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A Boy Named Sue

Johnny Cash (lyrics by Shel Silverstein)


Note:  Johnny Cash’s loose delivery in the At San Quentin recording meant that his band didn’t always know when to start a new chord progression.  Rather than try to re-create every quirk from that still-fantastic performance, I’ve charted the song the way I imagine it was intended to be played.  Deviate as you see fit.


Capo 4


Each chord is played for two measures unless otherwise noted.


Chord Guide

      3    4

G:    3x0003

       32 1

C:    x32010


D:    xx0232



        B   D U B   D U     w/alternating bass

Strum:  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +



Intro: / G - - - / - - - - / - - - - / - - - - /



My daddy left home when I was three

And he didn't leave much to ma and me

             D                                                        G
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

            D                                                   G
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,

      D                                                        G
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,

           D                                                      G
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,

       D                                                        G
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

       D                                                            G
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,

D                                                         G
    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,

D                                                            G
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,

            D                                                        G
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

               D                          G (4)
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,

       D                                                               G
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

  D                                                                                 G
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,

      D                                                        G
He kicked like a mule and he bit like a crocodile.

I heard him laugh and then I heard him cuss, and

   He went for his gun and I pulled mine first,

       D                                                          G
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

             D                                                        G
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

       D                                                          G
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

     D                                                             G
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

            D                                                          G
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,

           D                                                 G
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,

         D (hold)                                                       
And if I ever have a son, I think I'm gonna name him

                                               G (hold)
Bill or George! Anything but Sue! I still hate that name!


This file is the author's own work and represents his interpretation of this song. It's intended solely for private study, scholarship or research.