I shot a man in ______ (?)

Cafe Society question, with a big side order of GQ.

I was in the cafeteria today, and the guy in line ahead of me told the cashier that he’d been in Reno on business for the last 3 weeks. Being the smartass that I am, I barged into the conversation to ask if, while he was there, he shot anyone just to watch them die. The joke was appreciated.

I’ve heard the line as “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.”, but I’ve heard other versions with Memphis, Birmingham, and Richmond as the city. What is the original line (lyric?), and what is it’s source? I presume it’s from a C&W song, but I’m a rocker…

THe original line is “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.” From the nman in black himself Johnny Cash from the song Folsom Prison Blues.

Johnny Cash, Folsom Prison Blues:

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.

Thanks. I was right in assuming it was from a C&W song, 'cuz you can’t get any more country than Johnny Cash.

You really should familiarize yourself with Johnny Cash’s work - especially his stuff from the '50s and '60s. You may discover some Country that you like (as I did, much to my surprise…).

You are very lucky they knew the song.

In Virginia, it isn’t that tough.

When I was watchin’ TV,
I turned to the wife and said “Hon,
There sure is a passel o’ idiots,
On Reno 911”
Cuz when they shoot a man in Reno,
Then they get their toenails done,
They just shoot then go to a salon,
and paint 'em every last one.

Johnny Cash also was able to poke fun at himself. When he hosted Saturday Night Live he told the supposed true story of why he was in Folsom. He saw a black cocktail dress in a store window he wanted so he stole it. But when he got to prison he said he figured he shouldn’t tell the other convicts about the dress so he made up the story about shooting someone in Reno.

Thanks Little Nemo. I never could fiigure out how shooting someone in Reno, Nevada makes you wind up in a Folsom, California prison. I was chalking it off to poetic license.


I don’t think that the song implies that the murder in Reno is the only crime the character has comitted…

And, in any case, “I shot a man in Sacramento, just to watch him die” doesn’t have the same ring to it.


Heh. Story I heard, it fit the song’s meter and was just about the worst thing he could imagine a fellow doing, and that’s why it’s there.

I like your story better, though.


As a wise man once said in my hearing

“Remember, country music is like cholesterol: there is the good kind, too.”

Well, yeah, but if you’re arrested for, say, assault in Fresno, and upon booking, a warrant for murder in Reno pops up, Nevada gets first dibs. Therefore, the Man in Black was in Folsom for something worse than murder. :eek:

Too true.


From the Kids in the Hall:

I once shot a man just to watch him die, then I got distracted and missed it. Oh my friends tried to describe it to me, but it just isn’t the same. Oh, well. You’ve got your own problems–ignore me.

I heard someone once say the following:

“I shot a man in Nepal, just to watch him reincarnate”

I thought it was Abilene? Didn’t someone get shot in Abilene?

Re: Imprisoned in Cali when there’s a capital crime in Nevada: Just because Mr. Cash admitted to the deed doesn’t necessarily mean the law knows about it and has a warrant out for him.

Finally, all due respect to Mr. Cash, but wasn’t the line about shooting a man to watch him die attributed to a famous “wild west” outlaw? (John Wesley Hardin, perhaps?)

I could be mistaken, but I believe JWH was famous for “being so mean, he once shot a guy for snoring too loud”.

I have Cash’s autobiography, and he wrote the song as a first-person POV from a criminal in Folsom Prison. It’s not anything he was involved in IRL, not even close. It was the worst crime he could think of, and Reno had two syllables.

I’ve never seen the SNL episode mentioned here, but that story was a total joke.

And Johnny was never in jail for more than a night or so. He had a real outlaw image, but he wasn’t in prison like Merle Haggard.

The OP also mentions hearing about shooting a man in Memphis.

Could he have bumped into the old “Who can sing the Blues” list?

Check items 6, 12© and 18.