"He takes a $1.98 tape into Folsom Prison and comes out with an album."
October 23, 2009 9:56 AM   Subscribe

"Hello, I'm Johnny Cash." On January 13, 1968, Johnny Cash played two concerts at Folsom State Prison with June Carter, Carl Perkins, the Statler Brothers, and his band, the Tennessee Three. At Folsom Prison, drawn mainly from the first show, is often ranked as one of the best albums of all time and turned Cash's career around. Reporter Gene Beley covered the concert and recorded some songs from the audience.

Cash closed both shows with "Greystone Chapel," written by Folsom inmate Glen Sherley. Cash heard the song for the first time the night before the concerts, and acknowledged Sherley during the shows.

Cash had been playing in prisons since the late 1950s; Merle Haggard saw several of his concerts from the audience at San Quentin. The 1968 concerts were the second time Cash had played at Folsom. He'd done a show there in November 1966. Reverend Floyd Gressett arranged the 1966 concert and gave Cash the tape of "Greystone Chapel" in 1968.

The 1951 movie Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison inspired Cash to write his 1955 single "Folsom Prison Blues" when he was serving in Germany in the US Air Force. The song's melody and lyrics are very similar to Gordon Jenkins' "Crescent City."

Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison [trailer] is a 2008 documentary about the concerts. (It apparently doesn't include concert footage.)

In 1969 Cash recorded At San Quentin, which included the hit single "A Boy Named Sue." In 1973 he recorded På Österåker at Sweden's Österåker Prison.

Cash's prison albums started a trend that included B.B. King's Live in Cook County Jail and Live at San Quentin, John Lee Hooker's Live At Soledad Prison, Little Milton's Live at Westville Prison and the Sex Pistols' Live at Chelmsford Top Security Prison, Thom Chacon's Live at Folsom Prison, Tracy Nelson's Live from Cell Block D, and Charles Manson's Live from San Quentin [AKA White Rasta]. Freddy Fender's Recorded Inside Louisiana State Prison is a fake live-in-prison album. "If it is a prison recording, then where, praytell, are the prisoners?" AMG

Men singing at women's prisons was a trend-within-a-trend, with The Moments' Live at the New York State Women's Prison, Sonny George's Live At The Tennessee Prison For Women, Mack Vickery's Live At The Alabama Women's Prison. Leona Williams reversed the gender roles with her San Quentin's First Lady (with Merle Haggard, who'd done time there).

At the time of Cash's concert, Folsom was a model prison. "Administrators came from New York and Texas to find out how Folsom kept its violence so low and its inmates from coming back." It's much worse now.
posted by kirkaracha (22 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
Uh oh. MeFi link to gnarly old HTML. Must...fix...quickly...
posted by waldo at 10:18 AM on October 23, 2009

this is one hell of an fpp. thank you very very much.
posted by shmegegge at 10:35 AM on October 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Drat. I was hoping the "Gene Tapes" would reveal the real discrepancy between the amount of cheering that went on after the "...I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die" line in real life as compared to the cheering that is said to have been edited in to the released album version.
posted by JBennett at 10:47 AM on October 23, 2009

Phew. I think I've gotten our little corner of the internet all cleaned up and ready for visitors. It even validates! :)

Thanks for putting all of this together (and for the link, of course)—I'm a big Cash fan, I really got a kick out of our 2005 article about "Folsom Prison," and I thought I was pretty familiar with the Folsom concert. But after reading through some of these links, it turns out I didn't know much at all.
posted by waldo at 10:48 AM on October 23, 2009

Johnny Cash is awesome. Love the post!! Great links.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:54 AM on October 23, 2009

The Live at Folsom and San Quentin double album is the first Cash record I ever bought. It's still my favourite.
posted by permafrost at 10:58 AM on October 23, 2009

chococat's Folsomlujah, from MeFi Music Challenge 21.
posted by WCityMike at 11:17 AM on October 23, 2009

Do they still have concerts in prisons?
posted by shothotbot at 11:20 AM on October 23, 2009

If there was ever a topic I was articulately positively without a doubt sure had already been a FPP here, this would have been it. But glad to be proven wrong with such a well put together post. I feel like such a hipster posuer loving this album so much when I'm far from a Cash afficianado, but I don't care. It's just one of those things I listen to when I want to feel washed over with a kind of cool that I can never hope to be. But like I said, I don't care. I just love it.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:24 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

("articulately" was supposed to be absolutely but got spell checked beyond recognition)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:25 AM on October 23, 2009

Every man knows that he is a sissy compared to Johnny Cash.

Folsom is the best album. Full stop.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:48 AM on October 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

Everyone knows this is the best version of "Folsom Prison Blues."
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:32 PM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

MrMoonPie: Everyone knows this is the best version of "Folsom Prison Blues."

*implodes with the cuteness*

Oh, my dear God. That's it, the Internet's over, the Cuteness Singularity has occurred.
posted by WCityMike at 1:52 PM on October 23, 2009

Fantastic! My dad's San Quentin album was one of the first Cash records I stole from him.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 2:19 PM on October 23, 2009

Johnny Cash is the mirror that shows a normal man that he is a clown.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 2:29 PM on October 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

Great list, but it's missing The Cramps playing live at the Napa State Mental Hospital.
posted by sidartha at 2:34 PM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

compared to the cheering that is said to have been edited in to the released album version.

The "legacy edition" of the album still has the cheers in the first performance, but the recording from the second set is silent. Source for the post-production edit, for the curious. Also, from The Denver Post:

"Streissguth was in a studio listening to the master tapes of the concert with Sony Legacy engineers. On the weathered reel-to-reel tape, the moment whizzed past without any audience eruption.

Curious, the writer and the engineers pulled out the edited master. Sure enough, on the final version when Cash's iconic line was cued up, the spliced-in, taped-up edit was evident."


"Yet, there's one piece of fiction still Scotch-taped to the new version: the canned crowd noise at the pivotal moment on the opening track. According to Streissguth, Legacy A&R coordinator John Jackson told him: "It's such an iconic moment, we couldn't leave it out."

posted by sysinfo at 2:37 PM on October 23, 2009

Here's a great series of podcasts with interviews of inmates, guards, and others who were there and a good review of the documentary.
Everyone knows this is the best version of 'Folsom Prison Blues.' Yes, we all know.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:14 PM on October 23, 2009

There's a book, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: The Making of a Masterpiece, that gives a very detailed account of the concert and the events that led up to the concert. I read it several years ago, and as a casual fan, I found it very interesting.
posted by iscavenger at 3:27 PM on October 23, 2009

My grandmother would frequently go on trips around the San Francisco bay area with her fellow senior citizens.

Once while visiting I overheard her telling my mother that she had gone on one of these outings recently to San Quentin and that it was very nice. They had lunch with the warden and some of the inmates and also got to see that fellow Johnny Cash sing.

No big deal to her.
posted by pianomover at 4:47 PM on October 23, 2009 [6 favorites]

Johnny Cash: "I wanna thank the officials ... all the guards for helpin' us out ... the warden ... every one of 'em."

[inmates]: "Boooooo, booooo!"

Johnny Cash: "Awwwwwww, you don't really mean that, now."

[inmates laugh]

Johnny Cash was awesome.
posted by bwg at 6:15 PM on October 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Clicking on the Albums brings up the Artwork and Titles. My Dad's At San Quentin LP was my first listen in 1969 or 1970 on his brand-spanking-new Garrard turntable and Lafayette Electronics Stereo.
posted by Rafaelloello at 8:06 PM on October 23, 2009

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