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Columbia Music Video presents
Johnny Cash at San Quentin: Legacy Edition (1969)

"We've been in several prisons. San Quentin, and Folsom Prison, and the Starkville, Mississippi jail, the El Paso Jail—you wouldn't believe it, one night I got in jail in Starkville, Mississippi for picking flowers."
- Johnny Cash

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: December 12, 2006

Stars: Johnny Cash
Other Stars: Carl Perkins, June Carter Cash, Mother Maybelle Carter, The Statler Brothers, Marshall Grant, W.S. Holland, Bob Wootten
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (thematic material, some language)
Run Time: 02h:31m:36s
Release Date: November 14, 2006
UPC: 828767591421
Genre: country


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AD+B- C+

DVD Review

On the heels of his huge 1968 live comeback album recorded at Folsom Prison, Johnny Cash and his compatriots struck out for another notorious California prison for another live recording. The result, Johnny Cash at San Quentin was another success, with the novelty tune A Boy Named Sue becoming a gigantic crossover hit, reaching number 1 on the country and number 2 on the pop charts. That album was all too brief, leading one to think that it was a pretty short show for the prisoners. About five years ago, however, Columbia released an 'extended edition' of that classic album that suggested it was the whole show. Now we come to find out that it was barely half of the show, which also featured Carl Perkins, the Carter Family and the Statler Brothers doing solo songs. In addition, several more of Cash's songs are added into the mix. Now it finally feels complete, even if it still isn't necessarily the whole production.

The concert proper covers two CDs, with a DVD that includes the Granada Television documentary of the concert shot for British audiences. Perkins starts things off with a bang with a raucous and crowd-pleasing rendition of Blue Suede Shoes, followed up by the Statler Brothers' paean to loneliness, Flowers on the Wall, which strikes a chord. The Carter Family does a couple numbers (including the immortal Wildwood Flower) and June Carter Cash has a good time chatting with the inmates. When the star of the show comes on, the place goes wild, the three opening acts having appropriately warmed up the eager crowd.

Cash is in even better form than he was at Folsom, which potentially spelled the end of his career; he has a more devil-may-care attitude, more than happy to sass the guards and the warden, and as a result he and the prisoners feed emotionally off each other. As a result, some of the performances of Cash classics like I Walk the Line, Folsom Prison Blues and Ring of Fire are among the best ever released by him. There's just so much enthusiasm and electric energy that one can't help but enjoy the proceedings. There are quite a few previously unreleased recordings here, including several songs that had already appeared on the Folsom Prison album, but to my mind, many of them are even more enjoyable here (though the absence of the late Luther Perkins is certainly felt in the rhythm section).

The Granada documentary, Johnny Cash in San Quentin (51m:40s) is a fascinating look at the concert, including about ten songs in live performance, intercut with interview segments with prisoners and guards about life in the prison. Some of the most harrowing segments are the discussions of life on death row and guards casually describing the procedure for taking men to the gas chamber. The juxtaposition makes the situation of the audience palpable (as do the sequences of Cash being frisked as he enters the prison), and underline the unstated Christian mission of ministering to prisoners that was such an important motivation in Cash's philosophy. It's wholly in earnest, a celebration of life in the shadow of death, and as a result this expanded set makes the concert rise from a notable event to one of the great live performances.

Songs (not in concert order):

Johnny Cash

Big River
I Still Miss Someone
Wreck of the Old 97
The Long Black Veil/Give My Love to Rose *
Folsom Prison Blues
Orange Blossom Special *
I Don't Know Where I'm Bound
Starkville City Jail
San Quentin
San Quentin
Wanted Man
A Boy Named Sue
Blistered *
Peace in the Valley

Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash

Jackson *
Darlin' Companion

Johnny Cash and The Carter Family

Ring of Fire

Carl Perkins

Blue Suede Shoes *
Restless *
The Outside Looking In *

The Statler Brothers

Flowers on the Wall *
Less of Me *

The Carter Family

The Last Thing on My Mind *
Wildwood Flower *
Break My Mind *

Company

He Turned the Water into Wine
Daddy Sang Bass
The Old Account Was Settled Long Ago
Closing Medly: Folsom Prison Blues/I Walk the Line/Ring of Fire/The Rebel: Johnny Yuma

*=previously unreleased recording

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The documentary seems to be shot on 16mm; it's lacking in detail and the print is quite worn and scratched. It does convey a certain air of the rough-and-ready aspect of the show, and the interviews also have a gritty neorealist air. It's not pretty by any means, but somehow it seems fitting for the subject matter. Color is unstable and blacks are often weak, not atypical for live performance footage of the period.

Image Transfer Grade: D+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
PCMEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The DVD is presented in PCM sound, even though it's pretty rough mono, with a lot of hiss and a fairly distorted sound. San Quentin probably doesn't have the greatest acoustics in the world, but the CDs sound reasonably good under the circumstances. There's plenty of bass and the electric guitar has a nice buzz to it. The same songs sound comparatively murky on the DVD, since the television documentary apparently didn't have access to the master tapes. Other than the limitations one might expect from a 1969 live concert in a concrete room, the CDs are quite satisfactory, while the DVD is pretty marginal.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 52 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 30 cues and remote access
Production Notes
Packaging: Digipak
Picture Disc
3 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: If one counts the documentary as part of the main program rather than bonus material (as I do), then the lone extra is a substantial booklet of essays from various people, including a 2000 reminiscence by June Carter Cash, and an interview with country legend Merle Haggard, who was one of the prisoners in San Quentin who saw the show. It's jam-packed with rare photos and a valuable addition to the set that offers plenty of background.

Extras Grade: C+

 

Final Comments

A classic recording gets even better with the added depth of more of the entire concert and documentary of the show. Highly recommended for any fan of Johnny Cash.

 


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