I’ve Been Everywhere
By Mike Steely
Several songs can flash you back to an earlier memory and there’s a song on a current television commercial for the U.S. Postal Service that takes me back to my birth town and childhood.
“I’ve Been Everywhere,” recorded by Johnny Cash and many other artists, lists dozens of locations around our nation. As I’ve mentioned before, my wife and I have been to every state in the nation except for Alaska and that state remains on our bucket list. Those state visits included camping and venturing here and there and even stepping off an Amtrak train onto the ground of a state we didn’t otherwise visit.
I was surprised to learn that the song wasn’t an American tune originally but came from Australia. It was written and first performed by Australian entertainer Geoff Mack in 1959, and dotted some 90 places on the Aussie map in its rapid-fire lyrics. Opening with the line, “I was humpin’ my bluey,” which is basically Australian slang for carrying a sleeping bag, the tune first became a hit for another Australian pop-rock artist, Lucky Starr, in 1962.
Various American artists swapped out the Australian place names for several U.S. locations. Most of us probably remember the Cash version but the tune was also sung by Hank Snow, Tom Petty and many others. The place names are often changed to reflect the city or county where the performer is entertaining. It’s been a traveling song for many singers on tour and a hit with audiences in live performances.
The Cash version is ideal for the promotion of the U.S. Postal Service with footage of a delivery truck passing various locations, rural and city, with various drivers and postal employees. Unfortunately, the thirty-second commercial only has time for the chorus and not the locations mentioned within the tune.
I remember recording the Cash version as a teenager, saving it on a tiny reel to reel recorder. There was a local radio station contest that asked who could name all the locations mentioned and I wrote the places down and sent it into the contest. I won and, by mail, received a dozen or so 45 rpm records that included that song and many other tunes like “Running Bear” and “Wolverton Mountain.”
While the post office commercial resurfaced that memory, there’s another reason I was interested in the tune and it had even more importance to me. Inside the song and the large number of places named is “Jellico,” my birthplace and historic family home. I recently noticed after searching the song on the internet that my wife’s childhood home, “Devils Lake,” is also mentioned as well as “Knoxville.”
If you go to the internet and type “Johnny Cash has been everywhere, man” you’ll bring up the song and a national map with an image of Cash pinned to each location mentioned.
My birthplace town is mentioned in several other tunes. For a small town of about 2,500, Jellico was once prosperous and the home of about as many beer taverns as churches. Most of the taverns had a stage and many, many artists have performed there over the years.
But it’s surprising to hear Johnny Cash’s version of the song now become a theme of the U.S. Postal Service. You might try and Google the tune’s lyrics to see if one of your towns is mentioned.