Johnny Cash/James Clem – Big River (Chords)

Johnny Cash – Big River (Chords)

I’ve been waiting ages for an excuse to do a Johnny Cash song that isn’t Folsom Prison or Ring of Fire. So James Clem covering one of my favourite Cash songs is all the excuse I need.

There are a few tricky moves in the chords. But you can simplify it by using F7 in the place of Ab and use the open shape of C7.

Suggested Strumming

A lot of left-hand muting in this one. Here’s a pattern you can use most of the way through:

d – d x x u d u

Which sounds like this (slow then fast):

Main Strum

For the Abs:

d u d u d –

Then this for the following chord:

d – x u d – x u d –

Intro Strum

Twiddly Bits

Big River Solo

The Johnny Cash version of the song has a nice, simple rockabilly solo in. Here’s my uked version of it.

Based on the intro riff:



Buy the Johnny Cash version.
My interview with James Clem

View Comments


  1. Ron Hale April 24th, 2013 12:53 am

    “I fell in to a burning ring of fire…” Can’t beat the classics, Al. That’s why they call ’em

    Anywhat… Perusing Wikepedia yields some interesting yields about the tune. To wit:

    “Some sources claim that [June} Carter had seen the phrase “Love is like a burning ring of fire,”
    underlined in one of her uncle A.P. Carter’s Elizabethan books of poetry. She worked with [Merle] Kilgore on writing a song inspired by this phrase as she had seen her uncle do in the past. She had written “There is no way to be in that kind of hell, no way to extinguish a flame that burns, burns, burns.”

    “Cash’s first wife, Vivian Liberto, offers a different conception of “Ring of Fire” in her book “I Walked the Line”. She contends that June Carter Cash was not a co-writer of the song.

    ” “To this day it confounds me to hear the elaborate details June wrote of writing that song
    for Johnny. She didn’t write that song any more than I did.

    “The truth is Johnny wrote that song, while piled up and drunk, about a certain private female body part. All those years of her claiming she wrote it herself, and she probably never knew what the song was really about.”

    “Liberto claims that Cash decided to give Carter co-writer status because “She needs the money.” ”

    Tut, tut, ladies…

    Time to stop slagging the song off, Al.

  2. Woodshed April 24th, 2013 6:42 pm

    Ron: Nothing there changes my opinion of the song.

  3. carreg April 25th, 2013 5:15 pm

    what about the muppets version?

  4. carreg April 25th, 2013 5:15 pm

    oh – and – thanks for the chords

  5. Woodshed April 26th, 2013 8:10 pm

    carreg: There’s a muppets version?

  6. Howlin' Hobbit May 18th, 2013 6:37 pm

    as I grow ever older, knowing that there are folks out there like Mr. Clem, proving that old dude rock, is a great comfort.

  7. RHO HEITZ November 27th, 2017 8:10 pm

    i’m brasilian.. i got love by uke 1 year ago… i made 3 singles with it instrument… this site had help me in ful time… tanks!!

  8. Woodshed November 28th, 2017 1:53 pm

    RHO HEITZ: Thanks very much! That’s fantastic!

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