Johnny Cash: At Folsom Prison


MAY 1968 (44 YEARS AGO)
Johnny Cash: At Folsom Prison is released.
# ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 5/5
# allmusic 5/5
At Folsom Prison is a live album and 27th overall album by Johnny Cash, released on Columbia Records in May 1968. Despite little initial investment by Columbia, the album 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 from the album, 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 good reviews upon its release and the ensuing popularity revitalized Cash’s career, leading to the release of a second prison album, At San Quentin.
On May 27, 2003, At Folsom Prison was certified triple platinum by the RIAA for shipping over three million units. 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. 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.
Since his 1955 song “Folsom Prison Blues”, Cash had been interested in performing 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 with June Carter, whom he married later that year; Carl Perkins and the Tennessee Three, Cash performed two shows at Folsom State Prison in California on January 13, 1968. The resulting album consisted of 15 tracks from the first show and two tracks from the second.
Want to hear part of the reason why Johnny Cash is an icon, a singer respected and influential in country, folk, and rock & roll? THIS is it!
On January 13, 1968, two shows were recorded – one at 9:40 AM and one at 12:40 PM. Cash recorded an album live in front of a (literally) captive but wildly appreciative audience, in Folsom Prison. With two guitars, bass, drums, and a small vocal group (including Cash’s wife June Carter Cash and the Statler Brothers), Cash sings his hits and lesser-known songs (“Send a Picture of Mother”) and some haunting country standards (“Dark as a Dungeon”), as well as songs about REAL outlaws (“Cocaine Blues”) to a rapt audience that hangs on every word. That boom-chicka-boom sound is sharp as the first mean wind of winter, and Cash is in fine fettle (though his voice cracks from time to time). With its unique setting, this is as harrowing an album as any ever recorded.
REVIEW
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine, allmusic
Folsom Prison looms large in Johnny Cash’s legacy, providing the setting for perhaps his definitive song and the location for his definitive album, At Folsom Prison. The ideal blend of mythmaking and gritty reality, At Folsom Prison is the moment when Cash turned into the towering Man in Black, a haunted troubadour singing songs of crime, conflicted conscience, and jail. Surely, this dark outlaw stance wasn’t a contrivance but it was an exaggeration, with Cash creating this image by tailoring his set list to his audience of prisoners, filling up the set with tales of murder and imprisonment — a bid for common ground with the convicts, but also a sly way to suggest that maybe Cash really did shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die. Given the cloud of death that hangs over the songs on At Folsom Prison, there’s a temptation to think of it as a gothic, gloomy affair or perhaps a repository of rage, but what’s striking about Cash’s performance is that he never romanticizes either the crime or the criminals: if anything, he underplays the seriousness with his matter-of-fact ballad delivery or how he throws out wry jokes. Cash is relating to the prisoners and he’s entertaining them too, singing “Cocaine Blues” like a bastard on the run, turning a death sentence into literal gallows humor on “25 Minutes to Go,” playing “I Got Stripes” as if it were a badge of pride. Never before had his music seemed so vigorous as it does here, nor had he tied together his humor, gravity, and spirituality in one record. In every sense, it was a breakthrough, but more than that, At Folsom Prison is the quintessential Johnny Cash album, the place where his legend burns bright and eternal. [This Expanded Edition of At Folsom Prison added three bonus tracks to the songs included in the original 16-track LP.]
TRACKS:
Side 1                   
1             Folsom Prison Blues         
2             Dark as a Dungeon           
3             I Still Miss Someone         
4             Cocaine Blues     
5             25 Minutes to Go              
6             Orange Blossom Special                 
7             The Long Black Veil           
                               
Side 2                   
1             Send a Picture of Mother              
2             The Wall                
3             Dirty Old Egg-Suckin’ Dog               
4             Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart            
5             Jackson (with June Carter)          
6             Give My Love to Rose (with June Carter)             
7             I Got Stripes        
8             Green, Green Grass of Home      
9             Greystone Chapel            
                               
Legacy Edition (2008)                     
Disc 1 – Show One                          
No.         Title       Length
1             Opening announcements from Hugh Cherry 1:01
2             Blue Suede Shoes (performed by Carl Perkins)  3:31
3             This Ole House (performed by The Statler Brothers) 1:38
4             Announcements and Johnny Cash intro from Hugh Cherry 1:04
5             Folsom Prison Blues 2:36
6             Busted 1:24
7             Dark as a Dungeon 3:07
8             I Still Miss Someone 1:36
9             Cocaine Blues  2:49
10           25 Minutes to Go 2:57
11           I’m Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail 3:31
12           Orange Blossom Special 3:36
13           The Long Black Veil 3:43
14           Send a Picture of Mother 2:10
15           The Wall 1:54
16           Dirty Old Egg-Suckin’ Dog 1:17
17           Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart 2:24
18           Joe Bean 2:30
19           Jackson (with June Carter) 3:12
20           I Got a Woman (with June Carter) 4:37
21           The Legend of John Henry’s Hammer 7:06
22           June’s Poem (performed by June Carter) 0:58
23           Green, Green Grass of Home 3:19
24           Greystone Chapel  2:49
25           Closing announcements 1:42
                               
Disc 2 – Show Two                          
No.         Title       Length
1             The Old Spinning Wheel (performed by Carl Perkins) 1:33
2             Opening announcements from Hugh Cherry 1:16
3             Matchbox (performed by Carl Perkins)  2:41
4             Blue Suede Shoes (performed by Carl Perkins)  2:14
5             You Can’t Have Your Kate and Edith, Too
                     
(performed by The Statler Brothers)     2:23
6             Flowers on the Wall (performed by The Statler Brothers) 2:20
7             How Great Thou Art (performed by The Statler Brothers) 3:23
8             Announcements and Johnny Cash intro from Hugh Cherry          
9             Folsom Prison Blues 2:40
10           Busted 1:21
11           Dark as a Dungeon 2:51
12           Cocaine Blues 2:49
13           25 Minutes To Go 2:57
14           Orange Blossom Special 3:36
15           The Legend of John Henry’s Hammer 6:52
16           Give My Love to Rose (with June Carter) 2:43
17           Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog 4:38
18           Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart 3:06
19           Joe Bean 2:27
20           Jackson (with June Carter) 3:10
21           Long-Legged Guitar Pickin’ Man (with June Carter) 2:36
22           I Got Stripes 1:43
23           Green, Green Grass Of Home 3:24
24           Greystone Chapel 3:35
25           Greystone Chapel 2:38
26           Hugh Cherry Introduces Johnny’s father, Ray Cash, Associate Warden Walter E. Craven and Floyd Gressett, and closing announcements                
                               
Disc 3 (DVD)                      
Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison documentary film (2 hours, 10 minutes)                  
Interviews                         
Marty Stuart                     
Rosanne Cash                   

Marshall Grant

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