Edited by Gerald Boerner
I enjoy country music, but especially love some of the classic performers. Johnny Cash is one of those performers. Who can forget songs like “A Boy Named Sue”, “I Walk the Line”, or “Ring of Fire”. And what about those Highwaymen! They put on some HOT tracks. But today marks the anniversary of his 1968 concert at California’s Folsom State Prison where he started out with “Folsom Prison Blues” first recorded in 1955.
As with many artists and musicians, Cash fought an ongoing battle with drugs, alcohol, and addiction. That addiction and his touring schedule doomed his first marriage. His marriage to June Carter provided stability on both the personal and performance levels. They recorded many wonderful duets. In our present society, there are undoubtedly some lessons that could be learned from Johnny Cash’s struggles with addiction; I see this played our in young adults all too often.
Thanks for the great body of work the Johnny Cash has bequeathed us from his lifetime of performing and recording. I love listening to my CD collection of Cash’s music and with others of his generation. Such a legacy is to be treasured and enjoyed. I hope that you will take some time to reflect on those performers, in whatever your favorite genre, that give you pleasure.
But now we need to get down to the exploration at hand… GLB
These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2011 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved
[ 3933 Words ]
Quotations Related to JOHNNY CASH:
“For you I know I’d even try to turn the tide.”
— Johnny Cash
“Success is having to worry about every damn thing in the world, except money.”
— Johnny Cash
“Sometimes I am two people. Johnny is the nice one. Cash causes all the trouble. They fight.”
— Johnny Cash
“How well I have learned that there is no fence to sit on between heaven and hell. There is a deep, wide gulf, a chasm, and in that chasm is no place for any man.”
— Johnny Cash
“I start a lot more songs than I finish, because I realize when I get into them, they’re no good. I don’t throw them away, I just put them away, store them, get them out of sight.”
— Johnny Cash
“My father was a man of love. He always loved me to death. He worked hard in the fields, but my father never hit me. Never. I don’t ever remember a really cross, unkind word from my father.”
— Johnny Cash
“That was the big thing when I was growing up, singing on the radio. The extent of my dream was to sing on the radio station in Memphis. Even when I got out of the Air Force in 1954, I came right back to Memphis and started knocking on doors at the radio station.”
— Johnny Cash
“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.”
— Johnny Cash
Entertainment Giants: Johnny Cash & Folsom Prison Blues
John R. "Johnny" Cash (1932 – 2003), born J. R. Cash, was an American singer-songwriter, actor, and author, who has been called one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. Although he is primarily remembered as a country music artist, his songs and sound spanned many other genres including rockabilly and rock and roll—especially early in his career—as well as blues, folk, and gospel. Late in his career, Cash covered songs by several rock artists, among them the industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails and the synthpop band Depeche Mode.
Johnny Cash was known for his deep, distinctive bass-baritone voice; for the "boom-chicka-boom" freight train sound of his Tennessee Three backing band; for his rebelliousness, coupled with an increasingly somber and humble demeanor; for providing free concerts inside prison walls; and for his dark performance clothing, which earned him the nickname "The Man in Black". He traditionally started his concerts by saying, "Hello, I’m Johnny Cash." and usually following it up with his standard "Folsom Prison Blues."
Much of Cash’s music, especially that of his later career, echoed themes of sorrow, moral tribulation and redemption. His signature songs include "I Walk the Line", "Folsom Prison Blues", "Ring of Fire", "Get Rhythm" and "Man in Black". He also recorded humorous numbers, such as "One Piece at a Time" and "A Boy Named Sue"; a duet with his future wife, June Carter, called "Jackson"; as well as railroad songs including "Hey, Porter" and "Rock Island Line".
Cash, a devout but troubled Christian, has been characterized as a "lens through which to view American contradictions and challenges." A Biblical scholar, he penned a Christian novel entitled Man in White, and he made a spoken word recording of the entire New King James Version of the New Testament. Even so, Cash declared that he was "the biggest sinner of them all", and viewed himself overall as a complicated and contradictory man. Accordingly, Cash is said to have "contained multitudes", and has been deemed "the philosopher-prince of American country music".
The Career Long Career of Johnny Cash
In 1954, Cash and Vivian moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he sold appliances while studying to be a radio announcer. At night he played with guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant. Perkins and Grant were known as the Tennessee Two. Cash worked up the courage to visit the Sun Records studio, hoping to get a recording contract. After auditioning for Sam Phillips, singing mostly gospel songs, Phillips told him that gospel was unmarketable. It was once rumored that Phillips told Cash to "go home and sin, then come back with a song I can sell," though Cash refuted that Phillips made any such comment in a 2002 interview. Cash eventually won over the producer with new songs delivered in his early frenetic style. His first recordings at Sun, "Hey Porter" and "Cry! Cry! Cry!", were released in 1955 and met with reasonable success on the country hit parade.
