert Cray, the great Johnnie Johnson (Chuck’s original piano player), Steve Jordan, Bobby Keys, Chuck Leavell and Eric Clapton guests on a few songs.

Some of the artists that came on and sang were Etta James, Linda Ronstadt, and Julian Lennon.

Chuck was a complicated man but he was a poet as well. I can’t recommend this documentary enough. If you are a music fan you should like it. Chuck Berry may have influenced Rock and Roll more than anyone else…

My favorite story is from Bruce Springsteen. Bruce and the E Street Band volunteered to back up Chuck Berry for a show in the early seventies. Being Chuck’s temporarily pickup band must have been nerve-wracking for musicians. Chuck didn’t tell them what songs he was playing or what key…this is Bruce’s quote “About five minutes before the show was timed to start, the back door opens and he comes in. He’s by himself. He’s got a guitar case, and that was it,” Springsteen said. “[I said] ‘Chuck, what songs are we going to do?’ He says, ‘Well, we’re going to do some Chuck Berry songs.’ That was all he said!”

Below is the video…not extremely clear but watchable.