Country Throwback: Johnny Cash, The Highwaymen Perform ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ for 1990 Special

by Joe Rutland

Johnny Cash has a songbook that country music fans turn to over and over again, yet “Folsom Prison Blues” remains among the top picks.

Cash knew about spending time behind bars personally due to his drug use. “Folsom Prison Blues” harkens back to those times in his life.

In 1990, Johnny Cash was part of a sort-of country supergroup called “The Highwaymen” that also featured Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson. They spent time touring around the United States, performing their own individual hits and songs they recorded together.

Cash steps up to the microphone at this concert held at Nassau Coliseum and, with a little help from his friends, sings “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Enjoy this flashback to “The Man In Black” singing his song.

Johnny Cash Took Music Inside The Walls Of Folsom Prison

One thing Johnny Cash remembered even in his darkest times was that music could help others in life. He was having lots of trouble coming up with a new album in the late 1960s, too.

Cash realized it was a risk to go inside the walls of Folsom Prison in California on Jan. 13, 1968, but he did it anyway.

“This was a way to get something out of him to release because we couldn’t get him in the studio,” late bass player Marshall Grant, a longtime member of Cash’s Tennessee Three backup band, said in an interview. “And when we got him in the studio, he’d come completely unprepared.

“He came in and would start writing songs,” Grant said. “You can’t do that because every part of our career proves, especially with us and with him, you had to get the songs, work it up, have it ready to go. Well, we couldn’t get him to do that. So it came up through conversation, ‘Let’s do an album at Folsom Prison.'”

The band that included rockabilly legend Carl Perkins performed two shows inside Folsom Prison. It lead to the incredible live album recording that also featured Cash and June Carter singing “Jackson” for the inmates.

Cash Appears In El Paso Courtroom Over Drug Issue

As mentioned earlier, Johnny Cash knew about running into legal trouble over drug and alcohol addiction.

One such time was in 1965, where Cash appeared in an El Paso, Texas courtroom.

Johnny Cash was clearing up his second arrest of the year on Dec. 28, 1965. The country superstar pleaded guilty to drug possession. He was forced to admit he really did venture into Juarez, a Mexican border town, on Oct. 4 to buy a significant number of pills. Cash stashed 1,000 of them in his guitar case. U.S. customs agents discovered 668 Dexedrine pills (a stimulant) and 475 Equanil tablets (for anxiety) when Cash was at the El Paso airport.

Earlier in the year, he’d been arrested in Starkville, Miss., for public drunkenness. In his lifetime, police arrested Cash seven times although he never spent any significant time in jail.

A judge didn’t hear the El Paso case until March 1966. Cash appeared in federal court with his attorney and his minister.

The judge sentenced Cash to a $1,000 fine and a 30-day suspended sentence. The judge said he suspended the sentence because the drugs were prescription. Country stars Gene Autry and Tex Ritter wrote letters to the judge to vouch for Cash’s good character.

If you want to read more about Johnny Cash, visit our archive of content on Outsider.

H/T: Rolling Stone