I am heading out the door, but don’t quite feel right unless I’ve posted something here before I go…
This is from newspaperarchive.com, which does a “this day in history” …
Cash at Folsom Prison
On January 13th, 1968, country music singer and songwriter Johnny Cash appeared in concert at Folsom Prison. The prison, a California State Prison in Sacramento, is the state’s second-oldest prison and was the first penitentiary in the world to have electric power. California’s license plates are manufactured there. And in 1951, director Crane Wilbur created a film set in the prison.
A Historical Newspaper Perspective
In 1952, while serving in the United States Air Force, Johnny Cash watched the movie Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison. The Rocky Mount Evening Telegram had this to say about the movie on September 9, 1951: “Because Producer Bryan Foy insisted that the entire story be photographed inside Folsom Prison in the exact places where the events of the factual story actually occurred ‘Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison’ brings to the screen probably the most authentic prison picture ever filmed… The script, written and directed by Crane Wilbur, is based on the history of that prison, but it well might have been the story of any prison in any state during the same era. It traces the bad handling of the inmates and how such treatment continually bred riots. From this chaos sprang the modern correctional prisons operated by highly trained penologists, best illustrated by Folsom today.”
When Cash moved from the Air Force to singing and songwriting, he brought his memories of the film with him. “Folsom Prison Blues” was the second single from his debut album (Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar), though it would not receive mainstream success until 1968 when he played at the prison. “Singer Johnny Cash has held a concert at Folsom Prison–and introduced an inmate as a new songwriter. The Rev. Floyd Gressett, pastor of the Avenue Community Church, Ventura, promoted the concert-recording session because he had heard the song, ‘Grey Stone Chapel,’ written by inmate Glen Sherley, 31, and taped it,” explained the European Stars and Stripes on January 19, 1968. “The minister got Cash to listen to the tape. The singer liked it well enough to include it when he recorded an album at Folsom, where Sherley is serving a sentence for armed robbery.” The concert was a huge success, and Cash released the live album in May of the same year.
“Singing that conveys real experience behind it is evident in ‘Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison’ on Columbia,” reported the Oakland Tribune on May 29, 1968. “Cash is one of the best country-western singers, with a voice that increases in depth of expression and darkens as he gets older, like an opera singer’s. On this album he chose songs meaningful to prisoners at Folsom, in California, where his live concert was recorded. Cash, who has spent time behind bars, wanted it recorded there.” The album is considered one of his best, hitting number one on the country charts, while the live version of “Folsom Prison Blues” held the country music number one spot for almost a month, and was named number one country single of the year for 1968.