FDF Volume 1 Issue 22: Johnny Cash - At San Quentin
Album - At San Quentin
Artist - Johnny Cash
Key Players - Johnny Cash - vocal/guitar, June Carter Cash - vocal, Marshall Grant - bass, WS Holland - drums, Carl Perkins -elec guitar, Bob Wootton - guitar, Statler Brothers and Carter Family on vocals.
Produced By - Bob Johnson (reissue by Bob Irwin)
Released - June 4, 1969
Overview - Recorded 2 days before Cash turned 37 this was a "follow up" to the At Folsom Prison, his best selling record to that point. This album was even more popular and spent 4 weeks at the top of the Billboard charts. Until his most recent posthumous release this was his last #1 record. Cash and his band cut thru some of his Sun Records classics thru his "current" tracks at the time. Cash penned "San Quentin" for the event and the inmates went so crazy for it he played the song twice in a row. Bob Wootton had replaced guitarist Luther Perkins who had died in a fire a year before and seemed to fit right in place, Cash did mention Perkins not being there during the show. The full version of the show (and in order) on the re-issue really puts you in the audience. Johnny wanted to bring the music to the masses, and he sure did succeed.
FDF Comments (aka the songs) - When the album was first released it was not the complete show. Luckily the complete version is now available. With 18 tracks and some of the best stage banter Cash and Co were in top notch form. By the 4th song Cash mentions the TV cameras etc but says he is here to do what "I want to do and what you want me to do" The band launches into a great toe tapping version of "I walk the Line", they will do the song again in a closing medley with June Carter adding a real nice touch. June makes her first appearance on "Darlin' Companion" and the inmates act as you'd expect..a LOT of whistles and cat calls. Being the consummate professionals the band just soldiers on. The tandem of vocals between Johnny and June don't waiver one bit, this is a classic live concert moment. "I don't know where I'm Bound" Johnny introduces as a song that was written and handed to him the day before by an inmate at San Quentin. Johnny loved the words and put his own twist on it. The song is of hard times and the warts and all version delivered by Cash is beyond haunting. Very few of the songs continue right in to the next, Cash is just a wonderful storyteller you don't mind. When he does "San Quentin" you can hear the wardens blood vessels pop..these inmates were in heaven. As soon as they are done, they do it again and the inmates are equally as excited. Johnny sings his praises of Bob Dylan and performs the song "Wanted Man" that he wrote with Dylan. One of the most famous and beloved Cash songs "A Boy Named Sue" (written by a playboy writer Shel Silverstein) gets an over the top round of applause. The inmates loved the fact a boy could be named Sue. Johnny also does the classic "Folsom Prison Blues" to the inmates delight. "Ring of Fire" continues the rockabilly roof raising set. The Carter family adds some terrific high harmonies to the song. "Daddy Sang Bass" starts with Johnny telling the story about how they'd all gather together as kids and sing along. June adds a magical touch and the whole band gets in on the vocal duties. Far and away one of the most "hair stand up on the back of your neck" kind of songs of the record. The collection wraps up with a quick medley of Folsom->Walk the Line->Ring of Fire->The Rebel-Johnny Yuma. At this point the inmates are whipped in to a frenzy, yet they keep their composure to shower the band with the applause they so deserve.
Where are they Now?
-June Carter Cash passed away in May of 2003.
-Johnny followed just four months later.
-Marshall Grant was with Cash when the backing band was known as the "Tennessee Two". He managed the Statler Brothers until 2004 until his retirement.
-WS Holland continues to perform as The Tennessee Three with original lead guitarist Bob Wootton and recorded the band's first album since Cash's death in 2006 titled, "The Sound Must Go On".
-Carl Perkins passed away in January of 1998.
-The Statler Brothers retired from performing in 2002.
Quick Note - One of the most famous pictures of Johnny was this one:
Rumor had it that someone asked Johnny to pose for a picture for the Warden. In the liner notes of Columbia records release Johnny said that it had to do with all the TV cameras being there and him not able to see the audience. Although the "pose for the warden" sounds so very rock and roll, Cash said himself what it was all about.
FDF Personal Comments (the live experience) - This reviewer never saw Johnny Cash live. A slow stream of live dvds are being released and this particular show was filmed and there are "bootleg" versions of it out there if you hunt. One should expect for it to get cleaned up and released proper sooner than later. I do have a friend that saw him on one of the last tours he ever did. He treasures the concert t-shirt to this very day.
FDF Overall Take - Cash its at his peak at this time. His command of the stage and the audience are unparalleled. There is some of the funniest stage banter "should I drink this water?" to "What are you drinking in those tall purple cups?" bring you right into the crowded room of very enthusiastic inmates. If you are looking to expand (or start) your Johnny Cash collection this is really the first stop on the train.