At Folsom Prison
At Folsom Prison is a live album by Johnny Cash, released on Columbia Records in May 1968. Since his 1955 song "Folsom Prison Blues", Cash drew an interest in performing at a prison. His idea was put on hold until 1967, when personnel changes at Columbia Records put Bob Johnston in charge of producing Cash's material. Cash had recently controlled his drug abuse problems, and was looking to turn his career around after several years of limited commercial success. Backed with June Carter, Carl Perkins, and Cash's band, the Tennessee Three, Cash performed two shows at Folsom State Prison in Folsom, California on January 13, 1968. The resulting album consisted of fifteen tracks from the first show and one track from the second.
Despite little initial investment by Columbia, the album was a hit in the United States, reaching number one on the country charts and the top fifteen of the national album chart. The lead single from the album, a live version of "Folsom Prison Blues", was a top 40 hit, Cash's first since 1964's "Understand Your Man". At Folsom Prison received good reviews upon its release and has since been considered one of the greatest albums of all time. The ensuing popularity revitalized Cash's career, and let to a release of a second prison album, At San Quentin. The album was re-released with additional tracks in 1999 and as a three-disc set in 2008.
Johnny Cash first took interest in Folsom State Prison while serving in the U.S. Air Force Security Service. In 1953, his unit watched Crane Wilbur's film Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison. The movie inspired Cash to write a song that reflected his perception of prison life. The result was "Folsom Prison Blues", Cash's second single on Sun Records. After its release, the song became a popular song among inmates, who would sometimes write to Cash, requesting him to perform at their prisons. Cash first answered one of the letters by performing at Huntsville State Prison in 1957. Satisfied by the favorable reception of the concert, he performed at several other prisons, including Folsom in 1966.
A few years after attaining commercial success from songs such as "I Walk the Line", "Understand Your Man", and "Ring of Fire", Cash's popularity waned. This was due in no small part to his increasing dependence on drugs. In 1967, Cash sought help for his escalating drug problems; by the end of the year, his drug use decreased and he sought to turn his career around. Concurrently, the country portion of Columbia Records underwent major personnel changes. Frank Jones and Don Law, who had produced several of Cash's albums, were ousted in favor of Bob Johnston. Johnston was known for his erratic behavior and willingness to disagree with studio executives. Cash saw this as an opportunity to pitch his idea of recording a live album at a prison; Johnston enthusiastically supported the concept. Johnston called San Quentin State Prison and Folsom, and Folsom was the first to respond.