Guitar lesson for

Folsom Prison Blues

by Johnny Cash

Video lesson

Capo 1st Fret (optional)

If you want to play along with the Johnny Cash recorded versions of this song, you’ll need to add a capo to the 1st fret (and use the chords shown above). Otherwise, this is by no means required! You can play without a capo using the notation above and it will sound just fine – you’ll simply in a different key (which is fine).

Chords used

Here are the guitar chords used during this song. If you haven’t learned the B7 shown below, it is a good introductory version of the B chord that will get you a lot of mileage. Don’t let it scare you away if you’re just learning it for the first time – it will open the doors to other songs in the key of E.

e-|---0----0----2----
B-|---0----2----0----
G-|---1----2----2----
D-|---2----2----1----
A-|---2----0----2----
E-|---0--------------
      E    A    B7

Intro riff

Here is how you can play the riff heard at the beginning of the song, as well as in in between some of the verses and at the end (as you switch from the B7 to the E). I’ve included two ways to play it – one in open position, and another an octave up the fretboard (which frees you up for a bit of soloing, if you please).

e-|---------------------------0-0-----0-0----0-0-----0-0---
B-|---------------------------0-0-----0-0----0-0-----0-0---
G-|---------------------------1-1-----1-1----1-1-----1-1---
D-|---------1---1-------------2-2-----2-2----2-2-----2-2--- ...etc.
A-|---2-2-2--------2----------2-2---2--------2-2---2-------
E-|-------------------2b3---0--------------0---------------
      B7                    E

Strumming Pattern

To achieve the alternating bass note (boom-chicka-boom-chika-boom-chicka) that Johnny Cash is known for, use the following tab as a reference. This said, I strongly recommend viewing the video linked below to watch a demonstration of this. If you can, use your thumb to mute the lower E string on the alternating beats when it is not played – this will help accentuate the bass line. Also, note that the B7 chord position ties directly into the riff you use in the intro.

e-|-------0-0------0-0----0-0-----0-0----
B-|-------0-0------0-0----0-0-----0-0----
G-|-------1-1------1-1----1-1-----1-1----
D-|-------2-2------2-2----2-2-----2-2----  ...etc.
A-|-------2-2----2--------2-2---2--------
E-|-----0--------x------0-------x--------
        E

e-|-------0-0-----0-0-----0-0-----0-0----
B-|-------2-2-----2-2-----2-2-----2-2----
G-|-------2-2-----2-2-----2-2-----2-2----
D-|-------2-2-----2-2-----2-2-----2-2----  ...etc.
A-|-----0---------------0----------------
E-|-----x-------0-------x-------0--------
        A

e-|-------2-2-----0-0-----2-2-----2-2----
B-|-------0-0-----0-0-----0-0-----0-0----
G-|-------2-2-----2-2-----1-1-----1-1----
D-|-------1-1-----1-1-----2-2-----2-2----  ...etc.
A-|-----2---------------2----------------
E-|-----x-------2-------x-------2--------
        B7

Lyrics with chords

INTRO
    B7 . . . E . . . (see below for intro riff)

VERSE
      E
    I hear the train a coming, it's rolling around the bend
    And I ain't seen the sunshine, since I don't know when
        A                                               E
    I'm stuck in Folsom Prison, and time keeps dragging on
             B7                                      E
    But that train keeps a-rolling, on down to San Antone

    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 blowing, I hang my head and cry

    (instrumental verse with solo)

    I bet there's rich folks eating in a fancy dining car
    They're probably drinking coffee and smoking big cigars
    But I know I had it coming, I know I can't be free
    But those people keep a-moving, and that's what tortures me

    (instrumental verse with solo)

    Well, if they freed me from this prison, if that railroad train was mine
    I bet I'd move it on a little farther down the line
    Far from Folsom Prison, that's where I want to stay
    And I'd let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away
                                          (end on E, let ring)

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