Bruce Springsteen lyrics -- Bruce Springsteen shows -- Bruce Springsteen records

Song title: Johnny 99


Johnny 99 - Album version

Well they closed down the auto plant in Mahwah late that 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’m Johnny 99

Down in the part of town where when 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 young 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 fist fight 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 I had debts no honest man could pay
The bank was holdin’ my mortgage and they were gonna take my house away
Now I ain’t sayin’ that makes me an innocent man
But it was more `n all this that put that gun in my hand

Well your honor I do believe I’d be better off dead
So if you can take a man’s life for the thoughts that’s in his head
Then 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 killin’ line


Johnny 99 - Early demo 1

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

It was down in the part of town where women in a car won't stop
He was stumbling down the street ??? threatenin' to blow his top
They found him standing at the bar, drunk ??? and crying
They slapped the handcuffs there on Johnny 99

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 buddy fit the crime
Prison for 98 and a year and we'll call it even Johnny 99"

Well Johnny, Johnny, we're ready to put you away
Is there anything son that you want to say?
From here on after we can only hear you buddy when you shout
You're going deep down deep in some hole and you ain't ever gonna come back out

Now your honour I got bills I just could not pay
The bank was gonna come and take my house away
Now Judge I ain't sayin' that makes me an innocent man
But it was more `n all this that put that gun in my hand

Now 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
You best sit back in that chair and think it over just one more time
Let the executioner do his job on Johnny 99

Its only $200 that was all I was asking for
Judge, just $200 and I would have been on my way out the door
He reached beneath the counter and I saw something shiny in his hand
He started... he spewed blood like a fountain and I dropped my gun and run

Now 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
Now I ain't sayin' Sir

Notes: Interesting early try to assamble the lyrics of the the song.


Johnny 99 - Early demo 2

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 at a red light mister you don't stop
He was wavin' his gun around, screamin' he was gonna blow his top
When an off-duty cop snuck up on Johnny from behind
Out in front of the Club Tip Top...Tip Top Club they slapped the cuffs on Johnny 99

The city supplied a public defender but the judge was Mean John Brown
He walked into the courtroom and stared poor Johnny down
Well the evidence is clear gonna let the sentence son fit the crime
Gonna be dead in the chair we'll call it even Johnny 99

A fight broke out in the courtroom they had to drag Johnny's dad away
His mama stood up and shouted "Judge don't take my boy this way"
"Well I'm sorry Ma'am but the law must be satisfied
At your son's muderin' hands, an honest man died"

"Is there anything son you want to say
Before the bailiff comes and takes you away"
Judge I worked the ??? Line since I was 18
The bank held my mortgage and they were coming down hard on me
Now I ain't sayin that makes me an innocent man
There 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 running in his head
I want to thank you judge for making me, makeing me a dead man
I shot that corn boy, I shot him judge and then I ran

Notes: Early acoustic working take


Johnny 99 - 'Pre-nebraska' tape verse

"Well I'm heading for that mansion on the hill I'm a thirsty man, gonna get my fill I don't care what you say, Mr. Smith or Mr. Brown Step in my way and I'll shoot you down Until the day that you understand It was more 'n all this that put that gun in my hand"

Notes: This verse is contained in a snipped of the song in the so-called pre-nebraska tape.


Statistics from the KILLING FLOOR (www.brucespringsteen.it) database


Published on the following official releases:

First known live performance: 29/06/1984 Civic Center, Saint Paul,MN ,USA
Last known live performance: 25/02/2017 Mt. Smart Stadium, Auckland ,New Zealand

Song 'history':


Published on the solo album NEBRASKA, in 1982
Recorded during the BITUSA sessions (late 1982-mid 1984), but then not included on the album.
Largely (121 times) played during the Born in the U.S.A. tour
The song (in live version) was then included in the 'LIVE 1975-85' box set
Often played during the Ghost of Tom Joad tour (77 times)
Two only renderings for this song in the Rising tour (01/10/2003 Shea Stadium, New York,NY ,USA and 04/10/2003 Shea Stadium, New York,NY ,USA)
Played during the Vote For Change tour, in October 2004.
Played during the rehearsals for the Devils and dust Tour, in Mar/Apr 2005.
Played during the Devils and Dust tour (17 times)
Played during the rehearsals for the We shall overcome / The Seeger session tour, in Mar/Apr 2006.
A discrete number of performances (27) was given during the The Seeger Session tour
Perfomed in a large number of shows (65) of the Working on a Dream tour
35 perfomances were given during the Wrecking Ball tour
Scarcely used during the High Hopes tour, with less than a dozen inclusions
Not much used during the 2016 The River tour, deserving only less than a dozen renderings
Performed 5 times during the 2017 Summer tour

The song was also played in informal happenings or off-tour appearances
Data from the www.brucespringsteen.it database