Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison is the first live album by American singer-songwriter Johnny Cash, released on Columbia Records on May 6, 1968. After his 1955 song "Folsom Prison Blues", Cash had been interested in recording a performance at a prison. His idea was put on hold until 1967, when personnel changes at Columbia Records put Bob Johnston in charge of producing Cash's material. Cash had recently controlled his drug abuse problems, and was looking to turn his career around after several years of limited commercial success. Backed by June Carter, Carl Perkins, and the Tennessee Three, Cash performed two shows at Folsom State Prison in California on January 13, 1968. The initial release of the album consists of fifteen songs from the first show and two from the second.

At Folsom Prison
Cover shows a close up of Cash's face, looking at the camera.
Live album by
ReleasedMay 6, 1968
RecordedJanuary 13, 1968
VenueFolsom State Prison (Folsom, California)
ProducerBob Johnston
Johnny Cash chronology
From Sea to Shining Sea
At Folsom Prison
Old Golden Throat
Singles from At Folsom Prison
  1. "Folsom Prison Blues"
    Released: April 30, 1968

Despite little initial promotion by Columbia, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison was a hit in the United States, reaching number one on the country charts and the top 15 of the national album chart. The lead single, a live version of "Folsom Prison Blues", was a top 40 hit, Cash's first since 1964's "Understand Your Man". At Folsom Prison received positive reviews and revitalized Cash's career, becoming the first in a series of live albums recorded at prisons that includes At San Quentin (1969), På Österåker (1973), and A Concert Behind Prison Walls (1976). The album was rereleased with additional tracks in 1999, a three-disc set in 2008, and a five LP box set with bonus rehearsals in 2018 for Record Store Day. It was certified triple platinum in 2003 for US sales exceeding 3.4 million.

Background edit

Johnny Cash became interested in Folsom State Prison, California, while serving in the United States Air Force Security Service. In 1953, his unit watched Crane Wilbur's 1951 film Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison. The film inspired Cash to write a song that reflected his perception of prison life.[1] The result was "Folsom Prison Blues", Cash's second single on Sun Records. The song became popular among inmates, who would write to Cash, requesting him to perform at their prisons.[2] Cash's first prison performance was at Huntsville State Prison in 1957.[3] Satisfied by the favorable reception, he performed at several other prisons in the years leading up to the Folsom performance in 1968.[3]

A few years after attaining commercial success from songs such as "I Walk the Line", "Understand Your Man", and "Ring of Fire", Cash's popularity waned, in part due to his increasing dependence on drugs.[4] In 1967, Cash sought help for his escalating drug problems, and by the end of the year, began to get clean and try to turn his career around.[5] Concurrently, the country portion of Columbia Records underwent major personnel changes, where Frank Jones and Don Law, who had produced several of Cash's albums, were ousted in favor of Bob Johnston, who was known for his erratic behavior and willingness to disagree with studio executives.[6] Cash saw this as an opportunity to pitch his idea of recording a live album at a prison, which Johnston enthusiastically supported.[7] Johnston called San Quentin State Prison and Folsom, with Folsom being the first to respond.[8]

Recording edit

The album was recorded at Folsom State Prison in Folsom, California.

On January 10, 1968, Cash and June Carter checked into the El Rancho Motel in Sacramento, California. They were later accompanied by the Tennessee Three, Carl Perkins, the Statler Brothers, Johnny's father Ray Cash, Reverend Floyd Gressett, pastor of Avenue Community Church in Ventura, California (where Cash often attended services), who counseled inmates at Folsom and helped facilitate the concert, and producer Johnston. The performers rehearsed for two days, an uncommon occurrence for them, sometimes with two or more songs rehearsed concurrently by various combinations of musicians.[9] During the rehearsal sessions on January 12, California governor Ronald Reagan, who was at the hotel for an after-dinner speech, visited the band and offered his encouragement.[10] One focus of the sessions was to learn "Greystone Chapel", a song written by inmate Glen Sherley. Sherley recorded a version of the song, which he passed on to Rev. Gressett via the prison's recreation director.[11][12] On January 13, the group traveled to Folsom, meeting Los Angeles Times writer Robert Hilburn and Columbia photographer Jim Marshall, who were hired to document the album for the liner notes.[13]

