When Johnny ‘J.R’ Cash walked into Folsom State Prison in California on the 13th of January, 1968, the singer was a regular performer on country music charts with hits like I Walk The Line and Ring Of Fire. However, a parallel to Cash’s successes was the ever-increasing fight with the demons, riding a euphoric ride of drug and alcohol-fuelled chaos that was close to reaching the point of no return. The live album changed everything.
The redemption he received came from the affection of a woman who was a good one (June Carter, Co-author on Ring Of Fire; the woman whose family also assisted him in overcoming addictions) and in the form of Bob Johnston, the new producer of Columbia records. Cash had been in prisons and the Carter Family from the beginning of the 1960s, but they were thought to be dangerous events that weren’t suitable for consumption by the public. Cash realized that his love for and empathy for prisoners led him to levels of performance that could not be replicated by work in the studio. The new producer was ok’d with the idea, and, supported with his Tennessee Three, June (now due to become married to his partner), The Statler Brothers and Carl Perkins, he prepared for two performances.
The evidence of the day’s performance was the first set, where Cash was – who at this time had gained an image of a show that was not confident and appearances that were not even made had been in extraordinary form. The show (recorded in the morning at 9.40 early in the day!) obviously had to feature his hit song from 1955, Folsom Prison Blues (the one in which he kills an individual on the streets of Reno “just to watch him die”). Imagine the reaction.
Cash decided to confronted with the seriousness of the circumstance (he’d not been sentenced in the first place, but was able to see the inside of a jail cells). The songs he performed focused on the dark side (Dark as a Dungeon) and the pain of life in prison (Green Green Grass Of Home). On this expanded version we hear the sexy quips that he exchanges with prisoners , and he is always looking to add a bit of fun to the proceedings by performing Egg Sucking Dog and Flushed From the Toilet Of Your Heart and his duet with Jackson with June, or the gallows-themed humour that is The 25-Minute Lie. The highlight of the show will be Greystone Chapel, rehearsed only one day prior to. The script was composed by Glen Sherley (a key figure in Cash’s struggle for reforms in the prison system) and was serving prison time Folsom for the armed theft.
The album’s release, Folsom Prison was applauded by critics that went beyond the nation’s mainstream. The band now addressed the generation that now wants more than pop and considered him an authentic champion of the people. His honest, raw performances have made him a legend. This Legacy edition (which includes both a DVD and an complete, but exhausted second performance) can only increase the legend.