One of his earliest songs, Cash first recorded this for Sun Records in 1956, but it was the thrilling, electric version recorded live at Folsom Prison in California on January 13, 1968 that came to define his outlaw persona. The Live From Folsom Prison
album helped revitalize his career - his last Country chart-topper and Top 40 Hot 100 entry was "Understand Your Man" in 1964.
"Folsom Prison Blues" was a #1 Country hit for four weeks and generated a great deal of interest in the rebellious Johnny Cash, who made prison reform his political cause of choice and started regularly performing in jails, doing about 12 shows a year - for free - mostly in Folsom and San Quentin. Said Cash: "I don't see anything good come out of prison. You put them in like animals and tear out the souls and guts of them, and let them out worse than they went in."
Standing up for the rights of prisoners is not a popular stance, but Cash came off as a champion for the oppressed. His next hit, recorded in San Quentin Prison, was the humorous "A Boy Named Sue
," which proved that he could be clever and funny (at least while singing words written by Shel Silverstein
). Cash got his own national TV show in 1969 and became one of the most popular entertainers of his era. Regarding his mystique, his daughter Rosanne later said, "He was a real man with great faults, and great genius and beauty in him, but he wasn't this guy who could save you or anyone else."