Johnny Cash and the Many Versions of “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”
Johnny Cash recorded the traditional folk song “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” during his final years while working with Rick Rubin at American Recordings. The song appeared on American V: A Hundred Highways (2006), which came out after Cash’s death. In the song, the narrator warns that one cannot escape God: “Go tell that long tongue liar / Go and tell that midnight rider / Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter / Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut ’em down.”
Although Cash fans may be most familiar with the song because of his recording, “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” has been recorded by a number of artists, with some using the title “Run On.” The shorter title comes from the lyrics of the song: “You can run on for a long time . . . Sooner or later God’ll cut you down.”
As Cash and Rubin did with other songs, their version of “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”/”Run On” sounds quite different from other versions. Compare Cash’s song to this version of “Run On” from another artist who started with Sun Records, Elvis Presley.
The Blind Boys of Alabama recorded a version of “Run On” that appeared on Spirit Of The Century (2001).
The various versions differ substantially, so it may be difficult to choose a favorite, although for those of us introduced to the song in Johnny Cash’s voice after he had died, his version remains the haunting song we most remember.
What is your favorite version of “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”?