On December 4, 1956, Elvis Presley dropped in on studio owner Sam Phillips to pay a social visit while Carl Perkins was in the studio cutting new tracks, with Jerry Lee Lewis backing him on piano. Cash was also in the studio and the four started an impromptu jam session. Phillips left the tapes running and the recordings, almost half of which were gospel songs, survived and have since been released under the title Million Dollar Quartet.
Cash’s next record, "Folsom Prison Blues", made the country Top 5, and "I Walk the Line" became No. 1 on the country charts and entered the pop charts Top 20. "Home of the Blues" followed, recorded in July 1957. That same year Cash became the first Sun artist to release a long-playing album. Although he was Sun’s most consistently best-selling and prolific artist at that time, Cash felt constrained by his contract with the small label. Presley had already left Sun, and Phillips was focusing most of his attention and promotion on Lewis. The following year Cash left the label to sign a lucrative offer with Columbia Records, where his single "Don’t Take Your Guns to Town" became one of his biggest hits.
In the early 1960s, Cash toured with the Carter Family, which by this time regularly included Mother Maybelle’s daughters, Anita, June and Helen. June, whom Cash would eventually marry, later recalled admiring him from afar during these tours. In the 1960s he appeared on Pete Seeger’s short lived Rainbow Quest.
He also acted in a 1961 film entitled Five Minutes to Live, later re-released as Door-to-door Maniac. He also wrote and sang the opening theme.
As his career was taking off in the late 1950s, Cash started drinking heavily and became addicted to amphetamines and barbiturates. For a brief time, he shared an apartment in Nashville with Waylon Jennings, who was heavily addicted to amphetamines. Cash used the uppers to stay awake during tours. Friends joked about his "nervousness" and erratic behavior, many ignoring the warning signs of his worsening drug addiction. In a behind-the-scenes look at The Johnny Cash Show, Cash claims to have "tried every drug there was to try."
Although in many ways spiraling out of control, Cash’s frenetic creativity was still delivering hits. His rendition of "Ring of Fire" was a crossover hit, reaching No. 1 on the country charts and entering the Top 20 on the pop charts. The song was written by June Carter and Merle Kilgore. The song was originally performed by Carter’s sister, but the signature mariachi-style horn arrangement was provided by Cash, who said that it had come to him in a dream.
In June 1965, his truck caught fire due to an overheated wheel bearing, triggering a forest fire that burned several hundred acres in Los Padres National Forest in California. When the judge asked Cash why he did it, Cash said, “I didn’t do it, my truck did, and it’s dead, so you can’t question it.” The fire destroyed 508 acres (2.06 km2), burning the foliage off three mountains and killing 49 of the refuge’s 53 endangered condors. Cash was unrepentant: "I don’t care about your damn yellow buzzards." The federal government sued him and was awarded $125,172 ($871,303 in current dollar terms). Cash eventually settled the case and paid $82,001. He said he was the only person ever sued by the government for starting a forest fire.
Although Cash carefully cultivated a romantic outlaw image, he never served a prison sentence. Despite landing in jail seven times for misdemeanors, each stay lasted only a single night. His most infamous run-in with the law occurred while on tour in 1965, when he was arrested by a narcotics squad in El Paso, Texas. The officers suspected that he was smuggling heroin from Mexico, but it was prescription narcotics and amphetamines that the singer had hidden inside his guitar case. Because they were prescription drugs rather than illegal narcotics, he received a suspended sentence.
Cash was later arrested on May 11, 1965, in Starkville, Mississippi, for trespassing late at night onto private property to pick flowers. (This incident gave the spark for the song "Starkville City Jail", which he spoke about on his live At San Quentin prison album.)
In the mid 1960s, Cash released a number of concept albums, including Ballads Of the True West (1965), an experimental double record mixing authentic frontier songs with Cash’s spoken narration, and Bitter Tears (1964), with songs highlighting the plight of the Native Americans. His drug addiction was at its worst at this point, and his destructive behavior led to a divorce from his first wife and canceled performances.
In 1967, Cash’s duet with Carter, "Jackson", won a Grammy Award.
Johnny Cash’s final arrest was in Walker County, GA where he was taken in after being involved in a car accident while carrying a bag of prescription pills. Cash attempted to bribe a local deputy, who turned the money down, and then spent the night in a LaFayette, GA jail. The singer was released after a long talk with Sheriff Ralph Jones, who warned him of his dangerous behavior and wasted potential. Johnny credited that experience for saving his life, and he later came back to LaFayette to play a benefit concert that attracted 12,000 people (the city population was less than 9,000 at the time) and raised $75,000 for the high school.
