Well they closed down the auto plant in Mahwah late that month
Ralph went out looking for a job but he couldn't find none
He came home too drunk from mixing Tanqueray and wine
He got a gun, shot a night clerk, now they call him Johnny 99
Down in the part of town where when you hit a red light you don't stop
Johnny's waving his gun around and threatening 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 poor 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 fistfight 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 any statement you'd like to make
Before the bailiff comes to forever take you away
Now judge, judge, I got debts no honest man could pay
The bank was holding my mortgage, they taking my house away
Now I ain't saying that makes me an innocent man
But it was more and all this that put that gun in my hand
Well your honor 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
Then won't you 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 execution line
Page last updated: 25 May 2014
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Music and lyrics by Bruce Springsteen, JOHNNY 99 is the fourth track on his
1982 solo album Nebraska.
"The auto plant in Mahwah" is a reference to a Ford Motor Company plant in
Mahwah, NJ, that opened in 1955 and closed in 1980. "Tanqueray" is a brand of gin that originated
in England and is now produced in Scotland. Its largest market is North America where it is the
highest selling gin import.
Though never released as a single anywhere, JOHNNY 99 garnered enough album
oriented rock airplay to reach #50 on the U.S. Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.
Following The River Tour, Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band were
supposed to start recording the next album in New York City in February 1982. Bruce decided to
record multi-channel, professional sounding, finished demos of some songs he had written during
the period. He felt the upcoming band sessions would progress faster than they had for his
previous three albums if he records these finished demos and demonstrates them to The E Street
To achieve his goal, in December 1981, he asks his guitar technician, Mike
Batlan, to set up a no frills "porta-studio" in a spare room of his home in Colts Neck, NJ. Some
modification work was done to the room making it more receptive to achieving a decent sound.
Batlan purchased a Teac Tascom Series 144 4-track cassette recorder, two SM57's microphones, and
two microphone stands. The sound was mixed through an old Gibson Echoplex, and an old Panasonic
boom box acted as the mix-down deck.
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Springsteen recorded during the first few days of January, with most of the
songs cut in one all day/night session on 03 Jan 1982. There were 15 songs recorded on tape, and
some of them were recorded 2 or 3 times in slightly different arrangements. The tape was never
conceived to result in a commercially released album, as the songs were recorded by the E Street
Band with multi-instrument arrangements, during what's known as the "Electric Nebraska Session".
However two or three months later, Springsteen recorded two additional songs
(MY FATHER'S HOUSE and
THE BIG PAYBACK) at home on the same equipment – thus making
a total of 17 different songs.
Most of the E Street Band arrangements of these songs were discarded and the
original solo demos from the tape were released on the Nebraska album. Max Weinberg
revealed to Rolling Stone in June 2010 that the recording of the "Electric Nebraska
Session" does exist. He said that "the E Street Band actually did record all of Nebraska
and it was killing [...] It was all very hard-edged. As great as it was, it wasn't what Bruce
wanted to release. There is a full band Nebraska album, all of those songs are in the can
Nebraska was released on Columbia Records on 20 Sep 1982. It was
produced by Bruce Springsteen.
[Click thumbnail to enlarge/reduce artwork]
The album features 10 new Springsteen compositions and clocks at 40:50.
Nebraska track list:
- ATLANTIC CITY
- MANSION ON THE HILL
- JOHNNY 99
- HIGHWAY PATROLMAN
- STATE TROOPER
- USED CARS
- OPEN ALL NIGHT
- MY FATHER'S HOUSE
- REASON TO BELIEVE
Other Official Releases
JOHNNY 99 can also be found on two Bruce Springsteen promo-only samplers.
Bruce Springsteen -- The Future Of Rock'n'Roll / 70's To 80's
2-CD – CBS/Sony (XADP 90009~10) – Japan, 1988
Japan-only promotional 2-CD set sampler compiling 28 tracks from Springsteen's first nine albums
plus two 1988 live B-sides.
Bruce Springsteen -- Bruce Springsteen Sampler
CD – Columbia (CDNK 677) – Canada, 1992
Canada-only promotional CD sampler compiling 10 tracks from Springsteen's albums up to 1987,
plus the 1988 acoustic live version of BORN TO RUN. Comes in a plain white die-cut cardboard
Other versions of JOHNNY 99 were also officially released:
The live 19 Aug 1985 version of JOHNNY 99 was officially released on the Live/1975-85 box set in 1986.
The live 18 Nov 2006 version of JOHNNY 99 was officially released on the Bruce Springsteen With The Sessions Band PBS Exclusive EP in 2007.
The live 28 Jun 2009 version of JOHNNY 99 was officially released on the London Calling: Live In Hyde Park home video in 2010.
List of available versions of JOHNNY 99 on this website: