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Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Let The Day Begin...Let The Day Start!: Day 125 - Johnny Cash Behind Bars

Most artists will hardly have ever got to the stage where they would be releasing their 27th album but within the space of 11 years Johnny Cash was doing just that.

It wasn't any old album either but a live one, not recorded at some fancy venue holding thousands of adoring fans but recorded in a prison of all places played before an audience of hardened criminals and armed Prison Guards!

Johnny Cash and Folsom Prison had a bit of a history dating back to the 1950s when he had seen the film Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison whilst serving with the Air Force Security Service Unit. That film inspired him to write the song Folsom Prison Blues that would become his second single for Sun Records, released 15th December 1955. As the song became popular he would often receive requests from inmates of various prisons to come and play and in 1957 he played his first prison show at Huntsville State Prison in Texas. He would play a number of other Prisons (including San Quentin State Prison) in the years leading up to this particular release.

At this juncture of Cash's career though he was struggling, success seemed to have alluded him and his drug taking had been getting worse. In 1967 he had sought out help in dealing with the drug issues and had begun thinking about turning around his career.

Bob Johnstone was brought in to be his new producer, and he was known to be a bit of a rebel when it came to dealing with the Suits in charge of the label and studio executives. So when Cash sold him the idea of recording an album in a Prison he was all up for it even if the label were slightly hesitant about putting any money into the project. Folsom Prison got the nod mainly because they were the first to respond to the offer, San Quentin State Prison were also contacted.

The album was recorded on 13th January 1968 and is taken from from two shows performed that day. One was at 9.40am and the second at 12.40pm. The reasoning behind this was clear as the second performance would act as a back-up just incase the first was unsatisfactory. The 2008 Legacy Edition of the album would contain both shows in full including the performances of Carl Perkins and The Statler Brothers.

On its release Columbia did little to aid in the promotion of it as they were intent of promoting Pop Stars rather than Country Stars. But the album continued to sell and the live single of Folsom Prison Blues crept up the Country Chart reaching #1 and in the singles chart #32 (this was essentially a remix of the single with the line "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die" removed due to sensitivities regarding the assassination of Robert Kennedy - the remix was not approved of by Mr Cash!). The success of the single saw the album sales also increase as it hit the top spot on the Country Chart and then #13 on the Pop Chart (the forerunner of the Billboard 200).

At Folsom Prison received rave reviews upon its release. Al Aronowitz of Life stated that Cash sang the songs like "someone who has grown up believing he is one of the people that these songs are about." For The Village Voice, Ann Fisher wrote that "every cut is special in its own way" and Richard Goldstein (also of The Village Voice) noted that the album was "filled with the kind of emotionalism you seldom find in rock."

Johnny Cash said that this album revitalised his career.

In 2003, the album was ranked number 88 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Also that year, it was one of 50 recordings chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry. Country Music Television named it the third greatest album in country music in 2006. Blender listed the album as the 63rd Greatest American album of all time and as one of the "500 CDs You Must Own". In 2006, Time listed it among the 100 greatest albums of all time.

I have a lot of affection for this album as it is one I remember listening to as a kid (along with the San Quentin album) and for myself I do regard it as one of The Greatest Live Albums ever recorded.

At Folsom Prison - Johnny Cash
Produced by Bob Johnstone
Released May 1968
US Pop Chart #13
US Country Charts #1
UK Charts #7

(Photo by Jim Marshall)

    Johnny Cash – vocal, guitar, harmonica
    June Carter – vocal
    Marshall Grant – bass guitar
    W.S. Holland – drums
    Carl Perkins – electric guitar
    Luther Perkins – electric guitar
    The Statler Brothers (Lew DeWitt, Don Reid, Harold Reid, Phil Balsley) – vocals

Let The Day Begin...Let The Day Start!
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