Big River (Johnny Cash song)

"Big River" is a song written and originally recorded by Johnny Cash. Released as a single by Sun Records in 1958, it went as high as #4 on the Billboard country music charts and stayed on the charts for 14 weeks.[1]

"Big River"
Big river johnny cash.jpg
Single by Johnny Cash
from the album Sings the Songs That Made Him Famous
ReleasedMarch 1958
Songwriter(s)Johnny Cash
Producer(s)Sam Phillips, Jack Clement
Johnny Cash singles chronology
"Ballad of a Teenage Queen"
"Big River"
"Guess Things Happen That Way"

The song tells a story of a chase of a lost love along the course of Mississippi River from St. Paul, Minnesota to New Orleans, Louisiana


A verse omitted from the original recording was later performed during Johnny Cash's live performances.[2] A demo recording from the Sun sessions featuring the omitted verse also exists and has been released on numerous Sun compilations.

Chart performanceEdit

Chart (1958) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles 4
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 14

Cover versionsEdit

  • Delbert McClinton performed the song on a couple of albums.
  • Ian Tyson (of Ian and Sylvia) included a spirited version of Big River on the duo's Lovin' Sound album released in 1967, with David Rae on lead guitar.
  • The Grateful Dead played a cover version of this song 396 times from 1965-1995.[3] It appears on many of their concert recordings, such as Dick's Picks Volume 1 (Grateful Dead Records).
  • Colin Linden recorded a version included in the 2003 tribute album, Johnny's Blues: A Tribute To Johnny Cash (Northern Blues).
  • Trick Pony recorded a version of Big River with Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings on their debut album.
  • Australian band Cold Chisel included a live version of the song on their 2003 Ringside reunion tour and DVD.
  • Hank Williams Jr. covered this song on his 1970 album Singing My Songs - Johnny Cash, which contained exclusively covers of Johnny Cash songs.
  • The Secret Sisters recorded a version of the song in 2011, with Jack White playing backing guitar.[4]
  • Bob Dylan and The Band recorded two takes of the song in 1967 during The Basement Tapes sessions. They were officially released November 4, 2014 on The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Complete.
  • Johnny Cash was featured in a cover performed by The Highwaymen, a country supergroup featuring Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson. This cover is slightly more upbeat, skewing to "Outlaw Country," and featured the verse Cash omitted when he first recorded the song for Sun (Jennings sang the verse on the studio recording and in live performances, which allowed each member of the group to sing a verse).
  • Tim Armstrong covered the song in 2012 during his Guitar Center session.
  • Rosanne Cash recorded a cover of the song on her 1980 album Right or Wrong.
  • Beat Farmers recorded a raucous cover of the song on their 1987 album The Pursuit of Happiness.
  • Johnny Rivers on the album Memphis Sun Recordings.
  • Gene Summers included the song on his "Country Song Roundup" album in 2018.
  • Infamous Stringdusters recorded a cover of the song on their 2015 Undercover album.
  • Tim Buckley recorded an extended-length improvisational cover in 1968 that appears on the 2-CD set "Live at The Electric Theater Co. Chicago, 1968".
  • Bill Monroe performed a version that appears on the compilation album, Down for Double, released November 2018.


  1. ^ "Wiki Music Guide". Archived from the original on 2013-08-01. Retrieved 2009-08-16.
  2. ^ "Big River". Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  3. ^ "The SetList Program - Grateful Dead Setlists, Listener Experiences, and Statistics". Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  4. ^ "Secret Sisters cover". Retrieved 2011-01-28.