Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Folsom Prison Revisited

"Thank you very much, thank you very much. I'm sorry about that little interruption there but I just wanted to tell you that this show is being recorded for an album released on Columbia records and you can't say hell or shit or anything like that."

-Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison

As live albums go, it really doesn't get much better than Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison, and I genuinely mean that. Incredible music (including a song written by one of the inmates - Greystone Chapel, which you can listen to below), incredible venue (including calls by guards for prisoners and the warden welcoming Johnny and his father), and an obviously incredible connection between performer and audience. That being said, when I saw this news flash, I couldn't just sit on it. If only he was here to play the return engagement himself. We miss you Johnny.

UPDATE: So after posting this this morning, I found out this afternoon that it's been canceled. Totally lame and a real shame that such an opportunity will be missed. Sorry about the false alarm. You can still enjoy a song from the first time around at the bottom.


Cash Drummer WS Holland to Lead Band in Free Concert for Folsom Inmates

HOLLYWOOD: On January 13, 2008, forty years to the day, longtime Johnny Cash drummer, W.S. "Fluke" Holland will lead his band in a return to Folsom State Prison in Northern California to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the recording of "Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison," widely considered to be the best live album ever made.

Johnny Cash's performance on January 13, 1968, was a seminal moment in music and pop culture history. Released by Columbia records in the summer of 1968, "Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison" made a 90-week assault on the country music charts, peaking at Number 1 for three weeks in July and August.

The story was the same on the pop charts, where the album spent an incredible 122 weeks in the Top 200. In 2003, the National Recording Preservation Board chose "Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison" for its select list of recordings to be preserved for posterity in the Library of Congress.

At the 1968 Grammy Awards, Johnny Cash was named Best Male Country Music Vocalist for "Folsom Prison Blues." In 1969, he won an unprecedented five Country Music Awards, setting a record that remains unbroken to this day. But Cash's success surprised everyone. Just two months before he recorded at Folsom prison, Johnny Cash was, for all intents and purposes "finished" in the music business.

Cash's addiction to amphetamines, barbiturates and alcohol, which began in the late 1950s, had overtaken the singer by the mid-1960s. While Cash was never incarcerated in prison (a popular misconception), he was jailed several times on "drunk and disorderly" charges. In October 1965, Cash was famously arrested in El Paso, Texas, for smuggling pills across the border from Mexico.

By 1967, Johnny Cash was missing more shows than he played. The Johnny Cash Show, as his traveling act was called, was then being referred to by music insiders as "Johnny 'No Show' Cash." In October 1967, contemplating suicide, Cash claimed to have crawled inside Nickajack Cave near Chattanooga, Tennessee, only to hear God telling him to go on.

After spending the month of November 1967 undergoing rehab at his home in Hendersonville, Tennessee, the singer emerged clean and sober and recommitted to God and to his career. Less than two months later, Johnny Cash recorded at Folsom prison. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The "40th Anniversary of 'Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison'" is replete with history and coincidence. The free concert will feature several members of Cash's original group. Most notable is drummer W.S. "Fluke" Holland [a special guest vocalist will be introduced at the show!].

Mr. Holland, who joined the Cash group in 1960, kept the beat for the 1968 concert at Folsom. Mr. Holland worked behind Cash for nearly 40 years and was the only member of the band never to have been fired by "The Man In Black."

"I'm just tickled pink about goin' back to Folsom after all these years and doin' it all over again," said Mr. Holland from his home in Jackson, Tennessee. "I think John would be tickled pink too," he added.

Coincidentally, Jonathan Holiff, son of the late Saul Holiff, Johnny Cash's personal manager from 1960 to 1973, will produce the 40th anniversary event. Saul Holiff, a Canadian entrepreneur, started promoting Johnny Cash and The Tennessee Two in 1958. After becoming Cash's manager, it was Holiff who put his client together with June Carter on December 7, 1961.

In an interview he gave to WHN Radio's Ed Salamon in 1980, Cash recalled how the two started working together. "In late '61 we played the Big D in Dallas, Texas, and my manager, Saul Holiff, said, 'We need a girl singer on the show tonight. They want more than just you and your band.' And I said, 'Well, get one.'

