Johnny Cash – At San Quentin

CD Review: Johnny Cash At San Quentin

by Dyah Ikhsanti for Country Music News International

Album: At San Quentin

Artist: Johnny Cash

Released: June 16, 1969


Song list:

  1. Wanted Man 4:03
  2. Wreck of the Old 97 3:24
  3. I walk the Line 2:15
  4. Darlin’ Companion 7:08
  5. Starkville City Jail 2:22
  6. San Quentin 3:48
  7. San Quentin (Reprise) 3:06
  8. A Boy Named Sue 3:54
  9. (There’ll Be) Peace in the Valley 2:37
  10. Folsom Prison Blues 1:29


Now, let us give this classic a space in our mind today. Johnny Cash was not only a legend of Country music, but legend of music in general. Regardless his story, Mr. Cash approach to music was new during his era. Making him an inspiration to many musicians, including the younger generation.

This time I would like to turn back time and serve review of my favorite classics from Cash’s legendary album At San Quentin. Which is his live performance at San Quentin State Prison, California.

Wanted Man

Of course, when you perform in front of people you want them to feel related to your songs. Cash chose Wanted Man to open his show was such a good decision.

Wanted Man was a result of jamming session with Carl Perkins and Bob Dylan. He performed the song with improvisations and bit of humor made it more enjoyable.

The lyric itself is pretty straightforward. It tells about a story of a wanted man that moved from town to town to avoid the cops. Even so, you can relate to the story in many ways. To me, we can also say it is about someone who did not worry of what tomorrow might be. They moved from town to town and lived life as free people.

I Walk the Line

Honestly, this song introduced me to Johnny Cash. I remember listening this song back in 2005 while I was writing for a college magazine.

At the time he made debut on the Grand Ole Opry, I walk the Line was number 1 on Billboard’s C&W Played on Jukeboxes chart. On this same day, he met June Carter. Later both married in 1968 until their deaths. This story made I Walk the Line became more special.

You can say that this song is a simple and assertive love song. There is no expression that you cannot understand, yet it still feels poetic to me due to the rhyme of each verse. This song is telling a story of someone that was ready to settle down with his loved one.

San Quentin

This song received a warm reaction from the inmates of San Quentin. Johnny Cash performed the song during his show at San Quentin State Prison on February 24, 1969. Later this song was released on June 4, 1969.

Johnny Cash was trying to put himself in the inmates’ shoes, imagining what he would feel if he was stuck in the prison.

Basically, San Quentin is a song about a prisoner that hates the place he was in. Then he was hoping that the prison would fall apart, so he could be free.

Folsom Prison Blues

Of course, I have to include Folsom Prison Blues on my favorite list. This song was inspired by a movie titled Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison. He never served a jail time in Folsom Prison, but he wanted to express how it felt like to live there as an inmate.

He wrote the song in 1952 then released it in 1955. This song also became one of his iconic works moreover after he performed it at Folsom Prison. The live version of this song later reached number 1 on Billboard.

Fun fact about this song, cheering sound after the line “but I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die” was added later after the performance. It was because the audience, which were prisoners of Folsom, were afraid of punishment they might get if they cheered at that time.

Did I miss your favorite track? Let us know your favorite if you ever checked the album before.

When listening to At San Quentin, I was reminded of how strong Johnny Cash’s stage presence was. He made the whole show enjoyable and lighthearted by throwing jokes here and there.

Meanwhile, it is time to relax with your drink and listen to the stories that Cash served in form of songs.

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