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.
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