My Sunday Song #45 is the great Johnny Cash Song “A Boy Named Sue”. The song was first recorded during the live concert ‘At San Quentin’ and is one of my favorite Johnny Cash songs. It tells such an amazing story about a boy seeking revenge against his deadbeat dad who left him and his mom and who named him Sue.
The song was Johnny’s biggest charting song on the Billboard Hot 100 where it reached #2. It was also his only Top 10 song which is amazing. Why didn’t he make it to #1, well a little known band named the Rolling Stones held that position with “Honky Tonk Woman”.
“A Boy Named Sue” is a song only Johnny Cash could sing and pull off. I don’t think the song would have been as successful with any other singer…at least to me it wouldn’t have been. The grittiness of Cash’s voice and the way he sort of spoke it instead of singing it was absolutely perfect. It gave a life and a charm to the song all its own.
One thing I learned on researching the song was that when he sang it at San Quentin, he didn’t really know the song very well yet and he had to look at the lyrics he had on a sheet a paper at times during the performance. He was surprised at how well the song was received during the show as he was uncertain it was good enough and he was testing the song out during the show to see the reaction.
The song came out in 1969 and cussing was not well received at the time. The line Cause “I’m the son of a bitch that named you ‘Sue'” was edited out of the original pressing. It was later put back in for subsequent releases when the phrase wasn’t as controversial.
Give it a listen and read the lyrics and Enjoy! Have a great Sunday!
“A Boy Named Sue”
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 is 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 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!”
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’.”
I got all choked up and I threw down my gun
And I called him my pa, and he called me his son,
And I came 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! I still hate that name!