On January 13, 1968, Johnny Cash recorded his famous live concerts within the walls of Folsom State Prison, California, a week into what would be one of his busiest years of touring. While Columbia Records worked on trimming down the two sets into one LP, Cash set off across the States, into Canada and back, playing almost every night, and returning to the West Coast for a final stop at the Carousel Ballroom in San Francisco.
Recording the gig that night was Owsley “Bear” Stanley, the Grateful Dead’s engineer and also the man responsible for creating the purest LSD on the West Coast. As Rolling Stone once asked, would there have been a Summer of Love if not for Stanley? Apparently, Stanley had *another* secret stash, and we are only now hearing a tiny fraction of it. This gig is one of over 1,300 the engineer recorded and kept in his private collection. Stanley died in 2011, and ten years later the Oswald Stanley Foundation is selectively releasing recordings from this treasure trove as a way to preserve the recordings and fund more releases. This Cash set was one of the first releases in the “Bear’s Sonic Journals” series, released in October of 2021.
Cash’s new bride June Carter Cash joined him onstage. It was on the Ontario stop of the aforementioned tour that Cash proposed to her live on stage, and they were married March 1 in Kentucky. You can hear his pride as he introduces her to the audience; the two immediately launch into “Jackson.” “We got married in a fever,” indeed. (The two remained married until her death in 2003.) June sings several numbers, including “Wabash Cannonball,” and Carl Perkins’ “Long Legged Guitar Pickin’ Man.”
The other artist figuring prominently in these recordings (as an influence) is Bob Dylan. The two had been circling each other in admiration for years, and here Cash covers “One Too Many Mornings” and then “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” The man owns it, turns it into what sounds like a Tennessee Three original. Dylan and Cash would finally record together in 1969, in sessions that would be bootlegged until a recent official release.
Stanley recorded these sets for himself, coming straight out of the soundboard. Where the Carousel Ballroom concert lacks in quality—-vocals, audience, and Cash’s guitar are on the left, the band to the right—-they make up for in history and excitement.
Currently, the label has released full concerts from Tim Buckley, Ali Akbar Khan, with Indranil Bhattacharya and Zakir Hussain, Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen, New Riders of The Purple Sage, Jorma Kaukonen & Jack Casady, The Allman Brothers Band, and Doc and Merle Watson. As Stanley recorded for two decades of his career, the catalog promises untold delights.
The full playlist from the Carousel Ballroom gig is below:
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.