On January 13, 1968, Johnny Cash recorded a live album in front of an audience of inmates and guards at Folsom Prison. The resulting album, At Folsom Prison, and single, Folsom Prison Blues, raced up the charts and re-ignited Cash’s career.
Folsom and its prison would forever after be associated with this iconic moment in music history.
Be a Part of the Legacy
The City of Folsom is honoring the lasting legacy of Johnny Cash in Folsom with the Johnny Cash Trail project, and is currently fundraising to bring the art installation to the trail. You can be a part of the story of Johnny Cash and Folsom when you contribute to this one-of-a-kind project.
Support the Trail and Get a Limited-edition Collectible
When you support the Johnny Cash Trail, you can receive one of 100 limited-edition JCASH50 collectibles.
Made in Folsom Prison: the JCASH50 Collectible
The JCASH50 collectible could only come from Folsom; it features a limited-edition license plate and photo of Johnny Cash taken in front of Folsom Prison on January 13, 1968.
The collectible JCASH 50 license plate is a California legacy plate; a black plate with yellow lettering like the ones used from 1963 to 1969. The license plate was made by Folsom Prison inmates in the manufacturing facility operated by the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA).
Together with the John R. Cash Revocable Trust, CALPIA, and the City of Folsom, DMV has authorized 100 of these limited-edition collectibles to be made in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Cash’s prison performance and live album.
Your contribution to the trail helps bring the art experience to the Johnny Cash Trail for the benefit of the Folsom community and Cash fans, worldwide. You become a part of the legacy and the story of Johnny Cash at Folsom. And you receive this unique collectible commemorating this iconic moment in music history.
Only the first 100 supporters will receive this limited-edition collectible, so don’t wait a moment longer to become a part of the legacy.
How Johnny Cash Came to Folsom Prison
Before he became a country music legend, John R. Cash enlisted in the United States Air Force. While stationed in Germany in 1953, Cash watched a prison movie that inspired him to pen the song Folsom Prison Blues.
Two years later, in 1955, Sun Records released Folsom Prison Blues. Cash’s prison song made it to the #4 spot on the Billboard Country Western chart.
Cash’s career took off. Invitations to perform at prisons began to pour in, beginning with his first prison appearance at Huntsville State Prison in Texas in 1957 and a performance at San Quentin in 1958.
Cash enjoyed playing at prisons where his bad-boy reputation served him well and resulted in an energized, enthusiastic audience. Many people mistakenly believed that Cash had even done prison time himself. (Although he did wind up in jail on a few occasions, they were only overnight stays. Cash never did “hard-time” in prison.)
By the late 60’s, Cash was at a crossroads in his life. With the help of singer and love interest June Carter, Cash was fighting to overcome addiction. His personal life was on the upswing, but his antics on and off the stage were taking a toll on his career.
Cash had an idea for a conceptual album that was unlike anything else being done at that time: a live album recorded at a prison, featuring nothing but prison-related songs. Luckily for Cash, a new head of Columbia Records was ready to take risks, and his revolutionary live album idea was met with enthusiasm.
January 13, 1968: Johnny Cash Performs Live at Folsom Prison
On January 10th, 1968, Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash checked into the El Rancho Motel in Sacramento, California. Later, they were joined by the rest of Cash’s band, the Tennessee Three, as well as performers Carl Perkins and the Statler Brothers.
After two days of rehearsals, Cash and company were ready.
On January 13, 1968, Cash took the stage at Folsom.
Cash played two performances at Folsom Prison that day; the second performance was a safety net in case the first didn’t go well. An estimated 1,000 inmates gathered in the prison’s dining room, joined by guards and reporters.
After Carl Perkins and the Statler Brothers performed, Johnny Cash took the stage. The inmates were silent until they heard the Man in Black introduce himself:
“Hello. I’m Johnny Cash.”
Cash opened both shows with Folsom Prison Blues.
The inmates were quiet throughout the song’s performance, careful not to applaud or cheer at any comments about the prison itself for fear of retaliation from the guards. The cheers heard on the album following the line “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die,” were added in post-production.
All but two songs on the live album, At Folsom Prison, came from the first performance of the day.
Folsom Prison Blues Climbs the Charts and Changes History
It took four months for Columbia Records to release Cash’s album At Folsom Prison. On May 25, 1968, Folsom Prison Blues hit the Billboard Top 100 chart.
Folsom Prison Blues made it to the #1 spot on the Country Western charts and rose as high as the #32 spot on the Billboard Top 100.
Lasting Success for Folsom Prison Blues
At Folsom Prison stayed on the country music charts for 90 weeks, and in the Billboard Top 200 for 122 weeks. The album was certified Gold in the fall of 1968 and certified Triple Platinum in 2003.
Cash received Grammys for both At Folsom Prison (Best Album Notes, 1969) and Folsom Prison Blues (Best Country Vocal Performance, Male, 1969).
At Folsom Prison and Folsom Prison Blues became a part of the history of the City of Folsom, as well. The popularity of the album and single made Folsom Prison one of the most famous and well-known penitentiaries in the world.
For the rest of his life and beyond, the City of Folsom became known for its connection with Johnny Cash.
“I think prison songs are popular because most of us are living in one kind of little prison or another, and whether we know it or not the words of a song about someone who is actually in a prison speak for a lot of us who might appear not to be, but really are.” - Johnny Cash
Folsom Commemorates a Legendary Moment in Music History
To celebrate this legendary moment and the lasting legacy of Cash at Folsom Prison, the City of Folsom is creating the Johnny Cash Trail: an interactive, multi-use public art trail inspired by the Man in Black for the benefit of the community of Folsom and Cash fans worldwide.
The City of Folsom, having recently completed construction on the trail itself, is fundraising to bring the world-class public art installation to the Johnny Cash Trail. The first pieces to be installed on the trail are Cash’s Picks, which will be placed at either end of the completed trail.
Each of the works of art, including a 40-foot tall statue of the Man in Black, is inspired by Cash’s music, career, and iconic performance at Folsom.
When it’s fully completed, the Johnny Cash Trail will be an amazing destination that benefits Cash fans from around the world, offering a world-class, interactive public art exhibit that’s free for all to experience.
The Johnny Cash Trail will be a place where nature, art, and music come together for the benefit of the community and for visitors from near and far. It will allow a new generation of music fans to immerse themselves in the story of Johnny Cash and his performance at Folsom Prison.
Join us in celebrating the 50th anniversary of this legendary moment in music history, and become a part of the legacy by helping to bring the art to the Johnny Cash Trail.