Did Johnny Cash Build His Career On A Stolen Song? The Myth Explained

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Gordon Jenkins gained great fame and success as a composer, especially with various projects with other bands and artists. The musician collaborated with names such as The Weavers, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Judy Garland, Nat King Cole, and countless others over the years. Thus, thanks to his extraordinary talent, Jenkins was the man behind some of the most popular and influential songs between the ’40s and ’50s.

In addition to these incredibly famous figures in the music industry, Jenkins’ path crossed with the legendary American country music singer-songwriter Johnny Cash in a controversy. Still, it was also a usual way considering the industry’s perspective on the works of art back then. The connection between Jenkins and Johnny began when Cash dropped his iconic song ‘Folsom Prison Blues.’

The Story Behind Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues’

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Johnny Cash released his debut studio album ‘Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar!’ on October 11, 1957. It received very positive reviews from country rock lovers and critics worldwide. The record produced several Cash hits such as ‘I Walk the Line,’ ‘Cry! Cry! Cry!,’ ‘So Doggone Lonesome,’ and ‘Folsom Prison Blues.’ The eleventh track has a very different story from the others, which turned into a myth.

‘Folsom Prison Blues’ became a signature song that hit the charts worldwide, bringing him commercial success and popularity in a short time. Initially, most fans and journalists thought Cash was inspired to write the song when he served in West Germany in the United States Air Force at Landsberg, Bavaria, and watched a noir crime movie ‘Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison.’ Later many found out that he had another influence, a Gordon Jenkins song.

Did Johnny Cash Rip Off ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ From Another Song?

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Shortly after the release of the biographical book named ‘Johnny Cash: The Life,’ music critic, editor, and author Robert Hilburn joined an interview with CBS News. Hilburn revealed that Cash’s first hit song, ‘Folsom Prison Blues,’ was almost the same as ‘Crescent City Blues,’ which Jenkins composed and Beverly Mahr sang for his ‘Seven Dreams’ record with its melody and lyrics. The similarity was impossible to overlook, according to him.

Even though Hilburn stated that Johnny Cash stole the song, the author added that Cash made significant changes to it, but it wasn’t enough to hide the truth. Furthermore, it’s known that Jenkins and Cash settled for $75,000 when ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ got critical acclaim and was listened to a lot. Years after this situation, Hilburn again drew attention to this story in his conversation and book.

The author’s statement read as follows:

“Eighty percent of the song is the same, so his first hit was really ‘lifted,’ let’s say. I don’t like to use the word stole, he changed it significantly, but yes, he stole it, he stole it.”

You can listen to the songs below.