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'I've Been Everywhere' Turns 2 Hours Into 50 Years Of Pay

The song "I've Been Everywhere" was a hit for a string of country stars: Hank Snow in 1962, later Lynn Anderson, then Asleep at the Wheel and Johnny Cash. An all-American classic, right? Think again.

It was actually an Australian who, 50 years ago, wrote the song while trying to come up with a new opener for his act.

"At that time, 1959 it was, there were a lot of tasteless rock numbers on the radio, and I thought, aw crikey, I should write one," Geoff Mack says.

He was in a van, looking at the road maps, and noticed that a lot of the towns' names rhymed. A song was born.

"So I came back to Sydney, and I did it around the club for a while, and that's all it was,' he says. "I never thought anybody would be the least bit interested in it."

Then one night, he heard Leslie "Lucky Star" Morrison singing his song on the radio.

"I couldn't believe it. And it was No. 1 on the Top 40 for 15 weeks," he says.

Festival Records asked him to write other versions, with town names in America, New Zealand and England.

"The English one was easy because I could almost do that without an atlas. The American one, I needed an atlas and a magnifying glass," he says. "Two hours work, and I'm still living on it 50 years later. How lucky can you get?"

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This song was a hit for a string of country stars - for Hank Snow in 1962, later Lynn Anderson, then Asleep at the Wheel, then Johnny Cash.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'VE BEEN EVERYWHERE")

JOHNNY CASH: (Singing) I've been everywhere, man, I've been everywhere...

MARTIN: An all-American classic, right? Well, think again.

GEOFF MACK: Hello. I'm Geoff Mack. My main claim to fame was the writing of "I've Been Everywhere."

MARTIN: More than 50 years ago, it was an Australian who was sitting in his van trying to come up for a new opener for his act, as we learn in this What's In a Song?

MACK: At that time, 1959 it was, there were a lot of tasteless rock numbers on the radio. And I thought, oh, craggy. I should write one. And then I'm seeing all these road maps in the front of the car. And I thought, you know, a lot of these towns rhyme. And I'm thinking (singing). Mostly aboriginal.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'VE BEEN EVERYWHERE")

MACK: (Singing) (unintelligible) What's the matter? I've been...

So, I came back to Sydney and I did it around the club for a while. And that's all there was, that's - I never thought anybody would be the least bit interested with it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'VE BEEN EVERYWHERE")

MACK: (Singing) (unintelligible)...

We were up in Millmerran, in Queensland one night. One of the wives, she said come listen to this. And it was Lucky Starr on the radio singing:

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'VE BEEN EVERYWHERE")

LUCKY STARR: (Singing) I've been everywhere, man, crossed the desert bare, man. I've breathed the mountain air, man. Of travel, I've had my share, man. I've been everywhere.

MACK: I couldn't believe it. And it was number one on the Top 40 for 15 weeks.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'VE BEEN EVERYWHERE")

STARR: (Singing) (unintelligible) I'm the fella who's been everywhere, man, I've been everywhere, man...

MACK: And then Festival Records suggested that I write some other versions - American, New Zealand and English. The English one was easy 'cause I almost do that without an atlas. The American one, I needed an atlas and a magnifying glass to look for town to drawn on. So, there I am with a magnifying glass looking over Reno.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'VE BEEN EVERYWHERE")

CASH: (Singing) And a Reno, Chicago...

MACK: Chicago, and looking for all the Os.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'VE BEEN EVERYWHERE")

CASH: (Singing) Ottawa, Oklahoma, Tampa, Panama, Mattawa, La Paloma, Bangor, Baltimore, Salvador, Amarillo, Tocopilla, Barranquilla and Padilla. I've been everywhere, man...

MACK: Two hours work, but I'm still doing it over 50 years later. How lucky can you get?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'VE BEEN EVERYWHERE")

MACK: (Singing) ramble, I've done my share, man...

CASH: (Singing) I've been everywhere..,

MARTIN: What's in a Song is produced by Hal Cannon and Taki Telonidis of the Western Folklife Center with support from the George S. and Delores Dore Eccles Foundation. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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