Tuesday, January 13, 2009

johnny cash "at folsom prison: the making of a masterpiece" documentary review

only one word is needed here - awesome! it deserves a bit of elaboration, of course, but the original album, the remastered albums which include the second show (performed that same day), and the "making of" documentary, are simply incredible.

very fun, and coincidental, cool fact - the folsom prison concerts took place 41 years ago to the day, on january 13, 1968!

back to johnny cash. this is one musician, one entire genre (country), that i was never really into in the past. even today i hardly know anything about country music. but cash reminds me more of folk music, than anything i'd consider country. either way, cash came to my attention last month when i caught some of the documentary on cable, and then rented "walk the line" from netflix. i was hooked.

the documentary itself is based on the book of the same name, "johnny cash at folsom prison: the making of a masterpiece," by michael steissguth (who also penned a biography of johnny cash). here is the trailer:

the entire film come in at just over 2 hours and in addition to the music itself, it includes archival footage of cash, the prison, many unpublished photos, interviews with former inmates and guards who were at the concerts, and interviews with his children and former band mates. also covered is the back story to the last minute inclusion of prisoner glen sherley's "greystone chapel" song (brought to cash's attention the day before by the prison chaplan).

aside from watching cash and his band work up an arrangement of that song - and perform it live for the first time the next morning, we learn how cash worked to secure the early release on parole of sherley. and, once again, aside from cash's efforts to get sherley included in his concert tours and, ultimately, the tragic end to sherley's life, we learn of how cash got deeply involved in the prison reform movement. an interest he would pursue for the next decade.

while cash wasn't new to prison concerts, having played them many times in the past, it took him 6 years to convince the powers that be at columbia records to make a live album at the prison. that was amazing, considering "folsom prison blues" was a breakout hit for cash more than a decade earlier, and it would have seemed a live album from folsom would have been a "no brainer," so to speak. but, thankfully, it got recorded (and, incidentally, on the heels of its success, so did a sequel - "live at at san quentin").

one interesting nugget contained on the documentary is a primitive black and white animated "music video" of cash performing "25 minutes to go." that hilarious performance/cartoon is (almost) reason alone to check out the documentary. but seriously, this is a classic album, classic performance - check it out.

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