Johnny Cash – Folsom Prison Blues

But I shot a man in Reno, Just to watch him dieJohnny Cash

It doesn’t get much better than that.

The man in black was The Man. Not many performers can cross genres like Johnny Cash did and still does. He first recorded this song in 1955 at Sun Records as the B side to “S3o Doggone Lonesome” but it was the live 1969 version that hit.

The At Folsom Prison album helped revitalize Cash’s career. Up to this point, his last Country top 40 entry was in 1964. This was recorded live at Folsom Prison in California on January 13, 1968, and that album came to define his outlaw image. The record company told him it wouldn’t work but Johnny recorded at the prison anyway.

Folsom Prison Blues peaked at #1 on the Billboard Country Charts, #1 on the Canadian Country Charts, #32 on the Billboard 100,  and #17 on the Canadian Pop Charts.  The song and album generated a lot of interest in the rebellious Johnny Cash, who made prison reform his political cause of choice. He started regularly performing in jails, doing about 12 shows a year for free mostly in Folsom and San Quentin.

The album peaked at #1 in the Billboard Country Charts, #13 in the Billboard Album Charts, and #27 in Canada.

Johnny Cash Flipping Bird

This iconic picture came from Folsom Prison. According to photographer Jim Marshall…he asked Cash to express what he thought of the prison authorities when he played the show. Marshall told Cash “let’s do a shot for the warden” and the picture was born. 

Cash saw Crane Wilbur’s 90-minute film Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison while stationed in Germany. It left an impression on Cash, who emphasized the tale of the imprisoned men, and inspired him to write a song. Johnny Cash: “It was a violent movie, I just wanted to write a song that would tell what I thought it would be like in prison.”

Cash’s first prison performance occurred in 1957 when he performed for inmates at Huntsville State Prison. The favorable response inspired Cash to perform at more prisons through the years. His next hit, recorded in San Quentin Prison, was the humorous “A Boy Named Sue,” which proved that he could be clever and funny.

Cash came off as a champion for the oppressed.  He got his own national TV show in 1969 and became one of the most popular entertainers of his era. His guests included Derek and the Dominos,  Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, Kris Kristofferson, Mickey Newbury, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, Merle Haggard, James Taylor, Tammy Wynette, and Roy Orbison.

Isn’t that list incredible? Cash was considered a Country-Folk artist but look at the range of performers. The late sixties and seventies were like this ….and it’s the reason I like them so much…all the generations intersected at that point in time. I mean you have Eric Clapton and then you have Tammy Wynette on the guest list.

The lyrics to this song were based on a 1953 recording called Crescent City Blues by a bandleader named Gordon Jenkins with Beverly Maher on vocals. After filing a lawsuit, Gordon Jenkins received an out-of-court settlement from Cash in 1969. I have to say it does sound really close.

Johnny Cash: “I don’t see anything good come out of prison. You put them in like animals and tear out the souls and guts of them, and let them out worse than they went in.”

Rosanne Cash: “He was a real man with great faults, and great genius and beauty in him, but he wasn’t this guy who could save you or anyone else.”

Folsom Prison Blues

(Hello, I’m Johnny Cash)

I hear the train a-comin’
It’s rollin’ ’round 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 (play it to the verse, yeah)
(Sue it)

I bet there’s rich folks eatin’
From a fancy dining car
They’re probably drinkin’ coffee
And smokin’ big cigars
Well, I know I had it comin’
I know I can’t be free
But those people keep a-movin’
And that’s what tortures me (hit it)

(Howdy-ho)

Well, if they freed me from this prison
If 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

(yeah)

Band – The Last Waltz

Happy Thanksgiving! Watching The Last Waltz is just as part of Thanksgiving as the meal with the family…that and Alice’s Restaurant which is coming.

The Band on Thanksgiving in 1976 at the Fillmore West. The film starts off with THIS FILM MUST BE PLAYED LOUD! A cut to Rick Danko playing pool and then it then to the Band playing “Don’t Do It”…the last song they performed that night after hours of playing. Through the music and some interviews, their musical journey and influences are retraced.

