Johnny Cash’s five-decade musical career was loaded with bigger-than-life landmark moments. None were more memorable than the Man in Black’s historic concerts at Folsom Prison and San Quentin State Prison, and the beloved albums that documented those shows. Cash’s passion for prison reform and rehabilitation inspired him to perform a series of concerts for inmate audiences, and two of these unique events were documented with Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison and Johnny Cash at San Quentin. These albums, originally released in 1968 and 1969 respectively, remain among Cash’s best-selling and best-loved recordings. At the time of their original release, they revitalized his career, and played a crucial role in his crossover from the country music world to the mainstream pop charts.
Perhaps even more so than its predecessor, Johnny Cash at San Quentin captures Cash at his most raw and uninhibited. The artist’s raucous rapport with his captive audience is obvious on an inspired mix of Cash classics (“I Walk the Line,” “Folsom Prison Blues”), jailhouse ballads (“Starkville City Jail,” “San Quentin”), traditional tunes (“Wreck of the Old 97,” “There’ll Be Peace in the Valley”) and well-chosen covers (Bob Dylan’s “Wanted Man,” the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Darling Companion”). The album’s most popular track, though, remains the Shel Silverstein-penned novelty number “A Boy Named Sue,” which became the biggest hit single of Cash’s career.