By 1968, Johnny Cash was already a well-seasoned veteran, with twenty-five albums under his belt, and a colorful history that befitted his already legendary status. The amazing thing about Cash’s career is how he sounded like a veteran from the get-go, so a dozen years of experience only added to his audience’s perception of him as an icon.
“At Folsom Prison” raised the ante even further. As a voice for the underdog, the downtrodden and dispossessed, few people were more qualified than Johnny Cash. At the time, his career was in a significant downturn, due mostly to drug issues, but also due to the drastic change in music and fashion. What place did an old Sun Records rockabilly acolyte have in the age of psychedelics, with a generation gap too wide to cross?
For Cash, the answer was stunningly simple – don’t change a damn thing. His hardened persona made any perceived shortcoming a huge advantage, and there was no better place to prove this than by performing live before a room full of hardened convicts. Columbia Records didn’t have the foresight to see what Cash delivered, so they barely paid attention to the album, releasing it with little fanfare or attention to detail. The public, however, immediately recognized the album as a no nonsense, direct and intensely honest performance that stood in contrast to the music of the times. To this day, it remains a timeless testament to the talent, as well as the persona, of Johnny Cash.
May 1968 - Billboard Charted #13