October 13th, 2008
09:38 AM ET

Return to 'Folsom Prison'

“OK, we’re ready to do the record session. Are you ready?” asks Hugh Cherry, the Los Angeles broadcaster handling the announcing duties at Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison concert.

“Now I need your help,” he says to the men gathered in the prison cafeteria. “When John comes out here, he will say - and which will be recorded - ‘Hi there, I’m Johnny Cash.’ When he says that, then you respond. Don’t respond to him walking out, welcome him after he says, ‘Johnny Cash.’ I’ll have my hands up, and you just follow me.”

“Are you ready?” he directs a question offstage.

“We’re ready,” says a voice, then a brief pause.

And only then, modestly, comes the phrase everybody knows: “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.” And we’re off.

Such is the real opening of “Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison,” the landmark 1968 album that re-energized Cash’s career after a series of mid-‘60s setbacks. The album comes out in a 2-CD, 1-DVD “Legacy Edition” Tuesday.

In fact, that’s not even the REAL real opening - the concert actually begins with a short announcement from Cherry followed by performances of “Blue Suede Shoes” by Carl Perkins and “This Ole House” by the Statler Brothers. Moreover, as Cash biographer Michael Streissguth revealed in “Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: The Making of a Masterpiece,” the famous cheer after Cash sings, “I shot a man in Reno/Just to watch him die” in “Folsom Prison Blues” was actually spliced in later by producer Bob Johnston.

So the “Folsom Prison” we hear, even in the new edition, isn’t the whole truth, is it? Or is it?

All I know is, the first time - hell, the 50th time - I heard Johnny Cash sing “I shot a man in Reno/Just to watch him die” I thought he was recalling an incident from his own life. Same with “Cocaine Blues”: “I took a shot of cocaine and I shot my woman down.” A man like Johnny Cash - he sounded like he’d lived that life. He sounded like a biblical prophet. He could make you believe.

That dark side wasn’t all to Cash, of course. Watch this video of him mocking Elvis Presley on a late-‘50s TV show: hilarious and true. He didn’t write “I’ve Been Everywhere,” wasn’t even close to the first one to record it, but he made it his own.

I could go on and on, and I already have.

Better to listen to “Folsom Prison” once again, this time with the second show (yes, there was a second show, recorded in case the first didn’t go well). Better to watch the man in action. Better to mark October 23, 9 p.m. ET, on your calendar for “Johnny Cash’s America,” a Bio Channel special devoted to the Man in Black.

“I Still Miss Someone,” goes the title of another song from “Folsom Prison.” It’s hard not to miss the towering Johnny Cash.

- Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer

Filed under: Music

soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. praca

    ou did a unselfish profession creating a regulations also in behalf of photographers like me with no retreat throughout with stock. You explained so much that I needed to know. I decrypt it with consuming interest. You are a sfa writer. I’m on a-one of the world to receive met you and skilled in that you are as abundant and approachable as your oeuvre indicates. Your advantage is appreciated.

    April 13, 2011 at 1:34 am | Report abuse |
  2. Steve

    Too bad they chose to leave the spliced-in crowd noise. At this point it should be released as it happened. Still a great show.

    October 17, 2008 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Dominic Musacchio

    You can check out more about the new documentary film JOHNNY CASH AT FOLSOM PRISON by Northern Light Productions (part of the Sony Legacy Box Set) here:


    It will be premiering at the Austin Film Festival this Saturday, Oct. 18th and then at the CMJ Festival (Cantor Film Center, NYU) Fri, Oct 24th at 6:00, with John Carter Cash in attendance.


    October 14, 2008 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
  4. JAN

    I MISS THE MAN IN BLACK-----------

    October 14, 2008 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Kristen

    The 15th annual Austin Film Festival (October 16-23) will be screening the Regional Premiere of "Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison" on Saturday October 18 and Monday October 20. Looks great!

    October 14, 2008 at 9:31 am | Report abuse |
  6. Curt Hart

    I still have the original LPs of Johnny Cash, and later the CDs of his Folsom Prison series. Well, I thought that cheer was real after all these years. A great editor/producers makes an ever better album! I still miss "The Man in Black."

    October 13, 2008 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Terry Thompson

    How odd to read about Johnny Cash when in fact the Johnny Cash Flowering Picking Festival is this Saturday, Oct 18th in Starkville, Ms.
    Mr. Cash did in fact spend time in jail for picking flowers.

    October 13, 2008 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Shawn Steele

    Thanks for the article. Long live the music of Johnny Cash and his spirit. A true legend in everyway.

    October 13, 2008 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Amanda

    Thanks for killing the magic for me Todd.

    October 13, 2008 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Katie

    So true. I too still miss Cash. However, the day he died I didn't listen to his old songs while I cried for our loss–I confess, I listened to "Rusty Cage." Because that was what his desperately ill body had become–and he had broken it.

    Glad to know that the classic Folsom concert is being re-released though. A great one.

    October 13, 2008 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Tyler McAfee

    The Folsom Prison record gets all the attention, but the San Quentin live album is the better of the two.

    October 13, 2008 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
  12. Kathryn

    If you are a Johnny Cash fan, check out the "Johnny Cash Flower Pickin' Festival" in Starkville, MS. In its second year, it pays homage to The Man in Black and his short stay in the "Starkville City Jail". The festival is this weekend, October 17 – 19. For information, go to http://www.pardonjohnnycash.com. Roseanne Cash will headline the event.

    October 13, 2008 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |

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