Today in 1968, Johnny Cash recorded the live album, “Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison” in California – he remade “Folsom Prison Blues” in the process. Also on hand – June Carter, The Carter Family, Carl Perkins and The Statler Brothers.
Despite little initial investment by Columbia, At Folsom Prison was a hit in the United States, reaching number one on the country charts and the top 15 of the national album chart. The lead single, a live version of “Folsom Prison Blues”, was a top 40 hit, Cash’s first since 1964’s “Understand Your Man”. At Folsom Prison received positive reviews and revitalized Cash’s career, becoming the first in a series of live albums recorded at prisons that includes “At San Quentin” (1969), “På Österåker” (1973), and “A Concert Behind Prison Walls” (1976). The album was re-released with additional tracks in 1999, a three-disc set in 2008, and a five LP box set with bonus rehearsals in 2018 for Record Store Day. It was certified triple platinum in 2003 for US sales exceeding three million.
The album release of At Folsom Prison was prepared in four months. Despite the recent success of “Rosanna’s Going Wild”, a Cash single released just before the Folsom concerts that reached number two on the country charts, Columbia initially invested little in the album or its single “Folsom Prison Blues”. This was due partially to Columbia’s efforts to promote pop stars instead of country artists. Nevertheless, the single charted on the Billboard Hot 100 on May 25, 1968; it also hit the country charts a week later. The single suffered a setback, however, when Sirhan Sirhan assassinated Senator Robert F. Kennedy on June 5, 1968. Radio stations ceased playing the single due to the macabre line: “I shot a man in Reno/Just to watch him die”. Reeling in the success prior to the assassination, Columbia demanded Johnston remix the single with the line removed. Despite protests from Cash, the single was edited and re-released. The new version became a success, reaching number one on the country charts and the top forty on the national charts. The single prompted the album to climb the album charts, eventually reaching number one on the Top Country Albums chart and number thirteen on the Pop Albums chart—the forerunner to the Billboard 200. By August 1968, Folsom had shipped over 300,000 copies; two months later it was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipping over 500,000.