Folsom Prison Blues
Cash felt great compassion for prisoners. He began performing concerts at various prisons starting in the late 1950s. His first ever prison concert was held on January 1, 1958 at San Quentin State Prison. These performances led to a pair of highly successful live albums, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (1968) and Johnny Cash at San Quentin (1969).
The Folsom Prison record was introduced by a rendition of his classic "Folsom Prison Blues", while the San Quentin record included the crossover hit single "A Boy Named Sue", a Shel Silverstein-penned novelty song that reached No. 1 on the country charts and No. 2 on the U.S. Top Ten pop charts. The AM versions of the latter contained a couple of profanities which were edited out. The modern CD versions are unedited and uncensored and thus also longer than the original vinyl albums, though they still retain the audience reaction overdubs of the originals.
In addition to his performances at U.S. prisons, Cash also performed at the Österåker Prison in Sweden in 1972. The live album På Österåker ("At Österåker") was released in 1973. Between the songs, Cash can be heard speaking Swedish, which was greatly appreciated by the inmates.
"The Man in Black"
From 1969 to 1971, Cash starred in his own television show, The Johnny Cash Show, on the ABC network. The Statler Brothers opened up for him in every episode; the Carter Family and rockabilly legend Carl Perkins were also part of the regular show entourage. However, Cash also enjoyed booking more contemporary performers as guests; such notables included Neil Young, Louis Armstrong, Kenny Rogers and The First Edition (who appeared a record four times on his show), James Taylor, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton (then leading Derek and the Dominos), and Bob Dylan… [See MORE in full article.]
In 1980, Cash became the Country Music Hall of Fame’s youngest living inductee at age forty-eight, but during the 1980s his records failed to make a major impact on the country charts, although he continued to tour successfully. In the mid 1980s, he recorded and toured with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson as The Highwaymen, making two hit albums.
During this period, Cash appeared in a number of television films. In 1981, he starred in The Pride of Jesse Hallam, winning fine reviews for a film that called attention to adult illiteracy. In the same year, Cash appeared as a "very special guest star" in an episode of the Muppet Show. In 1983, he appeared as a heroic sheriff in Murder in Coweta County, based on a real-life Georgia murder case, which co-starred Andy Griffith as his nemesis. Cash had tried for years to make the film, for which he won acclaim.
Cash relapsed into addiction after being administered painkillers for a serious abdominal injury in 1983 caused by an unusual incident in which he was kicked and wounded by an ostrich he kept on his farm.
At a hospital visit in 1988, this time to watch over Waylon Jennings (who was recovering from a heart attack), Jennings suggested that Cash have himself checked into the hospital for his own heart condition. Doctors recommended preventive heart surgery, and Cash underwent double bypass surgery in the same hospital. Both recovered, although Cash refused to use any prescription painkillers, fearing a relapse into dependency. Cash later claimed that during his operation, he had what is called a "near death experience". He said he had visions of Heaven that were so beautiful that he was angry when he woke up alive… [See MORE in full article.]
The Album: At Folsom Prison
At Folsom Prison is a live album by Johnny Cash, released on Columbia Records in May 1968. Since his 1955 song "Folsom Prison Blues", Cash had been interested in performing at a prison. His idea was put on hold until 1967, when personnel changes at Columbia Records put Bob Johnston in charge of producing Cash’s material. Cash had recently controlled his drug abuse problems, and was looking to turn his career around after several years of limited commercial success. Backed with June Carter, whom he married later that year; Carl Perkins and the Tennessee Three, Cash performed two shows at Folsom State Prison in California on January 13, 1968. The resulting album consisted of 15 tracks from the first show and two tracks from the second.
Despite little initial investment by Columbia, the album was a hit in the United States, reaching number one on the country charts and the top 15 of the national album chart. The lead single from the album, a live version of "Folsom Prison Blues", was a top 40 hit, Cash’s first since 1964′s "Understand Your Man". At Folsom Prison received good reviews upon its release and the ensuing popularity revitalized Cash’s career, leading to the release of a second prison album, At San Quentin. The album was re-released with additional tracks in 1999 and as a three-disc set in 2008.
Cash first took interest in Folsom State Prison while serving in the U.S. Air Force Security Service. In 1953, his unit watched Crane Wilbur’s film Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison. The movie inspired Cash to write a song that reflected his perception of prison life. The result was "Folsom Prison Blues", Cash’s second single on Sun Records. After its release, the song became popular among inmates, who would sometimes write to Cash, requesting him to perform at their prisons. Cash first answered one of the letters by performing at Huntsville State Prison in 1957. Satisfied by the favorable reception of the concert, he performed at several other prisons, including Folsom in 1966.
