Barely two weeks before the release of Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, the album that made him an institution, Cash, wife June Carter Cash, and the Tennessee Three performed for a crowd of 700 at San Francisco’s Carousel Ballroom. Already viewed as a kindred spirit by the city’s youth counterculture, Cash’s fan base included the Grateful Dead, as Bob Weir explains in the liner notes.
The 28-song performance blended obscure material with hits and longtime fan favorites. While bypassing “Folsom Prison Blues,” Cash offered effervescent renditions of “Ring of Fire,” “Cocaine Blues,” “Orange Blossom Special,” along with the lesser-known “I’m Going to Memphis” and “Forty Shades of Green.” June plays solo versions of Carter Family standards “Wildwood Flower” and the hell-for-leather “Foggy Mountain Top.” The couple teams up for “Jackson,” June’s obscure original “Tall Lover Man,” and “This Land is Your Land.”
These recordings weren’t intended for release; Carousel soundman/LSD guru Owsley “Bear” Stanley taped shows purely for his personal reference. That’s why the Tennessee Three, including original guitarist Luther Perkins, are somewhat muted on the left channel, with Cash and his aggressive rhythm guitar more prominent on the right. Stanley nonetheless captured a freewheeling, vibrant Cash on the precipice of mainstream fame.
This article originally appeared in VG’s January 2022 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.