Even though it’s generally considered to be a Jimmie Rodgers Depression-era song, you would probably have to visit a vaudeville house even earlier than that to find the true roots of “In The Jailhouse Now.” The first written trace is a 1915 copyright for the team of Davis and Stafford, but it was often performed in stage shows in those days, albeit under a couple of different titles and with varying lyrics. But one thing was a constant — it’s always been the story of a rascal, usually a guy named Ramblin’ Bob.
Early performers like Bessie Smith sang an almost identical song titled “Jail House Blues,” but it was the legendary troubadour Rodgers’ 1928 record that made the biggest impression with the public. He later recorded a very similar-sounding version but with differing lyrics — including changing Bob to a guy named Campbell — but his first try became the standard.
Like a lot of early folk-blues songs, it became more closely identified with country music through the years, and has been performed by a countless number of artists, including everybody from Johnny Cash to Merle Haggard. The song was given new life in 2000 by being featured in the film, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, with a very good lead vocal by actor Tim Blake Nelson. (Reprised in the video below.)