At San Quentin is the 31st overall album by Johnny Cash, recorded live at San Quentin State Prison on February 24, 1969 and released on June 4 of that same year. The concert was filmed by Granada Television, produced and directed by Michael Darlow The album cover photo by Jim Marshall is considered to be an iconic image of Cash, with Marshall Grant’s Epiphone Newport bass guitar famously silhouetted in the foreground.
The album was certified gold on August 12, 1969, platinum and double platinum on November 21, 1986, and triple platinum on March 27, 2003 by the RIAA. The album was nominated for a number of Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year and won Best Male Country Vocal Performance for “A Boy Named Sue.”
The single, “A Boy Named Sue” became John’s biggest hit single peaking at No. 2 on Aug. 23rd, 1969. Johnny Cash, like Fats Domino, has never had a No. 1 single on Billboard’s hot-100 (Pop) chart. There were lot’s of No. 1 singles on the County Chart but not on the Pop chart.
“A Boy Named Sue” was NOT written by Johnny Cash but rather Shel Silverstein who wrote and drew many cartoons for Playboy Magazine, and children’s books. As a songwriter, he also wrote “Sylvia’s Mother” and “Cover Of The Rolling Stone” for Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show.
A crew from Granada Television in the UK filmed the concert for broadcast on television. In the extended version of the concert released by Columbia/Legacy in 2000, Cash is heard expressing frustration at being told what to sing and where to stand prior to his performance of “I Walk the Line”. The famous image of an angry-looking Cash giving the middle finger gesture to a camera originates from the performance; in his liner notes for the 2000 reissue, Cash explains that he was frustrated at having Granada’s film crew blocking his view of the audience. When the crew ignored his request to “clear the stage”, he made the gesture.
This was Cash’s first album recorded without his longtime lead guitar player and Tennessee Two founder Luther Perkins, who had died several months earlier. On the album, Cash is heard paying tribute to Perkins, who was not related to Carl Perkins.
Former Sun Records label mate, Carl Perkins, was on the show and opened with his Rock & Roll anthem “Blue Suede Shoes”. John had been hiring Carl to play in the band and open shows for years Both friends battled substance abuse issues at that time and felt that working together might help each other. Carl, in his autobiography however, stated that he did not like playing John’s shows at Prisons.
The album was nominated for a number of Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year and won Best Male Country Vocal Performance for “A Boy Named Sue”. It went to No. 1 on Billboard’s L.P. chart for four (4) weeks and is his biggest L.P.
Other “Lounge” pages with a “50th Anniversary – 1969” theme you might find interesting are: