Friday, July 28, 2023



I previously posted an item on AI in music, which included Johnny Cash’s voice having been artificially recreated using AI to sing the Barbie song to the Folsom Prison Blues melody.

In preparing that, I looked again at Cash singing San Quentin at that prison. An amazing song, performance with directed hostility in the lyrics. Amazing that he was permitted to perform it for the inmates.

Here are comments on the song and performance, plus a reprint of an article that is fascinating about it.



Click on the following link to watch the live performance in the prison:


Some comments at the above link:

This man walked into San Quentin and performed a song utterly trashing San Quentin and the entire prison system. Absolutely legendary.

This song is incredible, but what really makes this entire album so moving is the response from the audience.

One of the most revolutionary live performances of all time, no one had the balls to go into a place like this and put on a great show but Cash. What he did for prison reform in America will never been forgotten.

I love Johnny Cash's voice. Looking at these men's faces, not knowing anything about them, whether their incarceration is justified or not, makes me realise they are, after all, human beings. This must have been a great event for them.

That guitar rift cuts right through you. It’s almost as though you can feel the despair in it, absolutely incredible.

One of the most iconic, heartbreaking and revolutionary songs ever. Goosebumps hearing the crowd cheering. Johnny sang their thoughts, made them laugh and cry. Absolute legend. RIP

I still get chills from this! RIP Johnny we miss you sir.🙏🏼

This sends shivers down my spine. RIP Johnny Cash.

They all loved him!!! Being so honest and open!!!!! I love Johnny Cash!!!!!!

This is literally one of the greatest performances of all time! Gave me chills

1969 I was 15 now I'm 66 and rediscovered Johnny Cash. The man is a legend.

Great charisma, great voice ... He's the John Wayne of the music world.❤

Having spent time in prison, the cheers of the prisoners is palpable. This song hits hard

I honestly can't believe they allowed him to play a song like this about San Quentin at San Quentin. Like really, that's pretty amazing.

I often wonder if the prisoners are still alive and if they ever saw the outside world again, this song is just a masterpiece

"And I'll walk out a wiser weaker man" That line always sticks with me.

This is music history
RIP Johnny Cash
You will never be forgotten

The lyrics:

"San Quentin"

San Quentin, you've been livin' hell to me
You've blistered me since nineteen sixty three
I've seen 'em come and go and I've seen them die
And long ago I stopped askin' why

San Quentin, I hate every inch of you.
You've cut me and you scarred me through and through.
And I'll walk out a wiser weaker man;
Mister Congressman you can't understand.

San Quentin, what good do you think you do?
Do you think I'll be different when you're through?
You bend my heart and mind and you warp my soul,
And your stone walls turn my blood a little cold.

San Quentin, may you rot and burn in hell.
May your walls fall and may I live to tell.
May all the world forget you ever stood.
And may all the world regret you did no good.

San Quentin, I hate every inch of you.

Some facts:

Johnny Cash at San Quentin is the 31st overall album and second live album by American singer-songwriter Johnny Cash, recorded live at San Quentin State Prison on February 24, 1969, and released on June 16 of that same year.

The album was the second in Cash's conceptual series of live prison albums that also included At Folsom Prison (1968), På Österåker (1973), and A Concert Behind Prison Walls (1976).

The album was certified gold on August 12, 1969, platinum and double platinum on November 21, 1986, and triple platinum on March 27, 2003.

The album was nominated for a number of Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year and won Best Male Country Vocal Performance for "A Boy Named Sue."

The album cover photo by Jim Marshall is considered to be an iconic image of Cash, with Marshall Grant's Epiphone Newport bass guitar famously silhouetted in the foreground.

Two songs are performed live on stage for the first time during the san Quentin show: "San Quentin" and "A Boy Named Sue”. Cash spontaneously decided to perform "A Boy Named Sue" during the show and neither the TV crew nor his band knew he planned to do it.

A crew from Granada Television in the UK filmed the concert for broadcast on television. In the extended version of the concert released by Columbia/Legacy in 2000, Cash is heard expressing frustration at being told what to sing and where to stand prior to his performance of "I Walk the Line". The famous image of an angry-looking Cash giving the middle finger gesture to a camera originates from the performance; in his liner notes for the 2000 reissue, Cash explains that he was frustrated at having Granada's film crew blocking his view of the audience. When the crew ignored his request to "clear the stage", he made the gesture. (A different explanation is given below.).


The article:

Why It Mattered: Johnny Cash – ‘At San Quentin’
By Luke Saunders
December 2, 2022

The Man In Black was always one to champion the underdog. But Johnny Cash never made a bolder statement than At San Quentin.

