Democracy Dies in Darkness

In Sight | Perspective

50-year-old photos of the legendary man in black, Johnny Cash

May 30, 2018 at 6:00 AM

Johnny Cash leaves the school bus that brought his band into the Folsom State Prison on Jan. 13, 1968, after leaving their limos in the prison parking lot. (Jim Marshall Photography LLC/Reel Art Press/)
Cash arrives at Folsom State Prison on Jan. 13, 1968. (Jim Marshall Photography LLC/Reel Art Press/)

A new book out in July by Reel Art Press and BMG titled “Johnny Cash at Folsom and San Quentin” pulls together photographs from Cash’s performances at Folsom in 1968 and San Quentin in 1969. The photographs were taken by legendary photographer Jim Marshall and the book was compiled after the publisher was given unfettered access to Marshall’s archive of images. Marshall and Cash had been friends since the early 1960s, and Cash invited him to document the concerts, giving him unlimited access. Marshall was the only official photographer present for the two concerts.

Today, we know Cash as one of the most successful country singers of all time. But around the time that he played his now legendary concert at Folsom Prison, his star had begun to wane. He had developed a reputation as a hard-living and unpredictable artist. In his introduction to  “Johnny Cash at Folsom and San Quentin,” Marty Stuart says:

“At 36 years old, he had already experienced more fame than most people could ever conceive. For the better part of a decade, however, he had squandered that fame as he walked a razor-thin line between life and death. By his own admission he had become a slave to amphetamines and had an ongoing relationship with all the demons that come along with that brand of addiction. His broader popular fan base had dwindled, and even the country music industry had all but dismissed him for his unpredictability. Cash was looked upon by most insiders as a pill-popping, hard-living, show-missing, adulterous rebel who was the next star candidate for a Hank Williams body bag.”

Cash thought that playing at Folsom, and recording the now-legendary album there, would put him back on the map. And it did. The album became a hit in the United States and reached No. 1 on the country charts and broke the top 15 of the national album chart. The popularity of the Folsom album led to a follow-up and the recording of his album at San Quentin. The album he made at San Quentin went on to be the first Cash album to hit No. 1 on the pop charts. Both the San Quentin and Folsom albums are two of the biggest-selling live albums of all time.

Cash and producer Bob Johnston backstage on Jan. 13, 1968. (Jim Marshall Photography LLC/Reel Art Press/)
June Carter and the Statler Brothers await the start of the show. (Jim Marshall Photography LLC/Reel Art Press/)
Cash and Carter after the performance. They would marry two months later. (Jim Marshall Photography LLC/Reel Art Press /)
The Cashes arrive at San Quentin State Prison on Jan. 24, 1969. (Jim Marshall Photography LLC/Reel Art Press/)
San Quentin’s stage and eager crowd before the show. (Jim Marshall Photography LLC/Reel Art Press/)
The band bows before an appreciative San Quentin audience. (Jim Marshall Photography LLC/Reel Art Press/)

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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Kenneth Dickerman is a photo editor. He previously worked as a photo editor at MSN in Seattle and TIME in New York City. Before that, he worked as a freelance photographer specializing in politics and conflict and his work appeared in The New York Times, TIME and US News & World Report among other publications.

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