The greatest musical artists know how to connect with common everyday folk. Johnny Cash was the epitome of a person with this ability to connect through his lived it style, with absolutely no pretense.
Johnny is saying through his music: It’s just me and my thoughts about this world, good or bad, like it or not, nothing more and nothing less.
Johnny’s style and performance is summed up with this, his 1968 country music masterpiece: At Folsom Prison.
The record is a live document from Folsom State Prison its self, a prison located 20 miles northeast of Sacramento. Folsom’s gates opened in 1880 and it’s the second oldest in the state of California, second only to San Quentin.
Johnny’s 1956 tune “Folsom Prison Blues” is the backbone of this live 1968 recording. Johnny delivers one of the most honest readings of the tune on record. The man in black drives home the contemplative mood and bitter irony that most in attendance must have felt.
Folsom Prison Blues
Owning the audience
These men behind the walls know that Johnny is singing their life stories for all the world to hear, and they seem to really eat it up with a spoon. They cheer the things that put behind that concrete and barbed wire.
Cash makes the listener outside the bars feel a little uncomfortable too, in the way he makes those behind the bars comfortable. Johnny slyly makes you wonder, perhaps he belongs at Folsom in more than just spirit?
Perhaps singing about killing a man in Reno is not as far-fetched as one might think for Cash. In any case, Johnny makes you wonder just enough about it to make you squirm.
Highlights without a doubt include June Carter Cash joining Johnny for “Jackson”, a tune about a man and woman threatening to leave one another for a big night on the town.
A Personal Favorite of mine is “Cocaine Blues,” another brutally realistic, and macabre dose of drug induced reality set to music; and once again, the prisoners are very lively throughout the performance.
The latter is another dose of the hard cold truth, as many in the audience on this day know they will never see that green grass of home again.
For me, what makes Johnny Cash so effective is not his vocal delivery or his instrumental prowess, it’s his every-man vibe. This man sings as if he has lived these stories, and many he actually did at one time or another.
Johnny did battle drug addictions just before the recording, and At Folsom Prison helped propel Johnny to a new phase of his career as a member of a new genre known as outlaw country. That fame never really did fade until his death in 2003 at the age of 71, just 4 months after June Carter passed at the age of 73.
I have no problem considering At Folsom Prison to be the greatest country album of all time. It is not only a country albums, but also a folk album, a blues album, and ultimately a piece of Americana that can not be denied.
The music and the tone is a real as it gets, it wears its heart on its sleeve. The concert, and the inmates never apologize for the realism they display. Johnny himself is smug and inflammatory, John’s playing for keeps.
From here on out, Johnny became the every man’s hero, “the man in black,” a somber reminder that not everyone is remembered, not everyone is treated well in this world.
At Folsom Prison Album cover used with permission from Amazon.com.
Related posts at Spacial Anomaly
Jason Sositko, a freelance writer and entrepreneur is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. I also use services such as Viglink and Skimlinks to earn income via links placed inside articles.