January 13, 1968: Johnny Cash delivers famous performance inside Folsom State Prison
Some of the greatest musical artists of all time have played in some wild places. Metallica played a rare performance in Antarctica. Rage Against The Machine once rocked Wall Street. One of the best songwriters ever decided to rock a packed prison!
I hear the train a comin’
From “I Walk the Line” to “Forty Shades of Green,” Johnny Cash was a simple treasure. The country music artist sold millions of records and became a hot commodity. One of his most beloved songs ever is the 1955 song “Folsom Prison Blues,” which was inspired by the film Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison. The song led to thousands of inmates wanting to catch the star live. The requests led to his first prison gig at the San Quentin State Prison on January 1, 1958.
Around that time, Cash had a vision of recording a live album in front of prisoners. Unfortunately, that vision was tossed to the side for a slew of studio albums. Things took a turn in 1967 when this idea was presented to his record label.
Always be a good boy
With the label’s approval, Cash decided to find a proper location. With Folsom Prison and San Quentin State Prison in mind, he contacted both to see who’d be down. Folsom responded, and Cash quickly decided on the details.
The performance would take place on January 13, 1968. Johnny didn’t come alone for the performance, either. Among those set for the gig were his wife June, bassist Marshall Grant, and drummer W.S. Holland.
I’m stuck in Folsom prison
Cash opted to hold two performances that day: one for 9:40 a.m. and one for 12:40 p.m. He did this to decide which recorded version would be best for the live album. As expected, “Folsom Prison Blues” drew a massive reaction from the crowd. The line “But I shot a man in Reno / just to watch him die” left some inmates confused at whether to cheer or not. With security guards nearby, they simply nodded their heads to the music.
The end result was 1968’s At Folsom Prison, which sold over three million copies in the U.S. For Cash, whose career was fading, this release gave him the boost he needed. While several artists have played in prisons, Cash’s performance will be considered the most badass thing ever.