On January 13, 1968, Johnny Cash walked into California’s Folsom State Prison and made popular music history. The choicest cuts from the two shows he recorded that day merged to become At Folsom Prison, a multimillion-selling album produced by Bob Johnston that unveiled a startling portrait of American prison life and energized Cash’s career. The most popular album of Cash’s career to that point, it soared to the top of the charts and paved Cash’s way to international stardom.
At Folsom Prison‘s rebellious attitude and plea for compassion for the imprisoned (articulated in Cash’s original liner notes and the pouring out of his soul on stage) intersected with the spirit of 1968, finding a place next to figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy who urged Americans to reach out to the disenfranchised and next to young Americans taking to the streets to protest war and inequality. Curious music fans and socially-conscious critics across the nation were magnetized.
In Folsom’s wake, Cash became an international ambassador of country music, prison reform spokesman, and counter-culture hero. Few albums had ever proved so influential. Decades after its initial release, historians and critics continue to count At Folsom Prison among the classic albums of the 1960s. As daughter Rosanne Cash observes, Cash went into Folsom Prison and “came into the light.”