Wednesday, January 13, 2010

johnny cash played folsom prison 42 years ago today

it was 42 years ago today, january 13, 1968, that johnny cash performed two shows at folsom state prison in california. the album, "at folsom prison," which consisted of the first (morning) performance and one song from the afternoon set, was released 4 months later. the album single-handedly revitalized cash's career.

the album was re-released in 1999 with additional tracks (from the second set). in 2008, to celebrate the 4oth anniversary, a "legacy" edition was released that included both shows on two cds and a companion dvd "making of" documentary. my interest in johnny cash was sparked by the documentary and the legacy edition performances.

one highlight of the folsom visit was cash's performance of "greystone chapel" - a song written by then inmate glen shirley. cash and his fellow musicians practiced for two days at nearby hotel, and were visited by then governor ronald reagan. during the rehearsal sessions they learned shirley's "greystone chapel" - and concluded each of two performances with that song.

the shirley back story is fascinating (and tragic). he recorded "greystone chapel" on a cassette tape and passed it on to the prison pastor, and then found its way to cash, who immediately decided to record it. shirley had some additional success writing songs, and even performed with cash and other artists. but 10 years later, he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

as a follow-up to "folsom," johnny cash went on to record "at san quention" the following year (less well known, but equally as powerful).

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