The RedState Department of History has long been a fan of good music, and it really doesn’t matter where that music comes from, because for conservatives, we’re as eclectic as all get-out.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone, then, that one of the two most American forms of music (jazz being the other), country-western, should occasionally grab our attention.
As such, on a cold January day, our weekly staff lunch was enhanced by The Man in Black himself, one J.R. Cash, known to the rest of us simply as “Johnny.”
Cash was born February 26, 1932 in Kingsland, Arkansas. During the first part of the 20th century, the state produced numerous musical legends including Glen Campbell, Jimmy Driftwood, Louie Shelton and an expatriate from Louisiana who was born Harold Lloyd Jenkins in Louisiana but moved to Arkansas and performed under the name of Conway Twitty.
When Cash joined the Air Force he was told he couldn’t use initials as his name – but since J.R. Cash was his legal name, he took the name Johnny R. Cash for military service. And it was there, in 1953, when Cash first became interested in Folsom Prison.
In 1951, a film called “Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison” was released and Cash saw it. That led him to write “Folsom Prison Blues” in 1953 to reflect his idea of what prison life was like.
Cash’s rebel reputation was enhanced by seven arrests for various offenses but finally it became clear that the singer had a serious drug problem. After a 1967 arrest in Georgia, Cash bottomed out and was nursed back to health by Maybelle, Ezra and June Carter, with whom Cash had been touring. His 1968 appearance at Folsom Prison re-energized Cash’s career, although he would battle addiction to amphetamines for much of his life.
The album contains 17 songs on its two sides and represents the product of two shows Cash did at the prison. Fifteen of the selections are from the first concert while only two are from the second due to Cash’s backup musicians tiring out later in the day.
He began with the title track, with the inmates in attendance being asked not to applaud until Cash had introduced himself. Then the singer began his work:
“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
I bet there’s rich folks eatin’
In a fancy dining car
They’re probably drinkin’ coffee
And smokin’ big cigars
But 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
Well, if they freed me from this prison
If that railroad train was mine
I bet I’d move out over 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.”
The Folsom Prison concert featured other performers as well. Cash’s longtime backup band, The Tennessee Three, also performed as did the Statler Brothers and Carl Perkins. The night before the performance, the entourage received a visit from California governor Ronald Reagan, who offered his encouragement for the coming shows.
Perhaps the most poignant part of the event was the performance of “Greystone Chapel“, which was written by Folsom inmate Glen Sherley.
The event was so successful that Cash recorded three other albums from correctional facilities — “At San Quentin” (1969), “Pa Osteraker” (1973, recorded in Sweden) and “A Concert Behind Prison Walls” (1976, at Tennessee Prison).
Happy Sunday and enjoy today’s open thread!