Country Throwback: Johnny Cash Plays ‘Cocaine Blues’ at Folsom Prison

by Matthew Wilson

While “Folsom Prison Blues” is Johnny Cash‘s most famous prison song, the singer also sang of another criminal out on the lam. That song would be “Cocaine Blues,” which Cash also sang and recorded at the famous Folsom Prison in 1968. The song featured on his album “Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison.”

Rather than shooting a man just to watch him die, Cash’s narrator kills his unfaithful girlfriend while under the influence. The narrator’s drug of choice? You guessed it, cocaine and whiskey. The narrator then goes on the run before finally getting caught. Authorities sentence him to 99 years in originally San Quentin. But Cash changed the prison to Folsom for the concert.

Cash wasn’t the originator of the song. It was originally written by T.J. “Red” Arnall and recorded by Woody Guthrie in 1944. But like so many tunes, Cash knew how to turn the song into his own. Cash sang with such an authority that listeners could almost imagine him doing all the things he sang of.

Johnny Cash Revitalized His Career in Prison

Johnny Cash helped revitalize his career with his concert at Folsom Prison. The album helped distinguish Cash from many of his peers as a bit of rebel and outlaw. It proved to be instantly popular and an important moment in Cash’s career. It helped Cash cement his legacy.

Cash and June Carter Cash kept touring prisons until the 1970s. But they stopped after a prison riot. Cash’s friend and fellow singer Merle Haggard revealed that the incident scared the two.

“I think there was a riot or something that happened,” Haggard told the Rolling Stone. “It was like being in a lion’s cage or something. They thought they were immune to those mean people in that prison and something happened coming out of one of the joints where they couldn’t get out for a little bit and it scared the hell out of him and June both. They told me it did, they didn’t go back after that. He didn’t realize that some of the people in there hated him just because of the way he was.”

But Cash’s album at Folsom Prison remains some of the singer’s most iconic work.