Cash decided to hold two performances on January 13, one at 9:40 am and one at 12:40 pm, in case the first performance was unsatisfactory.[14] After an introduction by MC Hugh Cherry, who encouraged the prisoners to "respond" to Cash's performance, Carl Perkins took the stage and performed his hit song "Blue Suede Shoes".[15] Following this song, the Statler Brothers sang their hit "Flowers on the Wall" and the country standard "This Old House".[16] Cherry returned to the stage and instructed the inmates not to cheer for Cash until he introduced himself; they obliged.[2] Waiting for the introduction would be the start of the Cash biopic Walk The Line which was released in 2005.

Cash opened both shows with a rendition of "Folsom Prison Blues", followed by many songs about prison, including "The Wall", "Green, Green Grass of Home", and the gallows humor song "25 Minutes to Go". Cash also included other songs of despair, such as the Merle Travis song "Dark as a Dungeon". Following "Orange Blossom Special", Cash included a few "slow, ballad-type songs", including "Send a Picture of Mother" and "The Long Black Veil", followed by three novelty songs from his album Everybody Loves a Nut: "Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog", "Flushed from the Bathroom of Your Heart", and "Joe Bean".[17] June Carter joined Cash to perform a pair of duets. After a seven-minute version of a song from his Blood, Sweat and Tears album, "The Legend of John Henry's Hammer", Cash took a break and Carter recited a poem.[17] Cash ended both concerts with Sherley's "Greystone Chapel". The second concert was not as fruitful as the first; the musicians were fatigued from the earlier show.[18] Only two songs from the second concert, "Give My Love to Rose" and "I Got Stripes", made it onto the LP release.

Set list for the 9:40 am concert
Set list for the 12:40 pm concert

Reception and impact edit

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic(re-issue)      [19]
Pitchfork(Legacy) 9.7/10[20]
PopMatters(Legacy) 10/10[21]
Rolling Stone(Legacy)      [22]
Rolling Stone Album Guide(Legacy)      [23]

The album release of At Folsom Prison was prepared in four months. Despite the recent success of "Rosanna's Going Wild", a Cash single released just before the Folsom concerts that reached number two on the country charts, Columbia initially invested little in the album or its single "Folsom Prison Blues". This was due partially to Columbia's focusing its promotional efforts on pop stars rather than country artists.[24][25] Nevertheless, the single charted on the Billboard Hot 100 on May 25, 1968; it also hit the country charts a week later.[26][27] The single suffered a setback when Sirhan Sirhan assassinated Senator Robert F. Kennedy on June 5, 1968. Radio stations ceased playing the single due to the macabre line: "I shot a man in Reno / Just to watch him die". Reeling in the success prior to the assassination, Columbia demanded Johnston remix the single with the line removed. Despite protests from Cash, the single was edited and re-released. The new version became a success, reaching number one on the country charts and the top forty on the national charts.[28] The single prompted the album to climb the album charts, eventually reaching number one on the Top Country Albums chart and number thirteen on the Pop Albums chart—the forerunner to the Billboard 200.[29] By August 1968, Folsom had shipped over 300,000 copies; two months later it was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipping over 500,000.[30][31]

At Folsom Prison received rave reviews. Al Aronowitz of Life stated Cash sang the songs like "someone who has grown up believing he is one of the people that these songs are about."[32] For The Village Voice, Ann Fisher wrote that "every cut is special in its own way" and Richard Goldstein noted the album was "filled with the kind of emotionalism you seldom find in rock."[33][34] Fredrick E. Danker of Sing Out! praised At Folsom Prison as "an album structured an aural experience for us".[35]

