Johnny 99

03:13
Rich Chambers
Words and Music: Bruce Springsteen

Story

I've always been a huge Springsteen fan, and from the very first time I heard this song, I couldn't help but think how cool it would sound done by an entire band.  But I was careful to keep it as "stripped down" as possible; hence, the instrumentation is simply bass, rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar, solo guitar, drums, and one vocal.  This was the first song from the album to be completed.  It was initially going to be part of a heavier rock album but then I started to record "Plastic Love" and somehow "Johnny 99" just seemed to fall in with "Plastic Love's" country tone and the entire album sprung from there.

Lyrics

 

Well they closed down the auto plant in Mahwah late last month
Ralph went out lookin' for a job but he couldn't find none
He came home too drunk from mixin'
Tanqueray and wine
He got a gun shot a night clerk now they call him Johnny 99
 
Down in the part of town where you hit a red light you don't stop
Johnny's wavin' his gun around and threatenin' to blow his top
When an off duty cop snuck up on him from behind
Out in front of the Club Tip Top they slapped the cuffs on Johnny 99
 
Well the city supplied a public defender but the judge was Mean John Brown
He came into the courtroom and stared poor Johnny down
Well the evidence is clear gonna let the sentence son fit the crime
Prison for 98 and a year and we'll call it even Johnny 99
 
A fistfight broke out in the courtroom they had to drag Johnny's girl away
His mama stood up and shouted "judge don't take my boy this way"
Well son you got a statement you'd like to make
Before the bailiff comes to forever take you away
 
Now judge judge I got debts no honest man could pay
The bank was holdin' my mortgage and they was takin' my house away
Now I ain't sayin' that makes me an innocent man
But it was more than this that put that gun in my hand
 
Well your honour I do believe I'd be better off dead
And if you can take a man's life for the thoughts that's in his head
Then won't you sit back in that chair and think it over judge one more time
And let 'em shave off my hair and put me on that execution line