This bluegrass song was written by Jimmy Skinner about eighty years ago. I learned it from a Flatt and Scruggs record about forty years ago. It’s a standard 3 chord country song. Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, the Osborne Bros. and many others have sung it. Myself, I’ve never been to prison or to jail, and I hope I never will, but these prison songs resonate for me. They always have. The appeal of these country songs and root music to urbane, sophisticated city folk – and even to Bronx boys like yours truly – may seem hard to explain at first. But once you hear Earl Scruggs do a couple of his banjo riffs, or hear Lester Flatt croon those high, lonesome notes, well, you’ll likely get hooked too. In the meantime here’s my own little version of the song.

On this old rock pile with a ball and chain
They call me by a number not a name, Lord, Lord
Gotta do my time, gotta do my time
With an aching heart and worried mind

When that old judge looked down and smiled
He said I’ll put you on that good road for a while, Lord Lord
Gotta do my time, gotta do my time
With an aching heart and a worried mind

You can hear my hammer you can hear my song
I’ll swing it like John Henry all day long, Lord Lord
Gotta do my time, gotta do my time
With an aching heart and a worried mind

It won’t be long, just a few more days
I’ll settle down and quit my rowdy ways Lord Lord 

With that gal of mine, with that gal of mine

She’ll be waiting for me when I’ve done my time

 

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