Category: blues

Inventory: Stuck in Folsom Prison: Great music from behind bars

Johnny Cash, At Folsom Prison and At San Quentin

Although country legend Johnny Cash never served time in prison himself, he had his share of scrapes with the law, and always had sympathy for people who’d done wrong. “Folsom Prison Blues,” with memorable lines like “I shot a man in Reno / just to watch him die,” was one of the first songs he ever wrote, inspired by a viewing of the film Inside The Walls Of Folsom Prison while he was in the Air Force in 1953. Cash played several jailhouse shows throughout his career, but the two most important and iconic are inarguably his 1968 and 1969 concerts at California’s Folsom and San Quentin prisons, which provided a big boost to his then-flagging career and realized his longtime dream of actually recording a live album from inside prison walls. Although some of the crowd reactions were sweetened in post-production before the albums’ release, Cash’s fiery passion and rapport with his captive audience are genuine and magnetic. Both concerts were filmed for subsequent documentaries. 2008′s Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison has been making the rounds of film festivals and arthouses around the country. The San Quentin concert was also filmed for Britain’s Granada Television, and later turned into a documentary by filmmaker Michael Darlow—which screens at south Minneapolis cinema The Trylon tonight at 7:30 and 9 p.m.

Originally published on Jan. 6, 2010 as part of a group-written Inventory feature; I wrote the sections on Johnny Cash, Bukka White, James Carter, and Roky Erickson. Read the complete article.

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