On This Day: Johnny Cash Records Jimmie Rodgers Classic ‘In the Jailhouse Now’ in 1962

by Suzanne Halliburton

Johnny Cash reached back to vaudeville to record this hit song 59 years ago today. Except the country icon tweaked the words and some of the chords to make “In the Jailhouse Now” his very own.

Listen to this 1962 hit by Johnny Cash. He was touring with his future wife and her family in the early 1960s when Johnny Cash recorded this song. Hang with us to the other side and we’ll tell you more about the song and how Cash tweaked the words to make it any funnier than other versions.

Long Before Johnny Cash, Jimmie Rodgers Recorded The Jailhouse Song

Jimmie Rodgers yodeled all the way through “In the Jailhouse Now” back in 1928 when he first recorded this novelty song. It’s about a man who cheats at cards, then meets a woman. They end up in jail together.

Many performers covered the Rodgers song. In 1930, the Memphis Sheiks, also known as the Memphis Jug Band, performed a version of the song.  Musical historians say that the lyrics the Sheiks used were written by Bert Murphy, who was Black and a vaudeville performer. This version seems closer to what Johnny Cash covered.

Webb Pierce reintroduced the song to a country audience in 1955. And it did amazingly well. The song reached No. 1 and stayed there for 21 straight weeks. That tied the record for the longest streak at No. 1 on the Billboard country charts. Eddy Arnold and “I’ll Hold You In My Heart,” and Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On” also had 21 weeks at the top. Finally, in 2013, Florida Georgia Line’s Cruise pushed past 21 weeks.

Johnny Cash released his cover in 1962. His lyrics talk of how a man named Campbell got locked up, while his wife, Sadie, is having an affair with the sheriff. Cash’s version came from a Memphis jug musician.

Cash’s song hit No. 8, so he didn’t have the most listened to version of the song. It was the top single off his 12th studio album “The Sound of Johnny Cash.” The album didn’t rank on the charts. And “In the Jailhouse Now” also was the only single to rank.

Johnny Cash also re-recorded Cash rerecorded “Folsom Prison Blues“, “Hey Porter” and “I Walk the Line,” from his Sun Record days. But, ultimately, he didn’t use them for his album. Instead, he re-released them three decades later.

Coincidentally, Johnny Cash didn’t have legal issues for another three years, when he first spent a night in jail in Starkville, Miss., then had problems in El Paso.

It all made for great music.