Johnny Cash, Folsom Prision, And The Story Of Glen Sherley

This is a follow up to the blog about the greatest live recordings of all time. I really wanted to share the Johnny Cash recording. So here it is in it’s entirety. Each side will be presented as one track. This will allow you to hear all of the banter between songs In the words of Johnny Cash: “Listen closely to this album and you hear in the background the clanging of the doors, the shrill of the whistle, the shout of the men – even laughter from men who had forgotten how to laugh.”

This record was made on Johnny’s fourth trip to Folsom prison.  It was Johnny’s idea to do a live album from prison.  It took him six years to convince Columbia records to allow him to record the album in Folsom.

Side one begins with the song you would expect:  “Folsom Prison Blues”.  The crowd erupts accordingly.   Other highlights are “Cocaine Blues ” and “The Long Black Veil”.  This last song is covered on Roseanne Cash’s album “The List”.  “The List” is a recording that Roseanne made after her father died.  Before his death he gave her a list of 10 songs that he felt she should record.  Both Johnny’s version and Roseanne’s versions are riveting.  Forgive the long pauses before the music starts.  I forgot to edit the tracks before I uploaded them.

Side 1:

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The tracks are as follows:

Folsom Prison Blues

Dark As The Dungeon, I Still Miss Someone, Cocaine Blues, 25 Minutes To Go, Orange Blossom Special, The Long Black Veil

Side 2:

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The Tracks are as follows:

Send A picture Of Mother, The Wall, Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog, Flushed From The Bathroom Of Your Heart, Jackson (Sung with his wife, June Carter), give My Love To Rose (Also with June Carter), I Got Stripes, Green, Green Grass Of Home, and Greystone Chapel.

The set list is not an escape from a prison life but a confrontation of prison life.  It seems that Johnny Cash wants the concert to be a catharsis of the audiences suppressed emotions.  He forces them to feel what they don’t want to remember: like how much they miss home or their mother, what the crimes were that got them into prison in the first place, the shame and loneliness of prison life.  The performances are raw and emotional.  The song “Greystone Chapel” was written by a prisoner at Folsom named Glen Sherley.  I’ll let Johnny tell you in his own words how this song came to be on the album:

“The night before I was going to record at Folsom prison, I got to the motel and a preacher friend of mine brought me a tape of a song called “Greystone Chapel.” He said a convict had written it about the chapel at Folsom. I listened to it one time and I said, “I’ve got to do this in the show tomorrow.” So I stayed up and learned it, and the next day the preacher had him in the front row. I announced, “This song was written by Glen Sherley.” It was a terrible, terrible thing to point him out among all those cons, but I didn’t think about that then. Everybody just had a fit, screaming and carrying on.”

Johnny Cash helped Glen become a country music star.  Glen had success at first, but had a terrible time trying to cope with stardom.  As his fame faded he ended up homeless, living out of his truck, and helping to feed cattle.  On May 11, 1978 he took his own life by shooting himself in the head.  All this underscores what was at the heart of Johnny Cash doing this album. Johnny Cash had a deep belief that Prison does not rehabilitate people.  Johnny Cash was just like the rest of us.  He was unable to help save a man from himself.  Who really can?  What is great is that Johnny Cash tried so hard to make a difference in the lives of so many men that the rest of the world had already tossed aside like yesterday’s garbage.  God bless Johnny Cash and God bless all of the other Glen Sherley’s of the world…


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About John

I taught myself how to play the piano and read music when I was 9 years old. I've been been consumed by music ever since. I majored in Piano performance in College and I still play, although not as well as when I had time to practice 4 -6 hours per day. This blog is about music. Music is the sound track of our lives. All it take is one song, one composition; and we are transported across time and space. I think it was Beethoven that said: "Music is the landscape of the soul."
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2 Responses to Johnny Cash, Folsom Prision, And The Story Of Glen Sherley

  1. Ken West says:

    You’re right, John-this one really does deserve a review of its own, definitely not just another live album. I highly recommend his autobiography-I read it on a long flight last year. What an amazing figure, a true giant of American music and a man who truly lived his Christian values. Loved Roseanne’s cover of The List, she is a wonderful artist in her own right. Which reminds me….if you haven’t heard the album Fate’s Right Hand her ex-husband Rodney Crowell put out in 2003, stop whatever it is you are doing and order it right now. Trust me on this one-of the many records I’ve bought 10 years or so, this one got under my skin perhaps more than any of them.

  2. John says:

    Thanks for the tip on Rodney Crowell. I don’t have that album. But, based on your endorsement I’m going to get it asap. Thanks, Ken!

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