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

Published on Nebraska, and the above lyrics refer to that album's version. Two early demos are also available: early demo1 and early demo2.

Played heavily during the Born In The USA and The Ghost Of Tom Joad tours. Also appeared during The Rising, Vote For Change, and Devils & Dust tours.

The song was reported to be rehearsed by Bruce with his Seeger Sessions Band on 20 Mar and 06 and 07 Apr 2006 at the Paramount Theater, Asbury Park, NJ, and on 12 Apr 2006 at the Convention Hall, Asbury Park, NJ. Some comments from the people who listened to the rehearsals:

  • "A New Orleans style. Someone said it reminded them of the Neville Brothers." [20 Mar]
  • "Bruce had worked up a smoking rock and roll version of Johnny 99 with full horns." [20 Mar]
  • "A "funky" version. A different style then we've ever heard the song before. There's a trumpet and trombone solo at the end. Bruce had a lot of fun with this." [06 Apr]
  • "Bruce has a high-pitched voice on the lyrics toward the end of the song." [07 Apr]

Played during all 4 public rehearsal shows for The Seeger Sessions tour -- 20, 24, 25, and 26 Apr 2006 at the Convention Hall, Asbury Park, NJ.

The song was also played on 30 Apr 2006 at New Orleans Fair Grounds, New Orleans, LA, when Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band closed the first weekend of the New Orelans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Included on the Live/1975-85 collection. Appeared on singles in a live version (one of them is the Live Collection II) in 1987 with BORN TO RUN (19 Aug 1985), SPIRIT IN THE NIGHT (07 Jul 1978), SEEDS (30 Sep 1985), WORKING ON THE HIGHWAY (19 Aug 1985), I'M ON FIRE (19 Aug 1985), BOBBY JEAN (21 Aug 1985), and BECAUSE THE NIGHT (28 Dec 1980).

A cover by John Hiatt was included on One Step Up / Two Steps Back: The Songs Of Bruce Springsteen and a cover by Los Lobos was included on Badlands: A Tribute To Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska.

Liner notes from the One Step Up / Two Steps Back: The Songs Of Bruce Springsteen tribute booklet:

This song has it all... crime, punishment, drama, mama and one way ticket to hell.

-John Hiatt