This film is considered by many the best concert film ever made. It was directed by Martin Scorsese. I love the setting with the chandeliers that were from the movie Gone With The Wind. The quality of the picture is great because it was shot with a 35-millimeter camera which wasn’t normally done with concerts.

Before the Band and guests hit the stage, Bill Graham, the promoter, served a Thanksgiving dinner to 5000 people that made up the audience with long tables with white tablecloths.

The Band’s musical guests included

Ronnie Hawkins, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Dr. John, Paul Butterfield, Van Morrison (my favorite performance), Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton and Muddy Waters

The Staple Singers and Emmylou Harris also appear but their segments were taped later on a sound stage and not at the concert.

Robbie wanted off the road earlier and that is what the Last Waltz was all about…the last concert by The Band with a lot of musical friends. He was tired of touring and also the habits the band was picking up… drugs and drinking. Richard Manuel, in particular, was in bad shape and needed time.

The rest of the Band supposedly agreed but a few years later all of them but Robbie started to tour as The Band again. Richard Manuel ended up hanging himself in 1986. Rick Danko passed away in 1999 at the end of a tour of a heart attack attributed to years of drug and alcohol abuse. Levon Helm died of cancer in 2012.

The Band sounded great that night and it might be the best version you will ever hear of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.

The Last Waltz is a grand farewell to a great band and a film that I revisit at least twice a year… once always around Thanksgiving.

The complete concert is at the bottom…without cuts.

A Concert of The Mind…Fantasy Park

***Dave from A Sound Day has a new feature Turntable Talk…he will have an article by me today about Why the Beatles are still relevant…hope you get to read it.***

Fantasy Park: 1975 – Twin Cities Music Highlights

Imagine a concert in 1975 with The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Allman Brothers, Linda Ronstadt, The Rolling Stones, The Who, and more. Well, it happened! Sorta. Rod Serling did all of the radio promos. It would be one of his last projects…he would pass away before it aired.

It was a 48-hour-long rock concert (Fantasy Park) that was aired by nearly 200 radio stations over Labor Day weekend in 1975. The program, produced by KNUS in Dallas, featured performances by dozens of rock stars of the day and even reunited The Beatles. It was also completely imaginary, a theatre-of-the-mind for the 70s.

The “concert” was made up of live and studio recordings by the artists with live effects added to make it sound legit.

The show had college students hitchhiking all over America hoping to get to Fantasy Park. In New Orleans when the concert aired, the IRS came knocking on the doors of WNOE trying to attach the gate receipts to make sure the Feds got their cut! Callers were asking where they could get tickets to this amazing show.

The show was so popular in Minnesota that they played it again in its entirety the next year…now that people knew it wasn’t real and weren’t looking for tickets. The greatest concert that never was.  Fantasy Park had their own emcee and special reporters covering the weekend event giving you the play-by-play details along with some behind-the-scenes updates.

The concert would always be halted due to rain on a Sunday morning to allow the locals to get in their regular (usually religious) programming and the whole event always ended promptly at 6 pm on Sunday.

Now people look for the full 48-hour tapes of the show. They are a hot collector’s item. Rod Serling passed away on June 28, 1975.

Bands at Fantasy Park

Chicago
Elton John
Led Zeppelin
Joe Walsh
Cream
Shawn Phillips
Pink Floyd
Carly Simon
James Taylor (& Carol King)
Poco
Alvin Lee
Eagles
Linda Rondstadt
Dave Mason
Steve Miller
John Denver
Beach Boys
War
Grand Funk
Yes
Deep Purple
Rolling Stones
Cat Stevens
The Who
Rolling Stones
Moody Blues
Marshall Tucker Band
Allman Brothers Band
Seals & Crofts
America
Joni Mitchell
Doobie Brothers
Loggins and Messina
Crosby/Stills/Nash/Young
Bob Dylan
Beatles

Here is 10 minutes of it here.