Today marks the 49th anniversary of the recording of the live album intended to revive the then flagging career of Johnny Cash, At Folsom Prison, which took place on January 13, 1968.
As the New York Times notes at the bottom of their California Today column, "Executives at Mr. Cash’s record label, Columbia Records, saw him as so unreliable that they kept the planning of the Folsom show a secret from the press," and this was because Cash had been struggling with an amphetamine habit since the 1950s, which had also all but destroyed his career. But from his opening number, "Folsom Prison Blues," written in 1955, Cash proved he had still had all the same pathos and star power that made him famous over a decade earlier, and that this crowd of inmates was as ideal an audience as any.
Robert Hilburn, author of Johnny Cash: The Life, attended the show after hearing about it from a DJ friend, says Cash "was incredible. It was like he sensed this was a moment."
Cash would later become an advocate for the rights of prisoners, but only after the huge success of At Folsom Prison, and the follow-up album, At San Quentin.
Fun fact: The Folsom album was actually recorded over two performances, in the morning and afternoon of that same day, to ensure a good recording.