Album no. 142/1001
Hello. I’m Johnny Cash. Again. Johnny Cash at San Quentin is Johnny Cash’s 31st album – and second on this list. That’s pretty insane.
This was actually the second time Mr Cash had performed at San Quentin – the first was back in 1958, where a certain Merle Haggard was in the audience and was inspired to become a country singer.
This was also the performance that saw Mr Cash take a rather infamous photo. The performance was being filmed for a television special in the UK and our mate Johnny was none too pleased to be told where to stand and when to sing. Which he also mentions in the live recording. Nice one.
Have you listened to this album before?
CL: No. I liked his concert at Folsom Prison though.
NK: I sure have!
CL: I suppose I liked ‘Wreck of the Old 97’, but I don’t know – this one didn’t grab me as much as At Folsom Prison.
NK: I could pick a LOT of tracks off this. ‘A Boy Named Sue’ is up there, it’s so ridiculous and funny. Johnny loading up on the ‘My name is Sue. How do you do? Now YOU’RE GONNA DIE!’ is great. I also like ‘Wreck of the Old 97’, ‘Big River’, ‘Starkville City Jail’ and both renditions of ‘San Quentin’. HOWEVER, this version of ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ is probably the best part of the album. He does the old tin cup trick, starts the song, introduces the band, and GETS INTO IT. He even sings along with the solo, it’s great. Also at the start of that song:
Johnny Cash: I’d like to thank the officials of San Quentin. All the guards here for helping us out. And the wardens. Every one of them.
Johnny Cash: Awwwwwwwwwwwwww, you don’t really mean that.
Gets me every time.
CL: I don’t really like that they’ve included the same song twice because the audience supposedly requested it. I don’t care. I don’t want to hear it twice. If I did, I’d just press the play again button.
When would be the best time to listen to this?
CL: It has some upbeat tracks, but also it’s a bit loose and raw – supposedly this was the first time they actually played a couple of the tracks live, like ‘A Boy Called Sue’ – so maybe when you want something a bit rough.
NK: Obviously when you’re in prison.
CL: Or then.
Why has this album been included on the list?
CL: Well, this album was nominated for a bunch of grammy awards, and his vocal performance of ‘A Boy Named Sue’ actually won Best Male Country Vocal Performance, so that’s good.
NK: I think this is better than the one at Folsom. The band are a bit tighter, really on their game. That said, Johnny seems to be a bit looser. He forgets the words occasionally, he has terrible trouble tuning his guitar, and there is a lot of rambling in between songs, but I quite like it! It gives you a real sense of being there. He plays ‘San Quentin’ twice because they crowd liked it so much, for crying out loud! How cool is that?
CL: We’ve always had a bit of a problem with country music, but I think Johnny Cash takes it away from that horrible standard slide guitar guff and turns it into something upbeat and exciting.
NK: Johnny Cash pretty much nailed country music. It’s something to do with the music itself I think, no slide guitar, just stripped down guitar, bass and drums. Keeping it simple. I really like this album.
Will you be listening again?
CL: I think I definitely preferred At Folsom Prison, but I might give it another go.
NK: I still think June Carter deserved better, but yes I will.
Listen to Johnny Cash at San Quentin on Spotify or buy it in iTunes.