55 Years Ago Today, Johnny Cash Records His Iconic ‘At San Quentin’ Prison Album

Johnny Cash country music
Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty Images

February 24th, 1969… San Quentin State Prison… Marin County, California.

The great Johnny Cash walked on stage in front of more than 1,000 inmates at San Quentin State Prison. It wasn’t his first time there, however, it was the first time he planned to record a full live album there.

He played there a number of times beginning in 1958, and in 1960, he even had Merle Haggard in the audience. Witnessing Johnny Cash live would convince Merle Haggard to give up his life and crime and pursue a career in country music.

Released on June 16, 1969, At San Quentin is one of the most iconic albums in all of Johnny Cash’s legendary catalog. It won a CMA for Album of the Year and as well as a Grammy for his performance of “A Boy Named Sue.”

The album was nominated for a Grammy as well.

“San Quentin”

“A Boy Named Sue”


But it was not only recorded for an album, it was filmed for a documentary.

Produced and directed by Michael Darlow, the concert was filmed by Granada Television. And, you can watch the entire thing right here:

The San Quentin show was also the scene of the iconic Johnny Cash middle finger photo by legendary photographer Jim Marshall.

According to Marshall initially, he told Johnny, to “do one for the warden,” and this is what he got.

Although, in the linear notes for 2000 reissue, Cash said that he flipped off the camera because he was pissed that film crew was on the stage, blocking the view of the inmates. When he told them to get out of the way, they ignored him, and he flipped the camera the bird.

However, in Marshall’s 1997 book Not Fade Away, he said he couldn’t remember why exactly, but it was one of those two reasons:

“I forget why he flipped the bird in this picture, it might have been directed at the television crew who was filming there, or I might have suggested doing a special shot for the warden.

But for whatever reason, this has become a very famous, iconic picture.”

So the memory on the origin of the photo is a little fuzzy, but iconic nonetheless.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock