On This Day: Johnny Cash is Arrested and Inspired to Write ‘Starkville City Jail’ in 1965

by Clayton Edwards

Johnny Cash is an icon. He’s one of those artists who folks from all walks of life can both enjoy and relate to. Even those who don’t listen to country music can get into Cash’s catalog. At the same time, a thick cloud of myth and legend surrounds him. It combines with facts and creates a kind of mythical hero out of one of America’s greatest singer-songwriters.

For instance, Johnny Cash sang so many songs about prison that many people believe that he actually did some serious time. After all, one of his most well-known tunes is “Folsom Prison Blues.” He sings it so convincingly that you could almost believe it. In fact, Johnny never spent any time in prison unless he was on a stage. However, he was arrested a handful of times.

He never spent any time in Folsom Prison. Johnny Cash did, however, spend a few hours in the Starkville City Jail. To hear him tell it, he was there for picking flowers. If you want to hear him tell the story, you can. He tells the inmates of San Quentin all about it before playing the song for his 1969 live album At San Quentin.

The official story, on the other hand, is a little different. It was 3 in the morning and Johnny Cash was hammered. He was reportedly going out in search of cigarettes. Before that, he played a concert on the college campus in Starkville. Then, he attended a couple of house parties. His search came to an end when he was picked up by Starkville PD and booked for public drunkenness. They released the icon the next morning after he had sobered up a bit.

Johnny Cash Writes a Song, Inspires a Festival

Cash passed away in 2003. Four years later, Starkville held their first Johnny Cash Flower Pickin’ Festival. During that event, the town issued a posthumous pardon to the late legend. During the three-day festival, you could retrace the Man in Black’s steps through Starkville. From the Animal Husbandry Building at Mississippi State to the University Hotel, then to Cell E at the Starkville City Jail. You could also hear a Johnny Cash tribute band. However, the stars of the event were two people who knew Cash well. Marshall Grant, who was, at that time, the last surviving member of the Tennessee Three and Cash’s daughter Rosanne spoke and performed, according to the New York Times.

The last Johnny Cash Flower Pickin’ Festival took place in 2009. However, residents of Starkville still celebrate their connection to the icon. This is especially true for Robbie Ward, the former Mississippi journalist who conceptualized and helped to organize the event.