At San Quentin

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At San Quentin
Live album by
ReleasedJune 16, 1969
RecordedFebruary 24, 1969
VenueSan Quentin State Prison, California
ProducerBob Johnston (original)
Bob Irwin (re-release)
Johnny Cash chronology
The Holy Land
At San Quentin
More of Old Golden Throat
Singles from At San Quentin
  1. "A Boy Named Sue"
    Released: July 26, 1969

Johnny Cash at San Quentin is the 31st overall album and second live album by American singer-songwriter Johnny Cash, recorded live at San Quentin State Prison on February 24, 1969, and released on June 16 of that same year. The concert was filmed by Granada Television, produced and directed by Michael Darlow.[3] The album was the second in Cash's conceptual series of live prison albums that also included At Folsom Prison (1968), På Österåker (1973), and A Concert Behind Prison Walls (1976).

The album was certified gold on August 12, 1969, platinum and double platinum on November 21, 1986, and triple platinum on March 27, 2003, by the RIAA. The album was nominated for a number of Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year and won Best Male Country Vocal Performance for "A Boy Named Sue."

There have been several releases with different songs and set order. The album cover photo by Jim Marshall is considered to be an iconic image of Cash, with Marshall Grant's Epiphone Newport bass guitar famously silhouetted in the foreground.


Johnny Cash had previously recorded a concert at a prison in 1968 at Folsom State Prison. This concert was recorded for a live LP and a television documentary for the UK. On the original LP release, the song order was changed and several songs were cut, presumably for space reasons. Despite the timing limitations of the vinyl LP format, however, both performances of the song "San Quentin" (Cash agreed to perform an encore at the audience's request) are included on the original album. Early CDs that feature this and At Folsom Prison on the same disc, however, contain only the second version due to time constraints. Some of the songs were censored. Despite the title of the version released on CD in 2000 – At San Quentin (The Complete 1969 Concert) – the CD does not contain the entire concert uncut, but does feature additional tracks and running order that parallels the actual setlist. Performed but not included were the songs "Jackson" and "Orange Blossom Special", which are included in the video release of the show (both songs had been included in At Folsom Prison). Two songs were somehow slowed down by half a step ("Starkville City Jail" and "Blistered"), possibly due to using another tape machine while the tape on the original machine was changed.

This was Cash's first album recorded without his longtime lead guitar player and Tennessee Two founder Luther Perkins, who had died several months earlier. On the album, Cash is heard paying tribute to Perkins (who was not related to Carl Perkins, who appears on the recording as lead guitarist on several tracks).

Two songs are performed live on stage for the first time during the show: "San Quentin" and "A Boy Named Sue". According to biographer Robert Hilburn, the decision had already been made for Cash to perform "San Quentin" twice as it was considered the major new song of the set, though on record Cash makes it appear as if the encore is due to audience demand; producer Bob Johnson ultimately chose to include both versions of the song on the album. According to Hilburn, Cash spontaneously decided to perform "A Boy Named Sue" during the show and neither the TV crew nor his band knew he planned to do it (though he gave them advance warning by announcing early in the show his intent to play it); he used a lyric sheet on stage while the band improvised the backing.[4]

TV special and middle finger photo[edit]

A crew from Granada Television in the UK filmed the concert for broadcast on television. In the extended version of the concert released by Columbia/Legacy in 2000, Cash is heard expressing frustration at being told what to sing and where to stand prior to his performance of "I Walk the Line". The famous image of an angry-looking Cash giving the middle finger gesture to a camera originates from the performance; in his liner notes for the 2000 reissue, Cash explains that he was frustrated at having Granada's film crew blocking his view of the audience. When the crew ignored his request to "clear the stage", he made the gesture.[5]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Blender (2000 edition)[7]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music[citation needed]
The Great Rock Discography7/10[citation needed]
Music Story[citation needed]
MusicHound Country4.5/5[citation needed]
PopMatters (2006 edition)10/10[1]

Reviewing for The Village Voice in 1969, Robert Christgau said of the album, "Much inferior to Folsom Prison and Greatest Hits, which is where to start if you're just getting into Cash. Contains only nine songs, one of which is performed twice. Another was written by Bob Dylan."[9] Rolling Stone magazine's Phil Marsh wrote, "Cash sounds very tired on this record ('ol' Johnny does best under pressure,' he says), his voice on some songs just straying off pitch. But the feeling that actual human communication is taking place more than compensates for this. Communicating to an audience at the time is becoming a lost art because of the ascension of recorded music as the music of this culture."[10]

The album was nominated for a number of Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year and won Best Male Country Vocal Performance for "A Boy Named Sue".

