Playing with the band allowed him to improve his guitar technique and to have a serious go at song writing. Cash admitted later that the band was terrible but the German beer made them feel like they were great!
The commanding officer of Johnny Cash's unit, invited his men to watch a film called Inside The Walls Of Folsom Prison. The film, directed by Crane Wilbur in 1951, is about life inside a particularly harsh prison in California, where some notoriously dangerous criminals were incarcerated.
It was after watching the film that Johnny Cash felt inspired to write the song that ultimately became one of his signature songs. Folsom Prison Blues.
Cash had always had sympathy with prisoners. He had grown up in very hard times and understood how easy it was to fall into a life of crime, when making a living was so tough.
At the age of five, Cash had worked in the cotton fields with the rest of his family. He had seen the tragedy of his brother being killed in an accident involving farm machinery, and had known hardship through the loss of crops due to flooding.
Like so many underprivileged country people of the time, Gospel music played a big part of Johnny Cash's life. It was his mother who taught him to play guitar when he was a child. He began experimenting with song writing at the age of 12.
Trains and prisons were popular themes for country songs during the 1950's and Cash himself, often featured them in his own writing.
The character in our featured song Folsom Prison Blues, is a man who is serving time in prison for murder and as Johnny Cash stopped to think about his character, he pondered on the worst reason there could possibly be for killing a man. He came up with the line "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die."
When you stop to think about it, it's quite a violent song for it's time!
In 1955, Johnny Cash signed with Sun Records. Folsom Prison Blues became his 2nd single to be released after Hey Porter, which is probably one of his lesser known songs.
The song created a cult following among prison in-mates across America. Johnny Cash received enormous amounts of fan mail from prisoners, which inspired him to do a prison tour.
In 1968, Johnny Cash visited Folsom Prison to record a live album. His opening number was of course, Folsom Prison Blues. His wife, Country music star June Carter, accompanied him at the concert. Cash also performed a song called Greystone Chapel, which was written by prison inmate Glen Sherley.
The album At Folsom Prison was a runaway success, but was withdrawn from sale temporarily later the same year, 1968, when Robert F Kennedy was assassinated. The Line "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die" was considered distasteful. The American public really weren't in the mood for any mention of guns. Eventually though, it was put back on sale and continued to rocket up the charts.
Interestingly, although Johnny Cash is extremely popular in the UK, he hasn't had a great deal of singles chart success here. His best selling single was A Thing Called Love. It reached No. 4 in 1971.
Cash's best selling album in UK was another live album from a prison, At San Quentin.
Johnny Cash died in September 2003 aged 71. A film about his life entitled Walk The Line was released in 2005. It won many industry accolades as well as being a box office success.
The Cash legacy lives on in the music of Johnny's daughter Roseanne Cash and his son John Carter Cash, both of whom are talented and successful Country music artists in their own rights.