Life at 33 1/3: A mountain of a man


Johnny Cash: At San Quentin (Columbia)

Johnny Cash could have played at Woodstock in 1969.  His credibility was carved in stone, all camps embraced him, rednecks, hippies, Vietnam soldiers, the anti-war movement, left-wing, right-wing, Nixons, Kennedys.  In him they all saw a “true American”, a mountain of a man with an integrity and dignity that never cracked.

The prison concerts are just a few of numerous highlights in Cash’s career.  The Folsom Prison- and San Quentin-albums crossed over and sold millions.  Check out the clips from these concerts at YouTube, a radiant magic surrounds the man, it affects everybody in his presence, the musicians, the prisoners, the guards, their facial expressions tells it all.

Cash built bridges.  He united people.  He had a twin spirit in Bob Dylan.  The two were very close, and it is no coincidence that Cash opens the San Quentin-album with “Wanted Man,” a Dylan original that he had received as a gift a week earlier when the two duetted on “Girl From The North Country” during  Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline “ sessions.

“At San Quentin” hit No. 1 both in the US (4 weeks) and the UK (2 weeks).  It also spawned a big hit single in Shel Silverstein’s hilarious “A Boy Named Sue”, the expression “son of a gun” was censored at the time, but they removed the bleep when the album was re-mastered and reconstructed for CD.

A great album it is, though a little short on playing time (a problem with most of the Johnny Cash’ Columbia albums).  There are expanded CD-versions available out there.  I would recommend the 31 track 2006 Legacy-edition that includes a bonus DVD with the original Granada TV-documentary from the concert.

At Johnny Cash’ funeral in 2003, Bob Dylan offered a pre-recorded tribute.  Let me quote the last part of it:

“Truly he is what the land and country is all about, the heart and soul of it personified and what it means to be here; and he said it all in plain English.  I think we can have recollections of him, but we can’t define him any more than we can define a fountain of truth, light and beauty.  If we want to know what it means to be mortal, we need look no further than the Man in Black.  Blessed with a profound imagination, he used the gift to express all the various lost causes of the human soul.  This is a miraculous and humbling thing.

Listen to him, and he always brings you to your senses.  He rises high above all, and he’ll never die or be forgotten, even by persons not born yet — especially those persons — and that is forever.”

Released: June 1969

Recorded: February 24, 1969 at San Quentin State Prison, California

Producer: Bob Johnston

(All songs by Johnny Cash except as indicated)

Side 1

“Wanted Man” (Bob Dylan)

“Wreck of the Old 97”* (arranged by Cash, Bob Johnston, Norman Blake)

“I Walk the Line”

“Darling Companion” (John Sebastian)

“Starkville City Jail”

Side 2

“San Quentin”

“San Quentin”

“A Boy Named Sue” (Shel Silverstein)

“(There’ll Be) Peace in the Valley” (Thomas A. Dorsey)

“Folsom Prison Blues”


Johnny Cash – vocal, acoustic guitar

June Carter Cash – vocal

Carter Family – vocals, autoharp, Guitar

Marshall Grant – bass guitar

W.S. Holland – drums

Carl Perkins – electric guitar

Bob Wootton – electric guitar

The Statler Brothers – vocals