Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues has become a standard in many country musician’s repertoire. In the original recording, Cash removes the last bar from the traditional 12 bar blues progression creating a looping 11 bar progression. Today however, it is much more commonly done as a straight forward 12-bar blues in E. In this lesson I am going to teach you a few different ideas to play over this train beat blues in E.
The first lick is an ascending open string idea over E. Open string scale runs are a common sound in country guitar and work exceptionally well in the open chord keys like E, A, G, and B. This lick is grouped in threes. I am playing the first note with my pick, the second with my middle finger, and the third with my ring finger. This pattern repeats for each grouping as the lick ascends up each string set.
When coming up with open string ideas, I like to take common ideas I am playing on other parts of the neck and replace notes with their open string equivalent. Then I work out the easiest fingering for the fretted notes to make the whole idea playable at tempo.
The second lick is a more traditional country or rockabilly line. This one is pretty straight forward. With the picking hand I like to really pop the high E string in the third bar. Getting that pop off the frets really helps to accentuate the country twang (especially useful if you aren’t on a tele).
This third idea is probably the toughest of the licks in the lesson. This idea uses eighth note triplets to inject a bit more speed into the solo. Eighth note triplets are a common rhythm for some of the fastest country licks out there. Where sixteenth notes will often times be a bit too quick (especially with faster train beat songs), eighth note triplets are usually pretty playable especially when using slides and slur. Brad Paisley comes to mind as a country guitar player who uses these kind of ideas a lot in his playing.
The lick ends with some double stops. To play these, I use the pick on the D string, my middle finger on the G string, and my ring finger on the B string.
The fourth lick is a straight ahead dominant idea. Try giving a slight bend to the first two notes to give the line a bit of blues. The rest of it should be pretty self explanatory.
The last lick starts with a simple repeated idea over the B chord. To play this line at tempo I pick everything on the G string and use my middle to play the high E string. Try adding some slurs between the notes on the G string to change a bit of the phrasing!
The ending is another open string idea. I use a similar picking pattern to the first lick but in reverse. I hit the first note on the high E string with my ring finger, the second note with my middle finger, the third note with the pick, and the fourth note with my middle finger again. Then there is a half step slide where I hit the open E string with my middle finger at the same time.
Here’s some recordings and videos of some excellent country guitarists playing over Folsom Prison Blues that you should check out!