At San Quentin

Johnny Cash at San Quentin
Johnny Cash At San Quentin.jpg
Live album by
Released June 16, 1969
Recorded February 24, 1969
Venue San Quentin State Prison, California
Length 34:04
Label Columbia
Producer Bob Johnston (original)
Bob Irwin (re-release)
Johnny Cash chronology
The Holy Land
Johnny Cash at San Quentin
More of Old Golden Throat
Singles from Johnny Cash at San Quentin
  1. "A Boy Named Sue"
    Released: July 26, 1969

Johnny Cash 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 16 of that same year. The concert was filmed by Granada Television, produced and directed by Michael Darlow.[3] The album was the second in Cash's conceptual series of live prison albums that also included At Folsom Prison (1968), På Österåker (1973), and A Concert Behind Prison Walls (1976).

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."

There have been several releases with different songs and set order. 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.


Johnny Cash had previously recorded a concert at prison in 1968 at Folsom Prison. This concert was recorded for a live LP and a television documentary for the UK. On the original LP release, the song order was changed and several songs were cut, presumably for space reasons. Despite the timing limitations of the vinyl LP format, however, both performances of the song "San Quentin" (Cash agreed to perform an encore at the audience's request) are included on the original album. Some of the songs were censored. Despite the title of the version released on CD in 2000 – At San Quentin (The Complete 1969 Concert) – the CD does not contain the entire concert uncut, but does feature additional tracks and running order that parallels the actual setlist. In 2010, the album was reissued on vinyl by Sundazed Records with the original Columbia catalog number LP 5362. The reissued Sundazed vinyl is an exact copy of the original record except that the back cover has a barcode and indicates it is a Sundazed issue. Performed but not included were the songs "Jackson" and "Orange Blossom Special", which are included in the video release of the show (both songs had been included in At Folsom Prison). Two songs were somehow slowed down by half a step ("Starkville City Jail" and "Blistered"), possibly due to using another tape machine while the tape on the original machine was changed.

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, who appears on the recording as lead guitarist on several tracks).

Two songs are performed live on stage for the first time during the show: "San Quentin" and "A Boy Named Sue". According to biographer Robert Hilburn, the decision had already been made for Cash to perform "San Quentin" twice as it was considered the major new song of the set, though on record Cash makes it appear as if the encore is due to audience demand; producer Bob Johnson ultimately chose to include both versions of the song on the album. According to Hilburn, Cash spontaneously decided to perform "A Boy Named Sue" during the show and neither the TV crew nor his band knew he planned to do it (though he gave them advance warning by announcing early in the show his intent to play it); he used a lyric sheet on stage while Perkins and the band improvised the backing.[4]

European version

At the Dutch 1969 CBS Vinyl LP, is the CBS number 63629 printed at the top left of the cover. The songs are the same (including "San Quentin" twice at side two), but the song's lengths are not presented officially.[5]

TV special and middle finger photo

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.[6]


Reviewing for The Village Voice in 1969, Robert Christgau said of the album, "Much inferior to Folsom Prison and Greatest Hits, which is where to start if you're just getting into Cash. Contains only nine songs, one of which is performed twice. Another was written by Bob Dylan."[10] Rolling Stone magazine's Phil Marsh wrote, "Cash sounds very tired on this record ('ol' Johnny does best under pressure,' he says), his voice on some songs just straying off pitch. But the feeling that actual human communication is taking place more than compensates for this. Communicating to an audience at the time is becoming a lost art because of the ascension of recorded music as the music of this culture."[12]

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".

Reviewing the 2000 Columbia/Legacy reissue, Blender magazine's Phil Sutcliffe said, "Cash, just 25 [sic], sings as old as the hills — and looks oddly Volcanic. Prisoners 'have their hearts torn out,' Cash reckoned. It sounds as if he did too, wild-eyed and shuddering at the oppression of the walls. The crowd is a 1,000-strong caged animal. The reissue, with nine extra tracks, surpasses the vinyl original."[8]

Track listing

Several tracks on the original LP are preceded by several minutes of Cash talking to the audience, including a tangent where Cash is recorded trying to get his guitar tuned on stage. The original LP release bleeps profanity, including on "A Boy Named Sue" but later issues including the Legacy edition are uncensored. The original album's closing track "Folsom Prison Blues" is a partial performance of the song edited from a longer medley available in complete form in later reissues.



Album – U.S. Billboard

Year Chart Position
1969 Country Albums 1
1969 Pop Albums 1

Singles – U.S. Billboard charts

Year Single Chart Position
1969 "A Boy Named Sue" Country Singles 1
1969 "A Boy Named Sue" Pop Singles 2

Certifications and sales

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[13] Platinum 100,000^
Ireland (IRMA)[14] Gold 7,500^
Sweden (GLF)[15] Platinum 130,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[16] Gold 100,000^
United States (RIAA)[17] 3× Platinum 3,000,000^

^shipments figures based on certification alone


  1. ^ a b Friedman, Lou (November 15, 2006). "Johnny Cash: At San Quentin". PopMatters. Retrieved June 1, 2019.
  2. ^ Hendrickson, John (December 2, 2014). "Exclusive: New Photos of Johnny Cash at San Quentin Prison". Equire. Retrieved July 24, 2019.
  3. ^ Independents Struggle. Quartet Books. 2004. ISBN 0-7043-8155-9.
  4. ^ Robert Hilburn, Johnny Cash: The Life (New York: Little, Brown, 2013), p. 353-355
  5. ^ Source is mentioned in the statement
  6. ^ Johnny Cash (March 2000), "The Bird," Johnny Cash at San Quentin liner notes, Columbia/Legacy CK 66017, 2000
  7. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. Johnny Cash at San Quentin Review at AllMusic. Retrieved 18 July 2011.
  8. ^ a b Sutcliffe, Phil (July 4, 2000). "Guide". Blender. Archived from the original on October 19, 2006. Retrieved October 19, 2006.
  9. ^ a b c d e "At San Quentin". Acclaimed Music. Retrieved June 1, 2019.
  10. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (July 31, 1969). "Consumer Guide (2)". The Village Voice. Retrieved June 26, 2016.
  11. ^ Duerden, Nick (April 2007). "Johnny Cash - At San Quentin". Q (249): 126.
  12. ^ Marsh, Phil (26 July 1969). "Johnny Cash: At San Quentin". Rolling Stone. San Francisco: Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. (38): 36. Archived from the original on October 21, 2007. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
  13. ^ "Canadian album certifications – Johnny Cash – At San Quentin". Music Canada. Retrieved November 10, 2019.
  14. ^ "The Irish Charts - 2006 Certification Awards - Gold". Irish Recorded Music Association.
  15. ^ "Yes, We Accept Cash" (PDF). Cash Box. May 15, 1975. p. 47. Retrieved November 10, 2019 – via World Radio History.
  16. ^ "British album certifications – Johnny Cash – San Quentin". British Phonographic Industry. Select albums in the Format field. Select Gold in the Certification field. Type San Quentin in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.
  17. ^ "American album certifications – Johnny Cash – At San Quentin". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved November 10, 2019. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH. 

External links