Reviewing the 2000 Columbia/Legacy reissue, Blender magazine's Phil Sutcliffe said, "Cash, just 25 [sic], sings as old as the hills — and looks oddly Volcanic. Prisoners 'have their hearts torn out,' Cash reckoned. It sounds as if he did too, wild-eyed and shuddering at the oppression of the walls. The crowd is a 1,000-strong caged animal. The reissue, with nine extra tracks, surpasses the vinyl original."[7]

Track listing[edit]

Original release[edit]

Side one
1."Wanted Man"Bob Dylan3:24
2."Wreck of the Old 97"arranged by Cash, Bob Johnston, Norman Blake2:17
3."I Walk the Line"Johnny Cash3:13
4."Darling Companion"John Sebastian6:10
5."Starkville City Jail"Johnny Cash2:01
Side two
1."San Quentin"Johnny Cash4:07
2."San Quentin" (performed a second time at the audience's request)Johnny Cash3:13
3."A Boy Named Sue"Shel Silverstein3:53
4."(There'll Be) Peace in the Valley"Thomas A. Dorsey2:37
5."Folsom Prison Blues"Johnny Cash1:29

2000 CD reissue[edit]

All tracks are written by Johnny Cash except where noted

1."Big River"1:56
2."I Still Miss Someone" (J. Cash, Roy Cash)1:52
3."Wreck of the Old 97" (*arranged by Cash, Johnston, Blake)2:05
4."I Walk the Line"3:29
5."Darlin' Companion" (Sebastian)3:21
6."I Don't Know Where I'm Bound" (Terry Cuddy)2:24
7."Starkville City Jail"6:15
8."San Quentin"4:07
9."San Quentin"3:13
10."Wanted Man" (Dylan)3:24
11."A Boy Named Sue" (Silverstein)3:59
12."(There'll Be) Peace in the Valley" (Dorsey)2:30
13."Folsom Prison Blues"4:24
14."Ring of Fire" (June Carter, Merle Kilgore)2:07
15."He Turned the Water Into Wine"4:01
16."Daddy Sang Bass" (Carl Perkins)2:43
17."The Old Account Was Settled Long Ago" (L.R. Dalton)2:16
18."Closing Medley: Folsom Prison Blues/I Walk the Line/Ring of Fire/The Rebel-Johnny Yuma" (Cash/Cash/Carter, Kilgore/R. Markowitz, A. Fenady)5:08


Has no author-credit. Apparently David G. George did not win a lawsuit against RCA-Victor in 1933 over the copyrights for this song.

It is worth noting, however, that it seems to be widely accepted that Henry Whitter wrote the music, as "The Ship That Never Returned"; Fred Lewey wrote the original words, and Charles Noell wrote the original two additional verses.[11]

2006 Legacy edition[edit]

Disc one
1."Blue Suede Shoes"Carl PerkinsCarl Perkins3:52
2."Flowers on the Wall"Lew DeWittThe Statler Brothers3:27
3."The Last Thing on My Mind"Tom PaxtonThe Carter Family3:34
4."June Carter Talks to The Audience"June CarterJune Carter3:27
5."Wildwood Flower"Maud Irving, Joseph Philbrick WebsterThe Carter Family3:49
6."Big River"Johnny CashJohnny Cash1:43
7."I Still Miss Someone"Johnny Cash, Roy CashJohnny Cash1:50
8."Wreck of the Old '97"Johnny Cash, Johnston, BlakeJohnny Cash3:24
9."I Walk The Line"Johnny CashJohnny Cash2:28
10."Medley: Long Black Veil/Give My Love to Rose"Danny Dill, Marijohn WilkinJohnny Cash4:06
11."Folsom Prison Blues"Johnny CashJohnny Cash3:00
12."Orange Blossom Special"Ervin T. RouseJohnny Cash3:03
13."Jackson"Jerry Leiber, Billy Edd WheelerJohnny Cash, June Carter and Carl Perkins3:23
14."Darlin' Companion"John B. SebastianJohnny Cash, June Carter, Carl Perkins2:24
15."Break My Mind"John LoudermilkThe Carter Family, Carl Perkins2:56
16."I Don't Know Where I'm Bound"Terry CuddyJohnny Cash, Carl Perkins5:14
17."Starkville City Jail"Johnny CashJohnny Cash, Carl Perkins3:32
Disc two
1."San Quentin"Johnny CashJohnny Cash4.09
2."San Quentin"Johnny CashJohnny Cash3:13
3."Wanted Man"Bob DylanJohnny Cash3:29
4."Restless"Carl PerkinsCarl Perkins3:54
5."A Boy Named Sue"Shel SilversteinJohnny Cash, Carl Perkins3:45
6."Blistered"Billy Edd WheelerJohnny Cash, Carl Perkins1:46
7."(There'll Be) Peace in the Valley"Thomas A. DorseyJohnny Cash, The Carter Family, Carl Perkins3:13
8."The Outside Looking In"Carl PerkinsCarl Perkins3:00
9."Less of Me"Glen CampbellThe Statler Brothers, Carl Perkins2:45
10."Ring of Fire"June Carter, Merle KilgoreJohnny Cash, The Carter Family, Carl Perkins2:07
11."He Turned The Water Into Wine"Johnny CashJohnny Cash, The Carter Family, Carl Perkins4:01
12."Daddy Sang Bass"Carl PerkinsJohnny Cash, The Carter Family, Carl Perkins2:43
13."The Old Account Was Settled Long Ago"Larry DaltonJohnny Cash, The Carter Family, Carl Perkins2:16
14."Closing Medley: Folsom Prison Blues/I Walk The Line/Ring of Fire/Folsom Prison Blues/The Rebel – Johnny Yuma/Folsom Prison Blues"Johnny Cash/June Carter, Merle Kilgore/Andrew Fenady, Richard MarkowitzJune Carter/The Carter Family/The Statler Brothers/Carl Perkins/Johnny Cash5:08

