Eight notes. Eight of the most identifiable notes in country music. The guitar introduction to “Folsom Prison Blues” is one of the most recognized openings to any song in musical history. We’d put it right up there with the two notes that identify the shark in “Jaws.” But the song is also the lead track on one of the most important collections in Johnny Cash’s catalog, “At Folsom Prison.”
Now that album and that recording experience is the catalyst to a documentary on the life and music of the Man in Black.
According to “The Hollywood Reporter,” Thom Zimney, the filmmaker behind documentaries on Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Presley, is set to direct the new piece on the iconic country singer-songwriter, and he has the full support of the Cash estate.
“While the linear narrative of the Folsom Prison performances will anchor our film, each song in the set list will open a door into a nonlinear presentation of Cash’s emotional, musical and personal development,” Zimney says.
Longtime country music fans may know that Johnny recorded the album “At Folsom Prison” 50 years ago. And while the stories vary as to why he was motivated to take his music to the incarcerated, one thing is certain: it ensured he had a captive audience. But the chart-topping success of “At Folsom Prison” also afforded him the opportunity to turn that project into a series of four albums recorded in prisons, including “At San Quentin”; “Pa Osteraker,” recorded in Sweden; and “A Concert Behind Prison Walls,” recorded in Tennessee.
Johnny passed away in 2003, just months after he lost his wife, June Carter Cash. In his younger days, because of an ongoing drug addiction, the statuesque entertainer did experience multiple run-ins with the law that resulted in jail time. However, he never served time in prison, as is commonly rumored. And although he often performed at prisons, even earlier in his career, it wasn’t until 1968 that he captured the experience for the recording “At Folsom Prison.”
His last recorded prison show, 1974s “A Concert Behind Prison Walls,” wasn’t actually released as an album until Johnny’s passing, but film crews were brought in to make the performance a nationally-televised event. That concert also included performances from Linda Ronstadt, Roy Clark, and actor-comedian Foster Brooks.
In 2005, Johnny’s story was brought to life in the award-winning bio-drama “Walk the Line” which starred Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon and Ginnifer Goodwin. And, a bit of trivia for you, some scenes in the movie were actually filmed in the Tennessee State Penitentiary in Nashville, which is also where “The Green Mile,” starring Tom Hanks, was filmed.
No production schedule, release date or title for the new documentary has been announced, but we’ll keep you posted as we learn more.