Even though he had enough run-ins with the law to go to jail, Johnny Cash still never became a prisoner.
Except for the times when he played to prisoners.
On Feb. 24, 1969, it was at San Quentin’s State Penitentiary near San Francisco where a very loose and arrogant Johnny partied with prisoners and poked fun at security guards.
“If any of the guards are still speaking to me, can I have a glass of water?” he asks them in the cockiest of ways.
Fueled by the cheers and reactions of his jailbird buddies, Johnny then gargles some water before he spills the rest of it onto the floor and launches into “San Quentin.”
Despite being confined to penitentiary walls, the prisoners must’ve felt pretty liberated that day by both Johnny’s performance and his ability to identify with them. While it’s safe to say that those days are over, to us, Johnny will always remain a legendary outlaw.
“At San Quentin” was the latter of two successful live recordings featured by the “Man in Black,” with his other being “At Folsom Prison.” However, neither one of them was his first prison gig. That one happened on Jan. 1, 1958.
Held in San Quentin, it was the show that coincidentally gave rise to Merle Haggard, but also started Johnny’s trail of prison concerts.