Disc three (DVD)

The original 1969 documentary produced by Granada TV in the U.K. chronicles Cash's historic concert at the maximum security prison. Includes footage of the concert that became the 1969 best-selling LP, and features an edited performance of the number 1 hit "A Boy Named Sue". Also contains one-on-one interviews with several of the prison guards and inmates, talking about their time and experiences behind bars. (Running time: approx. 60 minutes)

Sundazed vinyl (2010)
1."Wanted Man"4:03
2."Wreck of the Old 97"3:24
3."I Walk the Line"2:15
4."Darling Companion"7:08
5."Starkville City Jail"2:22
6."San Quentin"3:48
7."San Quentin"3:05
8."A Boy Named Sue"3:54
9."Peace in the Valley"2:37
10."Folsom Prison Blues"1:29

Several tracks on the original LP are preceded by several minutes of Cash talking to the audience, including a tangent where Cash is recorded trying to get his guitar tuned on stage. The original LP release bleeps profanity, including on "A Boy Named Sue" but later issues including the Legacy edition are uncensored. The original album's closing track "Folsom Prison Blues" is a partial performance of the song edited from a longer medley available in complete form in later reissues.



Chart (1969) Peak
US Top LPs (Billboard) 1
US Country LPs (Billboard) 1

Certifications and sales[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[12] Platinum 50,000^
Canada (Music Canada)[13] Platinum 100,000^
Ireland (IRMA)[14] Gold 7,500^
Sweden (GLF)[15] Platinum 130,000[15]
United Kingdom (BPI)[16] Gold 100,000*
United States (RIAA)[17] 3× Platinum 3,000,000^

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ a b Friedman, Lou (November 15, 2006). "Johnny Cash: At San Quentin". PopMatters. Retrieved June 1, 2019.
  2. ^ Hendrickson, John (December 2, 2014). "Exclusive: New Photos of Johnny Cash at San Quentin Prison". Esquire. Retrieved July 24, 2019.
  3. ^ Independents Struggle. Quartet Books. 2004. ISBN 0-7043-8155-9.
  4. ^ Robert Hilburn, Johnny Cash: The Life (New York: Little, Brown, 2013), p. 353-355
  5. ^ Johnny Cash (March 2000), "The Bird," Johnny Cash at San Quentin liner notes, Columbia/Legacy CK 66017, 2000
  6. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. Johnny Cash at San Quentin Review at AllMusic. Retrieved 18 July 2011.
  7. ^ a b Sutcliffe, Phil (July 4, 2000). "Guide". Blender. Archived from the original on October 19, 2006. Retrieved October 19, 2006.
  8. ^ Duerden, Nick (April 2007). "Johnny Cash - At San Quentin". Q (249): 126.
  9. ^ Christgau, Robert (July 31, 1969). "Consumer Guide (2)". The Village Voice. Retrieved June 26, 2016.
  10. ^ Marsh, Phil (26 July 1969). "Johnny Cash: At San Quentin". Rolling Stone. No. 38. San Francisco: Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. p. 36. Archived from the original on October 21, 2007. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
  11. ^ "Wreckbio".
  12. ^ "Platinum and Gold Singles 1982". Kent Music Report. 28 February 1983. Retrieved 10 November 2021 – via Imgur.
  13. ^ "Canadian album certifications – Johnny Cash – At San Quentin". Music Canada. Retrieved November 10, 2019.
  14. ^ "The Irish Charts - 2006 Certification Awards - Gold". Irish Recorded Music Association.
  15. ^ a b "Yes, We Accept Cash" (PDF). Cash Box. May 15, 1975. p. 47. Retrieved November 10, 2019 – via World Radio History.
  16. ^ "British album certifications – Johnny Cash – San Quentin". British Phonographic Industry.
  17. ^ "American album certifications – Johnny Cash – At San Quentin". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved November 10, 2019.

External links[edit]