If Johnny Cash shot a man in Reno, why was he in a CA prison?

You’ve heard, I’ve always wondered. If he shot a man in Reno(just to watch him die), why was he sitting in a prison in California(Folsom prison)?

Alaska ships its hardtimers out to Arizona. Perhaps Nevada ships theirs to CA.

Because it rolls off the tongue better than Ferndale?

WAG: He was singing about a crime that he WASN’T convicted for.

Just a WAG - is Folsom a Federal pen?

what’s a WAG?

and my first sentence should have said “You’ve heard it…
and of course I’m referring to Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash.

Wild Ass Guess

Well, the only California town that really scans is Fresno. Let’s try it

“I shot a man in Fresno… just to watch him die.”

Nope, doesn’t quite work!

More seriously, MAYBE the narrator of the song is a guy who’s lived a long, violent, criminal life that BEGAN with shooting a man in Reno… and which eventually led him to incarceration at Folsom.

Remember, that line comes immediately AFTER his recollection that his mother had always urged him to be a good away and avoid guns. Maybe shooting that guy in Reno was just the first of many things he’d done out of sheer meanness, in defiance of Mama’s wishes.

This brings up an important point. Johnny Cash didn’t shoot anybody. Mr. Cash may not have been an exemplary role model in all ways, but he never shot anyone and never served time.

The character in the song did so.

This was always my interpretation, too. The shooting of the man was only one of many crimes, but was indicative of how little he cared about what he was doing or why.

“I’m just visiting Springfield Prison. I get to sleep at home tonight!”

How about “I shot a man in Chino…”


“Served time” might have the more specific connotation of being in prison as opposed to jail and, if that is the case, what you say is true but Johnny Cash *was * incarcerated numerous times during his life, although usually only overnight.

Didn’t he first play that song at Folsom Prison? That, more than anything, might explain the discrepancy between the location of the shooting and the name of the prison.

WHAT!? And all this time I wondered why they let that hardened crminal do all those concerts.

Cash wrote the song in 1956, the prison concert wasn’t until 1968. The train keeps rollin’ down to San Antone, FWIW.

Guess what, kiddies: Merle Haggard didn’t really “turn 21 in prison doin’ life without parole” either, even though there’s no doubt his “Mama Tried”. He did do some time when young and stupid, though, but Cash didn’t until he got into the depths of drug addiction and sympathetic cops would sometimes let him sleep it off in a cell.

Dewey, you might be thinking of the song San Quentin which (I believe) he first performed in 1969 for the Live At San Quentin album.

Marty Robbins didn’t either, Elvis.

Shoot me now. I don’t know why I thought it was Marty Robbings wrote that song. Sorry Elvis.

Cash’s explanation:


Alternatively, Reno is near the California border; if he’d stood in California and shot a man in Reno, he could be tried for murder in both jurisdictions.

Or, if he’d committed any portion of the crime in California…say he was paid to kill him in California and drove to Reno to shoot him…that wouldn’t work, though, since he siad he shot a man in Reno just to watch him die, unless he’s lying, which convicts do occassionally. Maybe killing for compensation carries a stiffer penalty. Okay, say he shot him in Reno and then drove him to California, where he died. Or something.