The success of At Folsom Prison revitalized Cash's career; according to Cash, "that's where things really got started for me again".[4] Sun Records re-dubbed Cash's previous B-side "Get Rhythm" with applause similar to Folsom's, and it became successful enough to enter the Hot 100.[36] Cash returned to the prison scene in 1969 when he recorded At San Quentin at San Quentin State Prison. At San Quentin became Cash's first album to hit number one on the Pop chart and produced the number two hit "A Boy Named Sue". The ensuing popularity from the Folsom concert also prompted ABC to give Cash his own television show.[37]

The album was re-released on October 19, 1999, with three extra tracks excluded from the original LP: "Busted", "Joe Bean", and "The Legend of John Henry's Hammer". Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic praised the new version, calling it "the ideal blend of mythmaking and gritty reality."[38] On May 27, 2003, At Folsom Prison was certified triple platinum by the RIAA for shipping over three million units.[31] Since its release, it has been acknowledged as one of the greatest albums of all time by several sources. In 2003, the album was ranked number 88 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, maintaining the rating in a 2012 revised list,[39] ranking at number 164 in a 2020 revised list.[40] Also in 2003, it was one of 50 recordings chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry.[41] Country Music Television named it the third greatest album in country music in 2006.[42] Blender listed the album as the 63rd greatest American album of all time and as one of the "500 CDs You Must Own".[43][44] In 2006, Time listed it among the 100 greatest albums of all time.[45] Guitar World and Far Out magazines both rated it as the best live album of all time.[46][47] The album was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[48]

In 2008, Columbia and Legacy Records re-issued At Folsom Prison as a two CD, one DVD set. This so-called "Legacy Edition" contained both concerts uncut and remastered. The included DVD, produced by Bestor Cram and Michael Streissguth of Northern Light Productions, featured pictures and interviews relevant to the concert. Pitchfork Media lauded the collection, claiming that it had "the force of empathic endeavors, as if he were doing penance for his notorious bad habits".[49] Christian Hoard wrote for Rolling Stone that the Legacy edition "makes for an excellent historical document, highlighting Cash's rapport with prison folk".[50]

At the 11th Annual Grammy Awards in 1969, the album Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison won the Grammy Award for Best Album Notes while the song, "Folsom Prison Blues" won Cash the Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male. In 2018, Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison on Columbia Records was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.[51][52]

Track listing edit

Side one
1."Folsom Prison Blues"Johnny Cash2:42
2."Dark as the Dungeon"Merle Travis3:05
3."I Still Miss Someone"J. Cash, Roy Cash Jr.1:38
4."Cocaine Blues"T.J. Arnall3:01
5."25 Minutes to Go"Shel Silverstein3:31
6."Orange Blossom Special"Ervin T. Rouse3:01
7."The Long Black Veil"Marijohn Wilkin, Danny Dill3:57
Side two
1."Send a Picture of Mother"Cash2:11
2."The Wall"Harlan Howard1:49
3."Dirty Old Egg-Suckin' Dog"Jack H. Clement1:17
4."Flushed from the Bathroom of Your Heart"Clement2:39
5."Jackson" (with June Carter)Billy Edd Wheeler, Jerry Leiber2:56
6."Give My Love to Rose" (with June Carter)Cash2:41
7."I Got Stripes"Cash, Charlie Williams1:42
8."Green, Green Grass of Home"Curly Putman2:57
9."Greystone Chapel"Glen Sherley5:34