A few years after attaining commercial success from songs such as "I Walk the Line", "Understand Your Man", and "Ring of Fire", Cash’s popularity waned. This was due in no small part to his increasing dependence on drugs. In 1967, Cash sought help for his escalating drug problems; by the end of the year, his drug use decreased and he sought to turn his career around. Concurrently, the country portion of Columbia Records underwent major personnel changes. Frank Jones and Don Law, who had produced several of Cash’s albums, were ousted in favor of Bob Johnston, who was known for his erratic behavior and willingness to disagree with studio executives. Cash saw this as an opportunity to pitch his idea of recording a live album at a prison; Johnston enthusiastically supported the concept. Johnston called San Quentin State Prison and Folsom, and Folsom was the first to respond.
The Song: "Folsom Prison Blues"
"Folsom Prison Blues" is an American country music song credited to Johnny Cash. The song combines elements from two popular folk genres, the train song and the prison song, both of which Cash would continue to use for the rest of his career. It has become one of Cash’s signature songs.
In the lyrics, the jailed protagonist listens to the whistle of a train outside his cell and recounts his crimes ("I shot a man in Reno/just to watch him die"), imagines the free people inside the train ("They’re probably drinking coffee and smoking big cigars") and dreams of what he would do if he were free. "I know I had it coming/I know I can’t be free," sings the imprisoned man. "But those people keep a’moving/and that’s what tortures me."
Cash was inspired to write this song after seeing the movie Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison (1951) while serving in West Germany in the United States Air Force. Cash recounted how he came up with the "Reno" line: "I sat with my pen in my hand, trying to think up the worst reason a person could have for killing another person, and that’s what came to mind."
Another source for the song was Gordon Jenkins’s 1953 Seven Dreams concept album, specifically the song "Crescent City Blues". Cash used the same melody, and borrowed many of the lyrics. Jenkins was not credited on the original record, which was issued by Sun Records.
Cash included the song in his repertoire for decades. Cash performed the song at Folsom Prison itself on January 13, 1968 and this version was eventually released on the At Folsom Prison album the same year. That opening song is more up-tempo than the Sun studio recording. The recording’s most notable feature — the whoops from the audience at the "Reno" line — were added in post-production, according to Michael Streissguth. A special on the Walk the Line DVD indicates that the prisoners were careful not to cheer at any of Cash’s comments about the prison itself, fearing reprisal from guards.
FOLSOM PRISON BLUES
JOHNNY CASH (Sun 232, 1956)
I hear that train a-commin’, it’s rollin’ around the bend
And I ain’t seen the sunshine since I don’t know when
I’m stuck in Folsom prison and time keeps draggin’ on
But that train keeps a-rollin’ on down to San Antone
When I was just a baby, my mama told me, son
Always be a good boy, don’t ever play with guns
But I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die
When I hear that whistle blowin’, I hang my head and cry
I bet there’s rich folks eatin’ in a fancy dining car
They’re probably drinking coffee and smoking big cigars
But I know I had it coming, I know I can’t be free
But those people keep a-movin’ and that’s what tortures me
Well if that freed me from this prison
and that railroad train was mine
I bet I’d move it on a little farther down the line
Far from Folsom prison, that’s where I want to stay
And I’d let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away
Please take time to further explore more about JOHNNY CASH, FOLSOM
STATE PRISON, ALBUM: AT FOLOM PRISON, SONG: FOLSOM PRISON
BLUES, and the LYRICS by accessing the Wikipedia articles
Other Events on this Day:
At Valley Forge, the Patriot army attends to the construction of makeshift hospitals for the sick.
President Washington approves a measure adding two stars and stripes to the flag to represent Vermont and Kentucky.
In an early radio demonstration, opera star Enrico Caruso is broadcast live from the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
Robert C. Weaver is selected by President Lyndon B. Johnson to serve as secretary of housing and urban development, becoming the first African American member of a presidential Cabinet.
Johnny Cash performs two shows for the inmates at California’s Folsom State Prison, beginning each set with his 1955 hit "Folsom Prison Blues." The performances are recorded for Cash’s live album, At Folsom Prison, which will be released later that year.
Sarah Caldwell becomes the first woman to conduct at the Metropolitan Opera, leading the orchestra in the first of 11 performances of Verdi’s La Traviata, starring soprano Beverly Sills.
Douglas Wilder of Virginia is swarn in as the nation’s first elected black governor.
Dates and events based on:
William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)
Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: Johnny Cash…
Wikipedia: At Folsom Prison (Album)…
Wikipedia: Folsom Prison Blues (Song)…
Wikipedia: Folsom Prison Blues (Lyrics)…
Wikipedia: Folsom State Prison…
Brainy Quote: JOHNNY CASH Quotes…
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