The Sons of Katie Elder (song)

"The Sons of Katie Elder"
Single by Johnny Cash
from the album The Sons of Katie Elder (Music from the Score of the Paramount Picture) and Old Golden Throat
A-side "The Sons of Katie Elder"
"A Certain Kinda Hurtin'"
Released July 1965 (1965-07)
Genre country
Label Columbia 4-43342
Composer(s) Elmer Bernstein
Lyricist(s) Ernie Sheldon
Producer(s) Don Law[1]
"The Sons of Katie Elder" on YouTube

"The Sons of Katie Elder" is the theme song for the 1965 Paramount western of the same name starring John Wayne.[2] It was written by Ernie Sheldon (words) and Elmer Bernstein (music).[3]

The song, as recorded by Johnny Cash, wasn't used in the actual film, but appeared on its soundtrack LP.[4][5] Released as a single by Columbia Records (Columbia 4-43342, with "A Certain Kinda Hurtin'" on the opposite side),[6][7] in July 1965,[8] the song became a U.S. country top-10 hit.[9][10][4]


According to the book Johnny Cash FAQ: All That's Left to Know About the Man in Black, the song used "virtually the same music and arrangement" as a song titled "Thunderball" that Johnny Cash had recorded as a potential title song for the James Bond movie of the same name during the sessions for the double album Johnny Cash Sings the Ballads of the True West. Cash's version of the song was rejected in favor of Tom Jones' one,[10] and

A month later, Cash went back into the studio and, using virtually the same music and arrangement as he had on the unreleased Bond track, recorded the theme for the John Wayne movie The Sons of Katie Elder. This time, the song was a much better fit for the film, and the producers agreed.

Cash and his band might have used the same instrumental track just so as not to let a good arrangement go to waste. Or it might have been because Cash was in no shape to be creative.[10]

The book The Man in Song: A Discographic Biography of Johnny Cash tells a slightly different story:

An additional track recorded during the sessions for Ballads of the True West was "The Sons of Katie Elder," a song that was recorded for the John Wayne movie of the same name, and which appears on the soundtrack album of the Paramount motion picture, but was not included in the actual movie soundtrack. It tells the story of four brothers who were raised by the gun by their mother, Katie Elder. It's a warning to avoid the outlaw lifestyle and "to not live by a gun, and to not live like the sons of Katie Elder." Cash turns in a highly believable performance on a song that was released as a single and made it to number 10 on the country chart in 1965.[4]

Track listing



Cash recorded the song on June 11, 1965, at the Columbia Studio in Nashville, Tessessee.[14]

  • Johnny Cash – vocals, guitar
  • The Statler Brothers: Lew DeWitt, Don Reid, Harold Reid, Phil Balsley, Carter Family: Maybelle, Anita, Helen, June – vocal harmonies
  • Luther Perkins – electric guitar
  • Marshall Grant – bass guitar
  • W.S. 'Fluke' Holland – drums
  • Unknown (possibly Karl Garvin), unknown (possibly William McElhiney) – trumpet[14]


  1. ^ "Johnny Cash - The Sons Of Katie Elder (1965, Vinyl)". Discogs. Retrieved 2020-05-07.
  2. ^ Nielsen Business Media, Inc. (28 August 1965). Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. pp. 36–. ISSN 0006-2510. "Johnny Cash - The Sons Of Katie Elder | Releases". Discogs. Retrieved 2020-05-07. Lukas Kendall (1994). Film Score Monthly. Lukas Kendall. Johnny Cash (2004). Johnny Cash, the Songs. Thunder's Mouth Press. ISBN 9781560256298. Leigh H. Edwards (6 February 2009). Johnny Cash and the paradox of American identity. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-22061-5. Don Cusic (29 July 2011). The Cowboy in Country Music: An Historical Survey with Artist Profiles. McFarland. pp. 149–. ISBN 978-0-7864-8605-2.
  3. ^ Dick Jacobs (1988). Who wrote that song?. Betterway Publications. ISBN 978-1-55870-100-7.
  4. ^ a b c John M. Alexander (16 April 2018). The Man in Song: A Discographic Biography of Johnny Cash. University of Arkansas Press. pp. 73–. ISBN 978-1-61075-628-0.
  5. ^ The Johnny Cash Record Catalog. Greenwood Publishing Group. 1994. pp. 68–. ISBN 978-0-313-29506-5.
  6. ^ Steve Turner (2005-10-30). The Man Called CASH: The Life, Love and Faith of an American Legend. Thomas Nelson. pp. 246–. ISBN 978-1-4185-7809-1.
    Nielsen Business Media, Inc. (23 May 1970). Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. pp. 1–. ISSN 0006-2510.
    Standard Catalog of American Records, 1950-1975. Krause Publications. 2000. ISBN 978-0-87341-934-5.
    Country Music Special. G. J. Greenwood. 1965.
    Tim Neely (31 August 2006). Goldmine Standard Catalog of American Records: 1950-1975. Krause Publications. ISBN 9780896893078.
    The Johnny Cash Record Catalog. Greenwood Publishing Group. 1994. p. 8. ISBN 978-0-313-29506-5.
  7. ^ George Albert (1984-01-01). The Cash Box Country Singles Charts, 1958-1982. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-1685-5.
  8. ^ Peter Lewry (2001). I've Been Everywhere: A Johnny Cash Chronicle. Helter Skelter. pp. 49–50. ISBN 978-1-900924-22-1.
    "The Sons Of Katie Elder"/"A Certain Kinda Hurtin'" (Columbia 4-43342) released.
    4 September
    β€œThe Sons Of Katie Elder” enters the chart at #50 and during its chart run will reach #10.
  9. ^ a b Joel Whitburn (2002). Top Country Singles, 1944 to 2001: Chart Data Compiled from Billboard's Country Singles Charts, 1944-2001. Record Research. ISBN 978-0-89820-151-2.
    Joel Whitburn (2005). Joel Whitburn's Top Country Songs: 1944-2005, Billboard. Record Research. ISBN 978-0-89820-165-9.
  10. ^ a b c C. Eric Banister (1 August 2014). Johnny Cash FAQ: All That's Left to Know About the Man in Black. Backbeat. pp. 89–. ISBN 978-1-61713-609-2.
  11. ^ "Johnny Cash Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved 2020-05-07.
  12. ^ "Johnny Cash Chart History (Bubbling Under Hot 100)". Billboard.
  13. ^ Joel Whitburn (1998). Joel Whitburn's Bubbling Under Singles & Albums. Record Research. ISBN 978-0-89820-128-4.
  14. ^ a b Alice Y. Holtin (1 January 1997). The Statler Brothers Discography. Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0-313-29663-5.

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