I’ve been a fan of Johnny Cash, bless his soul, from I was old enough to process and arrange sounds in my little brain. Growing up in our family household we were blessed with an endless supply of folk music and country greats. Singers like Glen Campbell, Simon & Garfunkel, Charley Pride, Tammy Wynette and the main man Cash were always on rotation either on vinyl, cassette or the big 8 track tapes that were slotted into the dashboard of the family car. My love of Cash will never fade as I associate his voice with so many good memories.
On Jan 13th 1968 Johnny Cash and his band walked through the gates of Folsom prison.
The record is so electrically charged, right from the off that I still find it almost impossible to skip through. The screams of excited inmates, completely blown away by the fact that they are being allowed this unheard of privilege is so energising and just creates such a feel good factor.
To kick the concert off with ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ and hear the crowd immediately erupt sends goosebumps all over me, every single time I hear it. There’s just so many beautiful songs on this album that never fail to bring a tear to my eye.
The final song on the recording is written by one of Folsom’s inmates Glen Sherley. You can just imagine the extra excitement that this must have added to the concert to have their own friend’s song performed by the great Cash.
You can listen to this album in two ways. Firstly you can marvel at the genius of Cash’s songwriting and his accurate, working class life observations. Secondly, try detaching yourself from just listening to the music within and putting yourself inside the heads of the inmates in the crowd. Just like Andy Dufresne’s co-workers enjoyed icey cold beers as they tarred the roof of the fictional Shawshank State Prison, the inmates of the real Folsom prison received a release from their confinement for an hour to enjoy Johnny Cash singing about crime, cocaine, booze, prison life and their lives on the outside that they all dreamt of during their lifetimes behind bars. For the audio recording of this to be captured in such a way and to be released, virtually uncensored is completely mind blowing to me. To be allowed that privilege in a maximum security prison was completely unheard of.
So this album says a lot to me, but the thing that resonates most is the temporary compassion shown to a room full of convicts, who lets face it were human beings like everyone else.
Totally spellbinding album that I love dearly.