Re-release (1999) edit

1."Folsom Prison Blues"Johnny Cash2:42
2."Busted" (previously unreleased)Harlan Howard1:25
3."Dark as a Dungeon"Merle Travis3:04
4."I Still Miss Someone"J. Cash, Roy Cash Jr.1:38
5."Cocaine Blues"T.J. Arnall3:01
6."25 Minutes to Go"Shel Silverstein3:31
7."Orange Blossom Special"Ervin T. Rouse3:01
8."The Long Black Veil"Marijohn Wilkin, Danny Dill3:58
9."Send a Picture of Mother"Cash2:10
10."The Wall"Howard1:36
11."Dirty Old Egg-Suckin' Dog"Jack H. Clement1:30
12."Flushed from the Bathroom of Your Heart"Clement2:17
13."Joe Bean" (previously unreleased)Bud Freeman, Leon Pober2:25
14."Jackson" (with June Carter)Billy Edd Wheeler, Jerry Leiber (as Gaby Rodgers)3:12
15."Give My Love to Rose" (with June Carter)Cash2:41
16."I Got Stripes"Cash, Charlie Williams1:57
17."The Legend of John Henry's Hammer" (previously unreleased)Cash, Carter7:08
18."Green, Green Grass of Home"Curly Putman2:29
19."Greystone Chapel"Glen Sherley6:02

Legacy Edition (2008) edit

Disc 1 – Show One
1."Opening announcements from Hugh Cherry" 1:01
2."Blue Suede Shoes" (performed by Carl Perkins)Carl Perkins3:31
3."This Ole House" (performed by The Statler Brothers)Stuart Hamblen (miscredited as "D. Morgan-D. Pfrimmer-F. Meyers")1:38
4."Announcements and Johnny Cash intro from Hugh Cherry" 1:04
5."Folsom Prison Blues"Johnny Cash2:36
6."Busted"Harlan Howard1:24
7."Dark as a Dungeon"Merle Travis3:07
8."I Still Miss Someone"J. Cash, Roy Cash Jr.1:36
9."Cocaine Blues"T.J. Arnall2:49
10."25 Minutes to Go"Shel Silverstein2:57
11."I'm Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail"Karl Davis, Harty Taylor3:31
12."Orange Blossom Special"Ervin T. Rouse3:36
13."The Long Black Veil"Marijohn Wilkin, Danny Dill3:43
14."Send a Picture of Mother"Cash2:10
15."The Wall"Howard1:54
16."Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog"Jack H. Clement1:17
17."Flushed from the Bathroom of Your Heart"Clement2:24
18."Joe Bean"Bud Freeman, Leon Pober2:30
19."Jackson" (with June Carter)Billy Edd Wheeler, Jerry Leiber (as Gaby Rodgers)3:12
20."I Got a Woman" (with June Carter)Ray Charles, Renald Richard4:37
21."The Legend of John Henry's Hammer"Cash, Carter7:06
22."June's Poem" (performed by June Carter) 0:58
23."Green, Green Grass of Home"Curly Putman3:19
24."Greystone Chapel"Glen Sherley2:49
25."Closing announcements" 1:42
Total length:65:31
Disc 2 – Show Two
1."The Old Spinning Wheel" (performed by Carl Perkins)Billy Hill1:33
2."Opening announcements from Hugh Cherry" 1:16
3."Matchbox" (performed by Carl Perkins)Perkins2:41
4."Blue Suede Shoes" (performed by Carl Perkins)Perkins2:14
5."You Can't Have Your Kate and Edith, Too" (performed by The Statler Brothers)Bobby Braddock, Curly Putnam2:23
6."Flowers on the Wall" (performed by The Statler Brothers)Lew DeWitt2:20
7."How Great Thou Art" (performed by The Statler Brothers)Stuart K. Hine3:23
8."Announcements and Johnny Cash intro from Hugh Cherry" 2:38
9."Folsom Prison Blues"Cash2:40
11."Dark as a Dungeon"Travis2:51
12."Cocaine Blues"Arnall2:49
13."25 Minutes to Go"Silverstein2:57
14."Orange Blossom Special"Rouse3:36
15."The Legend of John Henry's Hammer"Cash, Carter6:52
16."Give My Love to Rose"Cash2:43
17."Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog"Clement4:38
18."Flushed from the Bathroom of Your Heart"Clement3:06
19."Joe Bean"Freeman, Pober2:27
20."Jackson" (with June Carter)Wheeler, Leiber (as Rodgers)3:10
21."Long-Legged Guitar Pickin' Man" (with June Carter)Perkins2:36
22."I Got Stripes"Cash, Leadbelly "On a Monday"1:43
23."Green, Green Grass of Home"Putman3:24
24."Greystone Chapel"Sherley3:35
25."Greystone Chapel"Sherley2:38
26."Hugh Cherry Introduces Johnny's father, Ray Cash, Associate Warden Walter E. Craven and Floyd Gressett, and closing announcements" 3:10
Total length:75:58
1."Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison" (Documentary film)130:00
  • Marty Stuart
  • Rosanne Cash
  • Marshall Grant"
3."Bob Irwin: "Remixing the Folsom Recording"" 
4."Marty Stuart: Performance of "Hangman"" 
5."Ronda Sherley: "Glen Sherley's My Last Day"" 
6."Folsom Inmate Lefty: "Orange Blossom Special Harmonica"" 

