Johnny Cash “Bear’s Sonic Journals: Johnny Cash, At The Carousel Ballroom, April 24, 1968”

Renew Records/BMG 2021

Johnny Cash swaps prisoners for hippies as he moves from Folsom Prison to Haight Ashbury back in 1968.

Folk might argue as to what the high point of Johnny Cash’s lengthy career was – the Sun Years, the early  60’s concept albums, the late resurgence on his American Recordings? But for many Cash is etched into the memory for his 1968 and ‘69 live prison recordings (at Folsom and San Quentin) which were preludes to his hugely successful television show. This is the Cash captured in the iconic “flipping the bird” photo, lean and mean, giving it to the man for the benefit of the inmates he’s singing to.

Taped three months after the Folsom prison gig, this unearthed recording of Cash playing in the heartland of San Francisco’s hippie community might have been accompanied by a similar picture, this time flashing a peace sign, as it finds him in a mellower mood with a set list which is less inflammatory and which includes a couple of Dylan songs, reflecting the pair’s recent mutual admiration. The legendary acid and audio wizard, Augustus Owsley Stanley, AKA the Bear, the man responsible for the Grateful Dead’s wall of sound, recorded the concert so it’s no surprise really that it sounds quite exemplary, eclipsing the live albums released at the time. There’s a quirk in the stereo separation as Cash is heard on the right channel, and the Tennessee Three are all on the left but apparently Owsley felt that this more accurately captured the live experience and somehow this works, especially when allowing one to hear Cash’s guitar quite clearly.

As mentioned, there’s less rabble rousing at the Carousel than there was at Folsom and Cash gets to sing songs such as ‘The Ballad Of Ira Hayes’ (a request shouted out from the audience) and ‘Old Apache Squaw’ in addition to two Dylan numbers, ‘One Too Many Mornings’ and ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’. June Carter Cash appears mid way to join in on ‘Jackson’ and then offers a mini medley of songs including a couple from the Carter Family catalogue. This is the liveliest section of the disc aside from a very spirited delivery of ‘Rock Island Line’ which Cash and the band just tear through. Cash closes the show with a couple of his big hits, ‘Don’t Take Your Guns To Town’ and ‘I Walk The Line’, with the audience clapping and whistling along quite heartily. That it’s a time capsule is emphasised when the unknown MC at the end reminds the audience of upcoming shows by Steve Miller, The Sons Of Champlin and James and Bobby Purify. A melting pot for sure.

The album will be available on CD and on double vinyl with new essays by Johnny and June Carter Cash’s son John Carter Cash and The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, along with a reproduction of the original Carousel Ballroom concert poster by Steve Catron.


About Paul Kerr 444 Articles
Still searching for the Holy Grail, a 10/10 album, so keep sending them in.
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