A Boy Named Sue

[May 28, 2021]  In 1969, Johnny Cash’s song, “A Boy Named Sue,’ hit Number 1 on the country charts.  The song is about a young man’s quest for revenge on his father, who abandoned him and whose only contribution was to give him the feminine name Sue.  We teach our boys to be strong, independent, and honest.  How we do it matters a great deal.

“Tough times never last, but tough people do.” – Robert H. Schuller, televangelist, and author

Not surprisingly, in Johnny Cash’s song, the boy named Sue is ridiculed and harassed by everyone, forcing him to become callous and mean.  Ashamed of his name, he swears he will find and kill his father for giving him that “awful name.” Somehow, this story resonates with people, primarily men.  The song remains popular more than 50 years later.

Interestingly, the song was never meant for a widespread audience.1  Cash performed the song live at the infamous San Quentin State Prison.  The prisoners raved at the performance and gave Cash the first glimpse of the strong story being told.  Today, references to “A Boy Named Sue” in pop culture abound, and it is now one of the most-referenced county songs of all time.

There’s an old saying in the boxing world that you become a champion by fighting one more round in the ring.  Motivation – internal motivation – is what separates the good from the great.  Motivation to take that extra step means you have done just a little more than the guy next to you and, in doing so, makes you the winner.

Long ago, when I was an Infantry Company Commander, my unit was taking its semi-annual Physical Fitness Test.  This was important to show the chain of command how fit we were for any potential combat mission.  The location for the test was not flat.  My men chose sloping ground for their push-ups, making it easy for them to complete the event.  I told them to reverse themselves to make it harder.  My way demonstrated their fitness, not the easy way.

The world is a tough place.  We all have to be strong to survive.  The weak don’t make it.  I’ve learned that getting into good physical and mental shape is a personal choice – discipline matters.  If you sit in your basement playing video games, then you aren’t making the difficult choice of getting stronger.  You have chosen the path of weakness.

The song, “A Boy Named Sue,” became Johnny Cash’s most requested song.  He played it at the White House for President Nixon.  He played it on television.  I find this unrehearsed, throw-away song became popular, not surprising because it tells the meta-story of overcoming great obstacles.  Like the classical hero stories of old, it is about overcoming those odds to achieve victory.


A Boy Named Sue: The Surprising Story Behind the Johnny Cash Classic (wideopencountry.com)

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

19 thoughts on “A Boy Named Sue

  1. Eduardo Sanchez

    ‘A Boy Named Sue’ …. what a great song. I understand that Johnny Cash sang this song without practicing and without any real thought it might catch on. Must be one of those meta-stories that Gen. Satterfield occasionally writes about.

    1. Deplorable John

      Good to hear from you Eduardo. Yes, it is a meta story and you can find out more about them by listening to Dr. Jordan Peterson from the Univ of Toronto. Go to YouTube for more info on him.

  2. Drew Dill

    Great points by Gen. Satterfield and those who have posted here in this leadership forum. I would like to add that there is a trend in the West to dumb down our boys and girls. Resist doing this. You will only make them sad in the future when they figure out they were cheated and now have to make up the difference by working extra hard.

  3. Army Vet

    Gen. Satterfield, your example with your men taking the PT test is reassuring. You would not let them take a shortcut or allow them the easy way out. That builds upon the basic meaning of life. You must do what must be done, and that only will relieve you of the sins of your past.

    1. Mark Evans

      Hi Army Vet. We all miss you. You are my favorite guest writer for Gen. Satterfield. We all would like to read another update on your status. 😊

    2. Gil Johnson

      Yes, great comment and yes we miss your articles. Thanks for what you have done and now do for our country.

  4. McStompie

    Another spot-on blog post here by Gen. Satterfield. We should all be striving to strengthen our selves. Failure to do so, means we are going downhill and only hell is at that destination. Be strong. Be mentally and morally awake.

  5. Max Foster

    There is nothing wrong with strength and being more powerful. By doing so, you become full of responsibility to protect those around you. This is what makes us better and more moral in our standing. Like in the Bible -where Gen. Satterfield wrote about – that the ‘meek shall inherit the earth – it really means to be strong, with sword in one’s scabbard, ready to destroy evil.

    1. Martin Shiell

      Gaining and carrying out our responsibilities is what makes us most satisfied with our lives. Nothing is more important. Being a victim is how we become nothing.

  6. Joe the Aussie

    Cheers from Australia, gents. All is well here except that we are seeing a movement to emasculate young boys and men. Like the USA. How we resist is up to the road we take to strengthen ourselves.

  7. Plato

    There are many paths to strength of body and mind. We must each chose which one it will be and hope (with mentoring) that it is the right one for us.

    1. old warrior

      Agreed! There are, however, many who would lead us astray from the right path. Some go the route of religion, others toward scientific nihilism. But what matters is that we do those things that best support our families and our communities. Otherwise we are adrift and we will get our butt kicked.

      1. Mr. T.J. Asper

        He He, you are just too good for us ‘old warrior.’ All the best to you and please keep reading these forums and making comments like this one. 😊

    2. Willie Shrumburger

      Right and sadly, we are now being encouraged to take the wrong path. The path to weakness and tribalism is wrong wrong wrong. Even I, am not too smart, can see it.

  8. Roger Yellowmule

    When Johnny Cash came out with this song, I bought the record. Just the other day while driving it came on one of my favorite music stations out of Nashville, TN. It brought me back 50+ years. Great song. Thanks for allowing me a moment to remember those good times.

    1. Dead Pool Guy

      Well said, Roger. One of the most popular country songs and most recognizable.


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