Personnel edit

Credited on 1999 re-issue

  • Bob Irwin – producer
  • Steven Berkowitz – producer, A&R
  • Vic Aneseni – mixing
  • Howard Fritzson – art direction
  • Darcy Proper – mastering
  • Frank Tozour – PQ editing
  • John Henry Jackson – product manager
  • Randall Martin – packaging manager
  • Darren Salmieri – A&R
  • Tim Smith – A&R
  • Nick Shaffran – consultant

Charts edit

Chart (1968) Peak
Norwegian Albums Chart[53] 7
UK Albums Chart[54] 7
U.S. Pop Albums[29] 13
U.S. Top Country Albums[29] 1
Chart (1969) Peak
Canada RPM LP Chart[55] 27

Certifications edit

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[56] Platinum 100,000^
Ireland (IRMA)[57] Gold 7,500^
United Kingdom (BPI)[58] Gold 100,000^
United States (RIAA)[59] 3× Platinum 3,000,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.

Citations edit

  1. ^ Pond, Steve (December 10, 1992). "Johnny Cash". Rolling Stone.
  2. ^ a b Simmons, Sylvia (January 2003). "Outta My Way". Mojo.
  3. ^ a b Johnny Cash (1975). Man In Black. Warner Books. p. 110. Retrieved September 15, 2013.
  4. ^ a b Hilburn, Robert (March 1, 1973). "Nothing Can Take The Place of the Human Heart: A Conversation with Johnny Cash". Rolling Stone.
  5. ^ Streissguth 2004, p. 37
  6. ^ Streissguth 2004, p. 59
  7. ^ Cash, Johnny. At Folsom Prison liner notes. Columbia Records, CS–9639, 1968.
  8. ^ Streissguth 2004, p. 61
  9. ^ Streissguth 2004, p. 65
  10. ^ Govoni 1970, pp. 29–30
  11. ^ Streissguth 2004, p. 66
  12. ^ Beley, Gene (Winter 2005). "Folsom Prison Blues". Virginia Quarterly Review. pp. 218–227. Retrieved November 8, 2008.
  13. ^ Streissguth 2004, p. 69
  14. ^ Streissguth 2004, p. 63
  15. ^ Streissguth 2004, p. 80
  16. ^ Streissguth 2004, p. 88
  17. ^ a b Streissguth 2004, p. 108
  18. ^ Streissguth 2004, p. 100
  19. ^ "At Folsom Prison – Johnny Cash". AllMusic.
  20. ^ Deusner, Stephen M. "Johnny Cash: Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: Legacy Edition Album Review". Retrieved July 22, 2017.
  21. ^ "Johnny Cash: At Folsom Prison Legacy Edition".
  22. ^ "At Folsom Prison: Legacy Edition : Johnny Cash : Review : Rolling Stone". April 21, 2009. Archived from the original on April 21, 2009.
  23. ^ Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian David (2004). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide. Simon and Schuster. p. 145. ISBN 9780743201698.
  24. ^ "Hot Country Singles". Billboard. January 27, 1968.
  25. ^ Streissguth 2004, p. 127, 132
  26. ^ "The Hot 100". Billboard. May 25, 1968.
  27. ^ "Hot Country Singles". Billboard. June 1, 1968.
  28. ^ Streissguth 2004, pp. 137–8
  29. ^ a b c "At Folsom Prison (1999 Expanded Edition) > Charts & Awards > Billboard Albums". AllMusic. Retrieved November 8, 2008.
  30. ^ Streissguth 2004, p. 142
  31. ^ a b "RIAA — Gold & Platinum Searchable Database". Recording Industry Association of America. Archived from the original on June 26, 2007. Retrieved November 8, 2008.
  32. ^ Aronowitz, Alfred G. (August 16, 1968). "Music Behind the Bars: Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison". Life.
