THE GREATEST ROCK AND ROLL STORY EVER TOLD
He was an embattled rock star whose record company no longer believed in him. To make matters worse his wife left him and the woman he really loved didn't want him. In his life he fought two good fights with depression and drug addiction. But there he was backstage before his concert at Folsom Prison staring back at his past with an unknown future ahead of him.
"Mr. Cash", the warden said, "we're really honored to have you here." The warden said as nervous as a cat burglar hyped up on speed and caught on high definition video. "But if you don't mind sir, could you refrain from singing any song that would remind the inmates about their current situation."
With a cool smirk and a touch of sarcasm the man in black said, "Do you think they can forget?"
"If you and your wife could stick to the more spiritual stuff that you sing..."
"First of all, warden, she's not my wife", Cash said coolly and with a glint of regret, in reference to his background singer and all around best friend June Carter. “I’ve asked her all kinds of ways, but she ain’t goin’ for it.”
"By the way warden, when was the last time you drank the water here?"
The warden didn't answer that question.
Inside the prison cafeteria the inmates were on edge clamoring for the arrival of the outlaw guitar man in black. Carrying his guitar in one hand and holding a glass of water in the other, Johnny Cash the man who straddled the line between Country, Rock and Gospel, the man who sang and damn near rapped stories to his audience (30 years before Ice Cube was born) about the outlaw lifestyle: sniffin' coke, drinkin' Jack, shooting lovers and enemies down in cold blood and just plain ol' fuckin' around in general. Here was the man Cash about to record one of the best albums in American music history.
In the tension filled cafeteria Cash yelled into the mic: "I'm glad to be here", he told the crowd of about 2,000 inmates on a Sunday afternoon. Surrounding the inmates were dozens of guards armed to the teeth, ready to put down any act of foolishness. Since the mid-50's Johnny Cash worked night and day at cultivating his outlaw bad ass image. "I'm not saying I've done as much time as you have, but I've found myself behind bars a time or two." A statement which received a huge chair-standing, at-a-boy kind of thunderous applause from the room full of thieves, liars, bullies, addicts, drunks and God knows what else – but one thing is for sure, he was definitely connecting with his audience in a way few in pop music would ever be able to do.
It’s a damn shame we grew up on R&B, Jazz and Hip Hop because had we been exposed to rockers like Johnny Cash or Blues men like Muddy Waters, rap music would have a deeper well to drink from. Cash was a gifted songwriter and singer, but it’s the stories he told, that like Tupac and Ice Cube, really endeared him to his audience. He told the stories of the everyday troubled man. Check ‘Cocaine Blues’ out…
Early one mornin' while makin' the rounds
I took a shot of cocaine and I shot my woman down
I went right home and I went to bedI stuck that lovin' .44 beneath my head
Got up next mornin' and I grabbed that gun
Took a shot of cocaine and away I run
Made a good run but I ran too slow
They overtook me down in Juarez, Mexico
Late in the hot joints takin' the pills
In walked the sheriff from Jericho Hill
He said Willy Lee your name is not Jack Brown
You're the dirty heck that shot your woman down
Said yes, oh yes my name is Willy Lee
If you've got the warrant just a-read it to me
Shot her down because she made me sore
I thought I was her daddy but she had five more
When I was arrested I was dressed in black
They put me on a train and they took me back
Had no friend for to go my bail
They slapped my dried up carcass in that county jail
There he told the story of the outlaw Willie Lee, who, because of troubles with his woman, cocaine and having all round bad disposition finds himself on the run from the law. Kind of reminds you of Eazy E’s classic ‘The Boyz in the Hood”. He simultaneously told the story without preaching against anybody, but the last line of the song says it best: “Come on you've gotta listen unto me, Lay off that whiskey and let that cocaine be.