Johnny Cash: Live Folsom Follow-up

As promised, here’s a follow-up to last week’s Johnny Cash post, involving a little extra journalist homework. I sent email queries to both Jim Derogatis and Greg Kot and so far I’ve only heard back from Kot. He quickly responded and kindly explained via email that he spoke with Cash circa 1996-97 and also had this to say about that interview with Cash about the Folsom recording.

“The last time I interviewed Cash, in 1996-97 or so, we talked at length about the Folsom recording and also the famed “bird” he flipped the photogs at San Quentin a year later. I asked him about the audience reaction and post-production on the recordings, and he told me that the audience was pretty boisterous and reacted in the middle of the songs, rather than waiting till the end to react, applaud, cheer, etc., like most crowds. That’s why he loved playing to prison audiences, he told me. “They’re real. They’re in the moment. It’s like you’re making the song up on the spot, and they’re responding to each line like you’re telling a story.” I took Cash at his word. I do think the “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die” reaction seemed a bit romanticized, almost unnaturally loud and boisterous on the recording, and may certainly have been tweaked by Bob Johnston in post-production, but I remain convinced from the Cash interview that there was some kind of reaction (maybe not as loud), and he could hear and feel it as he was performing the song.”

Even though Kot agrees at the possibility of studio tweeking, his response presents a very interesting scenario because Kot’s response (when he quotes Cash) seems to contradict Streissguth’s account as noted in the book excerpt when quoting producer Bob Johnston that “the crowd had remained enthralled by the first glimpse and words of the black circuit rider before them,…saving their clamorous gusts exclusively for its conclusion.”

I’m not about to argue with Kot, Cash or Streissguth but nonetheless, this is quite confusing from a journalistic perspective; but worse, as a fan, it makes you wonder what actually happened, and what the scene was really like when one of the best live albums of all time was recorded and produced, or what actually happens when any live recording is made.

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