A Boy Named Sue by Johnny Cash

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A Boy Named Sue by Johnny Cash

"A Boy Named Sue" by Johnny Cash

Talking Blues

The song was written by the wonderful singer-songwriter, cartoonist, and children’s author Shel Silverstein. Johnny Cash recorded “A Boy Named Sue” in 1969 live at San Quentin State Prison, which gives an interesting perspective to the song if you think about the inmates listening to it and laughing. Cash also released it on his 1969 At San Quentin album. Cash had international success with the song. It went to #1 on the U.S. Hot Country Singles Chart and U.S. Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks Chart as well as #2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. It was #1 in Canada, #3 in Ireland, #4 in the U.K., and #13 in The Netherlands.

A few bits of trivia include the following:

  • Shel Silverstein was inspired to write the song by his friend Jean Shepherd, who was well known for his radio shows and the very popular film A Christmas Story. Poor Jean was teased about the feminine spelling of his name.
  • Gatlinburg refer to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
  • Shel Silverstein also recorded the song in 1969, and it was produced by Chet Atkins and Felton Jarvis
  • On both the single and the album version there was a little bit of censorship, where “Son of a bitch” was bleeped. (When performing the song, Cash would sometimes use a loud Bleep himself.) Also, the word “damn” was taken out of the last line on those tracks.

Johnny Cash was born J.R. “Johnny” Cash in Kingsland, Arkansas. He was a performer, singer, songwriter, actor, and author, whose music went across the genres. His sounds included country, rock and roll, rockabilly, blues, folk, and gospel. And, as we see with “Boy Named Sue,” a little comedy.

Here are the lyrics to “A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash:

Well, my daddy left home when I was three
And he didn’t leave much to ma and me
Just this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze
Now, I don’t blame him cause he run and hid
But the meanest thing that he ever did
Was before he left, he went and named me Sue

Well, he must o’ thought that was quite a joke
And it got a lot of laughs from a’ lots of folk
It seems I had to fight my whole life through
Some gal would giggle and I’d get red
And some guy’d laugh and I’d bust his head,
I tell ya, life ain’t easy for a boy named Sue

Well, I grew up quick and I grew up mean
My fist got hard and my wits got keen
I’d roam from town to town to hide my shame
But I made me a vow to the moon and stars
That I’d search the honky-tonks and bars
And kill that man who gave me that awful name

Well, it was Gatlinburg in mid-July
And I just hit town and my throat was dry
I thought I’d stop and have myself a brew
At an old saloon on a street of mud
There at a table, dealing stud
Sat the dirty, mangy dog that named me Sue

Well, I knew that snake was my own sweet dad
From a worn-out picture that my mother’d had
And I knew that scar on his cheek and his evil eye
He was big and bent and gray and old
And I looked at him and my blood ran cold
And I said, “My name is Sue, how do you do
Now you’re gonna die”

(yeah, that’s what I told him)

Well, I hit him hard right between the eyes
And he went down, but to my surprise
He come up with a knife and cut off a piece of my ear
But I busted a chair right across his teeth
And we crashed through the wall and into the street
Kicking and a’ gouging in the mud and the blood and the beer

I tell ya, I’ve fought tougher men
But I really can’t remember when
He kicked like a mule and he bit like a crocodile
I heard him laugh and then I heard him cuss
He went for his gun and I pulled mine first
He stood there lookin’ at me and I saw him smile

And he said, “Son, this world is rough
And if a man’s gonna make it, he’s gotta be tough
And I knew I wouldn’t be there to help ya along
So I give ya that name and I said goodbye I knew you’d have to get tough or die And it’s the name that helped to make you strong”


He said, “Now you just fought one hell of a fight
And I know you hate me, and you got the right
To kill me now, and I wouldn’t blame you if you do But ya ought to thank me, before I die For the gravel in ya guts and the spit in ya eye ‘Cause I’m the son-of-a-bitch that named you Sue”

Well what could I do? What could I do?
I got all choked up and I threw down my gun
And I called him my paw, and he called me his son
And I come away with a different point of view
And I think about him, now and then
Every time I try and every time I win
And if I ever have a son, I think I’m gonna name him..
Bill or George! Anything but Sue!”

For another song by Johnny Cash: “I Walk the Line,” which is on Pass the Paisley’s sister site The Daily Doo Wop.

Check Out The Groove Pad for More 1960s Music

The Pass the Paisley Groove Pad is a resting stop, a place to┬áchill out and listen to the featured song on the┬ástereo. If the mood strikes you, click on the juke box to access and listen to the 50+ commercial free online songs there. The TV has several channels, with selections updated twice a week. Every now and then, Pass the Paisley hosts an all-request of 1960s and 1970s songs for a Be-In at the juke box in the Groove Pad. Keep on truckin’. Hope you enjoyed “A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash.

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Jane Minogue


  1. […] For another song by Shel Silverstein but a very different sort of artist: “A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash. […]

  2. […] another song by Johnny Cash: “A Boy Named Sue,” which is on The Daily Doo Wop’s sister site Pass the […]

  3. […] another song by Johnny Cash: “A Boy Named Sue,” which is on The Daily Doo Wop’s sister site Pass the […]

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