Culture  /  Oral History

Reliving Johnny Cash's 'At Folsom Prison' at 50: An Oral History

Eyewitnesses to the Man in Black's legendary 1968 concerts at the California prison recall Cash's shining moment.


Marshall Grant: This was a way to get something out of him to release, because we couldn’t get him in the studio. And when we got him in the studio, he’d come completely unprepared. He came in and would start writing songs. You can’t do that because every part of our career proves, especially with us and with him, you had to get the songs, work it up, have it ready to go. Well, we couldn’t get him to do that. So it came up through conversation, “Let’s do an album at Folsom Prison.”

Fluke Holland: I mean we’re going to Folsom, and we’re doing a show there to entertain the prisoners because they can’t get out to be entertained. It was like we just were doing a nice gesture. And I remember saying, as far as making money, this show, if you’re going to tape it and sell it, it won’t sell enough to pay for tape. I remember saying that two or three times. In fact, I remember saying it to Bob Johnston, who produced the thing. And it turned out to be one of the biggest things at that time that Johnny Cash ever did.

Jim Marshall: I don’t think any of us knew how important it would be. I photographed the last Beatles concert in 1966. It was 10,000 seats short of sold out because no one knew it would be the last concert the Beatles ever did. But I was fortunate to be at both those places. I think Folsom gained in importance over the years because of the rawness of it and the energy. And it’s amazing the energy on that record. But I didn’t know at the time how important it would be.

MG: John had a real feeling for the down and out, for the prisoners. For anybody like that. He came from very humble beginnings in Arkansas. So even though he acquired a lot of things in life, he still felt for these people and he made it very obvious, too. He was so real with it. And that’s what brought him to prisons. And a lot of them turned their lives around because of our willingness to go entertain them that told them that we cared.