23: Green, Green Grass of Home

23: Green, Green Grass of Home

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Country Music

Green, Green Grass of Home

Story by Curly Putman

Song written by Curly Putman

Recorded by Tom Jones, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and others

I grew up on a mountain in northern Alabama and left there after high school. In the 1960s, I was working as a shoe salesman. I worked at several Thom McAn stores around the South, in Memphis and Huntsville, but I came to Nashville every chance I could to be close to the music business. We had grown up around music and I played guitar and tried to write songs every now and then. Somehow I decided that I might be able to make a living from music.

One day I got a chance to meet Buddy Killen, who was the founder of Tree Publishing. He gave me a job as a song plugger, listening to tapes from new writers and pitching them to the singers. So I moved to Nashville. This was in 1964, and I remember seeing the movie The Asphalt Jungle, with Sterling Hayden as the lead. He was a country boy just trying to get back to the South. He was a bank robber, but he wasn’t really a bad guy; he was the kind of bank robber that you liked. He’d been in jail and then got involved with some bad folks and they robbed a bank and the law was after him. He got within view of his old country home up on a hill, and they caught up with him and killed him. That movie stayed with me for a while. That was the seed, I guess you could call it, for “Green, Green Grass of Home.”

I had an office in the Tree building on Music Row, so I went in one day and started thinking about that movie and I started to write the song. It only took a couple of hours to finish it, so it must have been meant to happen. Even in 1964, though, some people thought it sounded dated, like a song that Webb Pierce or Hank Snow might have done 10 or 20 years before that. But once it got recorded the first time, it took off like crazy. So that goes to show you that the music business folks don’t always know what people are going to like.

Kelso Herston was a guitar player from Alabama who was living in Nashville. He produced the first record on the song. It was recorded by a fellow named Johnny Darrell, who was running the Holiday Inn over on West End Avenue. Kelso produced Johnny’s record for United Artists, and it did okay, but it really took off later. Porter Wagoner covered it and then Jerry Lee Lewis covered it. Then Tom Jones heard Jerry Lee’s version and he loved it. A lot of the British singers loved the Memphis rock and roll music. They loved Elvis and Jerry Lee and Carl Perkins. The Beatles were influenced by them, too. So Tom Jones cut it and it went to #1 in the UK and all around the world after that. Tom Jones’ version has probably been the biggest yet, in terms of royalties and airplay. It’s paid for a lot of dresses and purses for my wife over the years. But since then, it’s been cut over and over and over by everyone from Johnny Cash to Elvis to Joan Baez. Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors) even did it on his television show.

When Porter did his version, we added the recitation at the end. Porter always loved doing recitations and nearly everyone who cut it after that kept that. I’ve always loved recitations, too. I think it can really make a song memorable if it’s done right, like George (Jones) did with “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”

Sometimes people ask me what the man in the song was in jail for. You know, mothers who have sons and girlfriends who have boyfriends they haven’t seen for a while — they’re always going to defend them. They’ll stand up for them no matter what. So I don’t think he was in there for doing something too terrible. Maybe he just had some bad luck or had been in the wrong place at the wrong time or done something by accident. That was always the thought in my mind when I wrote it but I never really said so in the song.

That was only the second song I ever had recorded and it’s been my biggest hit. I had a song recorded by Charlie Walker before that while I was still living in Alabama. Then I wrote “Green, Green Grass” about three or four months after I moved to Nashville. I was really lucky to have written a song like that so soon after coming here. I’ve been with Sony/Tree for 45 years now. I either didn’t have the sense to move on, or maybe “Green, Green Grass of Home” welded me to a spot there, I’m not sure.

Someone at Sony/Tree told me recently that they had done some research on it and found out that it’s been recorded by over 700 different artists in every major language in the world. There have even been a couple of TV movie scripts based on it. It’s made a lot of money in Japan, too. I don’t think they sing it in Japanese. I think they just learn it phonetically and sing it in English. A lot of bar bands play it, too. Maybe it makes a lot of money from the karaoke machines or something.

It’s still pretty staggering to me what it’s done. I’ve never had any formal music training, so it’s pretty amazing that a simple country kid from the hills in Alabama could have done something that’s had such an impact on so many people’s lives.

Green, Green Grass of Home

The old hometown looks the same as I step down from the train,

and there to meet me is my Mama and Papa.

Down the road I look and there runs Mary hair of gold and lips like cherries.

It’s good to touch the green, green grass of home.

Yes, they’ll all come to meet me, arms reaching, smiling sweetly.

It’s good to touch the green, green grass of home.

The old house is still standing though the paint is cracked and dry,

and there’s that old oak tree I used to play on.

Down the lane I walk with my sweet Mary, hair of gold and lips like cherries.

It’s good to touch the green, green grass of home.

(spoken)

Then I awake and look around me, at four grey walls that surround me

and I realize that I was only dreaming.

For there’s a guard and there’s a sad old padre

arm in arm we’ll walk at daybreak.

Then I’ll touch the green, green grass of home.

Yes, they’ll all come to see me in the shade of that old oak tree as they lay me ’neath the green, green grass of home.

To purchase the original demo of this song,
go to www.countrysongdemos.com

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