He said, 'What do you think about June Carter?' I said, 'I've always been a fan of hers' and I had, you know. I loved her work. I said, 'Get her if you can.' So we booked June Carter on the Big D in Dallas and then that night my manager asked if she would work the next tour with us. So she did," Cash said.

"I'm a big fan of the movie 'Walk The Line,' said the younger Holiff. "But the average person who goes to see a biopic, believes what they see is fact. 'Walk The Line' was a great love story, but those scenes with Johnny and June riding in the same car with Jerry Lee Lewis, traveling from gig to gig in the late 1950s, for example, never happened," Jonathan said.

The 40th anniversary event was a happy accident. After Saul Holiff's suicide in 2005, Jonathan discovered his father's secret storage locker. "My father had kept everything from his years with Johnny," said Jonathan. "In addition to hundreds of letters, photographs and Cash memorabilia of all kinds, I was shocked to discover he also kept an audio diary from 1966 right up until the time he died. Not only had he shared his most private thoughts, he recounted his experiences with Cash - as they happened. I had stumbled upon the 'inside story' of Johnny Cash," added Jonathan.

Having been estranged from his father for 20 years, Jonathan started writing about the experience. "I needed closure. My father and I never got along. And when he took his own life, he didn't leave me a note." The product of that writing is a first-person, feature-length documentary - currently in production - called "My Father and The Man In Black." It was that documentary that brought Jonathan and his film crew to Folsom prison in September of last year.

"The people at Folsom couldn't have been nicer," said Jonathan. "I was there to get footage for my documentary and, having become friends with Fluke, I just threw out the idea to the Warden about having the band come back to play for the inmates. At the time, neither one of us had any idea the 40th anniversary was just around the corner," added Jonathan.

"Johnny Cash believed in redemption and reached out to those behind bars through his music and his actions," said Warden Matthew C. Kramer. "We are thrilled that we can honor his legacy through this concert, and invited inmates to attend as a reward for good behavior and for participation in in-prison programs to better themselves. These types of events are part of the state's broader commitment to rehabilitation, and the belief that by preparing inmates to successfully return to society as law-abiding citizens we improve public safety."

The event is a labor of love for all concerned. Not a single dollar of taxpayer money is being used to mount the show. Most of the production requirements are being donated or supplied "at cost" by nearly a dozen different vendors, including: the Folsom Tourism Bureau and Prison Fellowship Ministries.

Significantly, much of the staging and lighting costs are being underwritten by Prison Fellowship Ministries. PFM is the world's largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families. It has programs in correctional facilities in all 50 U.S. states and 110 countries worldwide.

According to PFM's Joe Avila, Executive Director for Northern California and Nevada, "We see the Johnny Cash story as a story of redemption. Johnny Cash overcame great obstacles and dedicated his life to working for his fellow man. His faith in God kept him with us long enough to make a difference in this world. And he was one of this country's strongest advocates for prison inmates."

Redemption plays a leading role in the story of this anniversary event as well as in the original recording.'s Stephen Thomas Erlewine described it this way: "Part of the appeal of the record is the way Cash plays to the audience, selecting a set of songs that are all about prison, crime, murder, regret, loss, mother, God and loneliness." Knowing now what was happening in Cash's personal life right before the 1968 show, one can imagine how the singer was able to connect so effectively with the inmates that day.

The "40th Anniversary of 'Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison,'" will be filmed "live-to-tape," and "streamed" worldwide over the Internet at on Sunday, January 13, 2008. For security reasons, the show will not be broadcast live. Please visit the website for the official start time of the broadcast.

The Internet broadcast will be produced by Nate Pariente of iClips Network, L.L.C. based in St. Louis, Missouri, and Jonathan Holiff of The Hollywood-Madison Group, based in Los Angeles. The show will be directed by Jay Blakesberg, a television director and highly regarded photographer based in San Francisco.

The producers will be shooting interviews with the band, and with at least one inmate and one retired correctional officer, who were at the show in 1968. Later, those interviews will be edited into the recording of the live show and offered for sale to television and DVD.

Twenty per cent of all net proceeds will be donated to four participating non-profit organizations, including the California Inmate Welfare Fund and VOCAL Foundation/Justice for Murder Victims.

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