  33. ^ Fisher, Annie (October 17, 1968). "Riffs". The Village Voice.
  34. ^ Goldstein, Richard (June 6, 1968). "Pop Eye". The Village Voice.
  35. ^ Danker, Frederick E. (September 1968). "Johnny Cash: A Certain Tragic Sense of Life". Sing Out!.
  36. ^ "The Hot 100". Billboard. November 15, 1969.
  37. ^ Cash & Carr 1997, p. 58
  38. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "At Folsom Prison (1999 Expanded Edition) (review)". AllMusic. Retrieved November 8, 2008.
  39. ^ "500 Greatest Albums of All Time Rolling Stone's definitive list of the 500 greatest albums of all time". Rolling Stone. 2012. Retrieved September 23, 2019.
  40. ^ "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time". Rolling Stone. September 22, 2020. Retrieved September 18, 2021.
  41. ^ "The National Recording Registry 2003". The Library of Congress. October 25, 2006. Archived from the original on November 18, 2008. Retrieved November 8, 2008.
  42. ^ "The Greatest: CMT 40 Greatest Albums". CMT 40 Greatest Albums. Nashville, Tennessee. 2006. Viacom. Country Music Television.
  43. ^ Aizelwood, John (February 2002). "The 100 Greatest American Albums of All time". Blender. Archived from the original on April 19, 2002. Accessed via webarchive November 8, 2008.
  44. ^ "500 CDs You Must Own". Blender. April 2003. Archived from the original on October 13, 2007. Retrieved November 22, 2008.
  45. ^ "The All-Time 100 Albums". Time. November 13, 2006. Archived from the original on October 28, 2008. Retrieved November 8, 2008.
  46. ^ "10 of the best live albums every rock fan needs to hear". Guitar World. July 29, 2019.
  47. ^ "The 20 greatest live albums of all time". Far Out. June 11, 2020.
  48. ^ Robert Dimery; Michael Lydon (February 7, 2006). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die: Revised and Updated Edition. Universe. ISBN 0-7893-1371-5.
  49. ^ Deusner, Stephen M. (October 23, 2008). "Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: Legacy Edition (review)". Pitchfork Media. Archived from the original on November 3, 2008. Retrieved November 11, 2008.
  50. ^ Hoard, Christian (October 16, 2008). "At Folsom Prison: Legacy Edition (review)". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on November 29, 2008. Retrieved November 17, 2008.
  51. ^ "Johnny Cash". Retrieved February 17, 2024.
  52. ^ "Hall of Fame Artists". Retrieved February 17, 2024.
  53. ^ "Johnny Cash — At Folsom Prison (Album)". Archived from the original on November 11, 2009. Retrieved February 3, 2009.
  54. ^ "At Folsom Prison". Official Charts Company. Retrieved February 3, 2009.
  55. ^ "LP Chart". RPM. 12 (8). October 18, 1969. Retrieved February 3, 2009.
  56. ^ "Canadian album certifications – Johnny Cash – At Folsom prison". Music Canada.
  57. ^ "The Irish Charts - 2006 Certification Awards - Gold". Irish Recorded Music Association.
  58. ^ "British album certifications – Johnny Cash – At Folsom prison". British Phonographic Industry.
  59. ^ "American album certifications – Johnny Cash – At Folsom prison". Recording Industry Association of America.

References edit

Further reading edit