Cash Behind Bars

In 1969, Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon and Johnny Cash discovered the stage of the San Quentin State Prison.

By Clara Bismuth | Video of the Day | November 22, 2018

The Man In Black, the man who wore only black for the prisoners, the poor, the needy, the elderly and the sick. He who always rubbed shoulders with people living in misery, he − the rebel of Nashville, the pioneer of outlaws − always brought together very disparate audiences. In 1968, the legend married June Carter of the famous Carter Family. It was a genuine and sincere love that led her to follow her husband on their honeymoon, which consisted of extensive tours and a series of concerts in prisons. This idea came to Cash in California with the song At Folsom Prison, and a year later he played the legendary show at San Quentin. He was just 37 years old at the time, but his face already looked tired by the time of this 31st album, something which was not helped by his various addictions and other vices. Regardless, this is no doubt one of the major works of Country music and comes with a unique archive of images captured by the British channel Granada.

Cash was king in the land of the madmen. All listened ceremoniously, respected him, and a striking bond was developed. The Man in Black was in his element. Accompanied by Carl Perkins on the guitar, even June joined him on Darlin’ Companion, slightly intimidated by the situation. Symbolically opening with Wanted Man, the track selection spoke to the inmates. Wild applause, shouts of joy, or conversely complete silence, Johnny Cash’s charm was inscrutable. Provocative and gifted with a great sense of humour, he was at times censored with “beeps” and didn’t shy away from playing a risky new song specially composed for the occasion: San Quentin. “San Quentin, you've been livin' hell to me… San Quentin, I hate every inch of you.” This was followed by a chilling Shel Silverstein composition titled A Boy Named Sue, which Cash sang for the very first time, the lyrics absolutely delighting the crowd. It was a bloody and dark style of Country music reminiscent of Eddie Noack’s Psycho or the Louvin BrothersKnoxville Girl. During this concert Cash talked almost as much as he sang, connecting with the inmates, and closing the magical event with the wild vibrations of Folsom Prison Blues.


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