Unforgettable Live Performances – Johnny Cash and his prison concerts

The country music legend and footage of some of his unforgettable performances in different prisons throughout the years.

He may have been the man in black, but his heart had stripes and rebellion at it´s center.

John R. Cash was born on February 26, 1932 in Kingsland, Arkansas. His parents Ray and Carrie Rivers Cash were Baptist and farmers. Apparently when his voice dropped his mother discovered he could sing and encouraged him to follow that path, telling him he had “the gift” and paying for his first singing lessons. It turns out that after just 3 lessons his teacher told him never to take lessons again so he would not change his natural singing voice. His family found escape in music, and he picked the guitar up when he was 12.

He joined the U.S. Air Force and trained in Texas, where he met Vivian Liberty, with whom he had 4 daughters with. He was stationed in Germany were he started taking music more seriously. After Germany he came back to the US and Settled in Memphis, Tennessee. He pursued music as a side job until he and Marshall Grant and Luther Perkins started to be known as Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two. Then a drummer joined them and they were known as Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Three. Later on, Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records told them to come back with an original song. They did and their career started. Eventually, Cash became part of an elite group of artists along with Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis, and they were known as the Million Dollar Quartet. Fame led to touring and touring led to exhaustion and that led to drugs, which eventually lead to divorce, a drug binge, trouble with the law and rehab. After that, Cash met June Carter, befriended her, then married her and she got him clean and he became a fundamental Christian. He´s career got a new start, he started doing TV specials,  and collaborations with other artists, and eventually would become one of the more influential musicians of the 20th century not only in country music but also in rock and roll, blues, gospel and rockabilly and is a member of several of those genres hall´s of fame. June died on May, 2003 and he died on September 12, 2003.

There were several recurring themes in his music. Religion, (his mother was very religious) and sorrow, moral tribulation and redemption. Despite having trouble with the law, and in general having an “outlaw” image, Cash felt empathy for prisoners. What did he do about it? He started playing concerts at prisons in the late 50´s.

His first prison concert was at San Quentin State Prison (in California) on January, 1rst, 1959. The first clip is on a documentary from his visit to Folsom Prison.

Live at Folsom EPK – Johnny Cash


His performances at prison led to 2 very successful albums

– At Folsom Prison – 1968

– At San Quentin – 1969

Although the footage before was from Folsom prison, I could not find a live performance from that show, so here are two great performances from San Quentin.

Walk the line LIVE at San Quentin – Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash, June Carter and Carl Perkins – Jackson – Live at San Quentin

Finally, Johnny Cash was famous for starting his shows with the line “Hello, I´m Johnny Cash” and would play the famous Folsom Prison Blues. Here he is doing that song at another prison concert.

Johnny-Cash finger

Folsom Prison Blues (Live at Tennessee State Prison)

I guess he was one of those stars that shines brighter in the dark. He found his own voice, his own style, he wore black and not was what in style, he was addicted to amphetamines and tried to smuggle heroin from Mexico, and he gave concerts where no one else would, and flipped the bird to the UK broadcast of the show. Like the woman in the clip from the documentary says “rebellion never dies”.



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3 thoughts on “Unforgettable Live Performances – Johnny Cash and his prison concerts

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