Glen Sherley

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Glen Sherley
Born (1936-03-09)March 9, 1936
Died May 11, 1978(1978-05-11) (aged 42)
Gonzales, California
Occupations Singer, guitarist and songwriter

Glen Milborn Sherley (March 9, 1936 − May 11, 1978) was an American criminal who became a country singer-songwriter after his song "Greystone Chapel" was made famous by Johnny Cash in 1968. Sherley wrote the song while in prison and it was performed by Cash at his Folsom Prison performance, later released as the album At Folsom Prison. Sherley was on the front row, unaware that his song was to be played.

Sherley subsequently wrote and performed a number of other songs. However, despite help from Cash, he was unable to adjust to life outside of prison, eventually committing suicide at the age of 42.

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Sherley was born in 1936, the son of farm workers in Oklahoma, who migrated to California in the 1940s to work in cotton fields, and on potato and other farms. Sherley was a youth offender, and through the 1950s and 1960s was frequently in and out of prison, for various crimes including one jailbreak.[1] By the time he was discovered by Johnny Cash in 1968 while serving time for armed robbery, Sherley had been an inmate of several state penitentiaries, including Chino, Soledad, San Quentin, and Folsom.

"Greystone Chapel"[edit]

During the late 1960s, Sherley wrote and recorded "Greystone Chapel", in reference to the chapel within Folsom Prison, where he was an inmate at the time. On January 12, 1968 a copy of this recording made its way into the hands of Johnny Cash by way of a Folsom minister who was a friend of Cash's, the night before he was due to appear in concert at Folsom.

In an interview with Life Magazine in 1994 titled "Country Rocks The Country", Johnny Cash said:

The night before I was going to record at Folsom prison, I got to the motel and a preacher friend of mine brought me a tape of a song called "Greystone Chapel." He said a convict had written it about the chapel at Folsom. I listened to it one time and I said, "I've got to do this in the show tomorrow." So I stayed up and learned it, and the next day the preacher had him in the front row. I announced, "This song was written by Glen Sherley." It was a terrible, terrible thing to point him out among all those cons, but I didn't think about that then. Everybody just had a fit, screaming and carrying on.

"Greystone Chapel" was recorded along with the rest of Cash's Folsom performance, on January 13, 1968.

Success[edit]

After the release of Greystone Chapel, Sherley's next major success came in 1971, when country singer Eddy Arnold recorded another song written by Sherley, "Portrait Of My Woman". The song became the title track from Arnold's next release.

Following the notoriety gained through the Arnold release, Sherley was then offered the chance to record a live album, while still in prison. The album was a success when it was recorded and released by Mega Records, with the permission of prison officials, leading to an offer from Johnny Cash himself to join Cash's publishing organization, House of Cash. When Sherley was released from Folsom Prison in 1971, he was met at the gates by Cash.[2]

When the documentary Flower Out of Place was filmed, showcasing Cash, Linda Ronstadt and Roy Clark performing at Tennessee State Prison, Sherley hosted the performance. Recent CD and DVD releases of this movie excluded Sherley's performance, possibly due to time constraints.

According to Marshall Grant, bass player and road manager for Cash, Sherley exhibited behavior that clearly indicated he was a pathological criminal. He casually made comments about killing members of the cast of Cash's show, and made threats. Cash himself became concerned about Sherley's potential for violence, and eventually dismissed him.[3]

Final years[edit]

After his departure from Cash's show, Sherley struggled to cope with stardom. He quickly faded out of the limelight, and into obscurity. Sherley ended up working for a large cattle company, feeding 10,000 cattle a day. He lived in the cab of a semi truck, and tried to stay out of the public eye.

On May 11, 1978, Sherley died from a self-inflicted gunshot[4] wound to the head at his brother's home near Salinas, California.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Streissguth, Michael (2004). Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: the making of a masterpiece= Da Capo Press. pp. 66–67. ISBN 0-306-81338-6
  2. ^ "Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison" Documentary film, 2008
  3. ^ Grant, Marshall I Was There When It Happened Nashville, TN. Cumberland House Publishing 2006
  4. ^ Rodda, Randy (October 24, 2004). "Johnny Cash, freed by Folsom blues", Buffalo News, p. G6.