On New Years Day 1959, Johnny Cash played his first-ever prison show at San Quentin. A frosty winter’s morning in San Francisco, Cash was not nervous about entering a maximum-security prison armed with one a guitar and his voice. Hell, San Quentin wasn’t even the most notorious prison in San Fran.

Aside from recording one of the most famous live albums of all time and taking one of the most iconic photos of all time, Johnny Cash inspired one unsuspecting inmate in the crowd that day who went on to become a country luminary in his own right: Merle Haggard.

Cash was arrested several times over course of his life but was never sentenced to prison. That being said he felt immense compassion for those who had made poor choices, as he himself had. As well as performing at prisons, always for free, Cash tirelessly campaigned for the rights of prisoners.

Folsom Prison Blues earned Johnny Cash his first Top 10 country hit in 1956, giving his fledgling career and critical jump start. The perspective of this song shaped the trajectory of Cash’s life and birthed the concept of some of the best selling live albums of all time. Johnny Cash remembers the forgotten men. Inside a prison, Cash sang like a croaky siren to those lost souls whose spirits were destroyed by the mindless penal system.

On New Years Day in 1959, Merle Haggard, who was serving 10 years for burglary, was in the crowd at San Quentin and cites the experience as a formative life-changing moment.

Haggard was a product of Bakersfield, California, a flea-bitten Central valley town which was the end of the line for tens of thousands of poor, white farmers who migrated west during the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s looking for work. These Oklahomans and Texans were colloquially referred to under the blanket term ‘Okies’ and brought with them a love of country music.

Merle Haggard would eventually become a draughtsman of the no-frills Bakersfield Sound, which shook the Nashville industry in the 1960s. But not before he got caught on the wrong side of the tracks and found himself at the mercy of the legal establishment.

On this fateful day, two of country music’s most revered outlaws crossed paths and set in motion the cogs that would change the genre forever.

In 1957, at the age of 18, Haggard was arrested on a burglary charge and sentenced to 15 years in San Quentin – yes, he turned 21 in prison.

“He had the right attitude,” Haggard later recalled. “He chewed gum, looked arrogant and flipped the bird to the guards — he did everything the prisoners wanted to do. He was a mean mother from the South who was there because he loved us. When he walked away, everyone in that place had become a Johnny Cash fan.”

Merle later confronted it as a guest on the ABC’s The Johnny Cash Show in August 1969. Earlier that year, Cash released his iconic At San Quentin, and encouraged Haggard to open up about his rough past and the autobiographical elements of his hit, Mama Tried.

Haggard: “Funny you mention that, Johnny.”
Cash: “What?”
Haggard: “San Quentin.”
Cash: “Why’s that?”
Haggard: “The first time I ever saw you perform, it was at San Quentin.”
Cash: “I don’t remember you being in that show, Merle.”
Haggard: “I was in the audience, Johnny.”

After that fateful performance, two major things happened. Johnny Cash made a career out of recording prison performances. And Merle Haggard was given the inspiration to launch a career after jail that resulted in 38 No.1 hits on the Country Charts, Sing Me Back Home, Okie From Muskogee and Today I Started Loving You Again.

Though that concert wasn’t recorded, Cash continued to tour prisons for the next ten years before recording At Folsom Prison in 1968. On February 24, 1969, recorded an incredible performance back at San Quentin. While Haggard was no longer in the audience, Cash gave the performance of a lifetime and took one of the most iconic photos in history. His photographer asked, “John, let’s do a shot for the warden.” The result is one of the most imitated poses of all time.

Opening the show with a new Dylan tune, Wanted Man sets the tone for his sermon to the sinners. Cash’s rapport is instant. I Walk The Line is presented as hard and tough as his storytelling is at its finest.

One of the only recordings of Starkville City Jail is found here, a comic retelling of a night he spent in custody. The inmates are on the edge of their seats, erupting into rapturous applause at ever knee-slapping quip or political jab at the system. Furthermore, Cash cuts a definitive take of the overtly Oedipal, A Boy Named Sue, a humorist tale by poet Shel Silverstein.

A tremendous double-take of San Quentin shows the incredible difference between both versions, before closing out the set with a brief, yet pounding rendition of Folsom Prison Blues.

“He always identified with the underdog,” says Cash’s younger brother, Tommy Cash. “He identified with the prisoners because many of them had served their sentences and had been rehabilitated in some cases but were still kept there the rest of their lives. He felt a great empathy with those people.”

The concert is over and those humans are still behind bars the following day, on the other side of the Bay. The immense connection and presence of that concert if something that has been imprinted on many listeners since. I defy a music star today to connect so deeply, and relatable, to the outcasts of society we have condemned to our dungeons.

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