For a long time, after the enigmatic Johnny Cash casually walked on stage, he would say a few words and then proceed to sing one special song. Those words were “Hello everyone, I’m Johnny Cash” and that song was, of course, ‘Folsom Prison Blues’.
The track, originally recorded in 1953 and then later released in 1955 on Johnny Cash and his Hot and Blue Guitar! was inspired by the film Inside The Walls of Folsom Prison which Cash had watched while stationed in West Germany in 1951. Ironically he was stationed at the same prison Hitler was held after the Munich Putsch and incidentally where he wrote Mein Kampf.
The track has long been a favourite of Cash fans around the world. It’s effortless combination of folk tales of prison and riding the rails mixing with the darker side of Cash’s own character made for an enticing concoction.
It’s not something that Cash himself pondered many times. Having once been asked about the infamous line “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die” Cash offered a simple and honest response: “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.”
In January 1968, Johnny Cash and his band featuring June Carter, the Statler Brothers, the Tennessee Three, with Carl Perkins on guitar, went about recording a live version of the song before the prisoners of Folsom State Prison, Folsom, California. With it came one of the most incredible live performances and subsequent live albums (At Folsom Prison) ever and some sparkling images.
Oh and this one which photographer recalls: “I said “John, let’s do a shot for the Warden”