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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

January 13, 1968

Welcome to the Tuesday Timeline portion of the blog - a weekly look back through time to see what sort of events happened in the world of pop culture.  I always love doing these things, and therefore, I don't mind putting forth a little extra effort. 

So, let us take a look at what happened throughout history on the thirteenth day of January.  We'll start with a sampling of appetizers from the history books, followed by a side order of celebrity birthdays.  By the end of it, I will have the main course of the Tuesday Timeline entry out of the oven.  And if you're good, I may provide a little bit of dessert for you.

Okay, mouths watering yet?  Here we go!

1547 - Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, is sentenced to death on charges of treason

1815 - British troops capture Fort Peter in St. Mary's, Georgia

1830 - The Great Fire of Louisiana begins

1840 - One hundred and thirty-nine people lose their lives in the sinking of the steamship Lexington, off the coast of Long Island, New York

1847 - The Mexican-American War comes to a close with the signing of the Treaty of Cahuenga

1898 - Emile Zola's letter J'accuse exposes the Dreyfus affair

1910 - The first public radio broadcast takes place in New York, where a performance of Cavalleria rusticana from the Metropolitan Opera House

1915 - Nearly thirty thousand people die in a devastating earthquake in Avezzano, Italy

1919 - Actor and "Unsolved Mysteries" host Robert Stack (d. 2003) is born in Los Angeles, California

1929 - Famous American sheriff Wyatt Earp dies at the age of 80

1931 - Actor/director Charles Nelson Reilly (d. 2007) is born in South Bronx, New York

1938 - Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Jean "Cabu" Cabut (d. 2015) is born

1941 - Irish author James Joyce passes away at the age of 58

1942 - Henry Ford patents a plastic automobile - 30% lighter than a standard car at that time

1949 - Former president of NBC Brandon Tartikoff (d. 1997) is born in Freeport, New York

1964 - One hundred people are killed in anti-Muslim riots in Calcutta, India

1982 - Air Florida Flight 90 crashes into Washington D.C.'s 14th Street Bridge and sinks into the Potomac River, killing 78 people in total

1985 - A passenger train plunges into a ravine in Ethiopia, killing 428 people

1990 - Douglas Wilder becomes the first African-American person to take the position of governor in the state of Virginia

2010 - Singer-songwriter Teddy Pendergrass passes away, aged 59

2012 - The Costa Concordia cruise ship sinks off the coast of Italy, killing at least thirty-two people

And celebrating a birthday on January 13 are...Frances Sternhagen, Chris Wiggins, Rip Taylor, Edmund White, Carol Cleveland, Richard Moll, Trevor Rabin, Jay McInerney, Janet Hubert, Wayne Coyne, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Trace Adkins, Bill Bailey, Penelope Ann Miller, Patrick Dempsey, Annie Jones, Traci Bingham, Keith Coogan, Shonda Rhimes, John Mallory Asher, Nicole Eggert, Atoosa Rubinstein, William Ash, Orlando Bloom, Katy Brand, Ruth Wilson, Beau Mirchoff, and Liam Hemsworth.

And now, on with today's look back through time. 

Today's event took place on January 13, 1968.  That's 47 years ago today!

And, well...let's just say that January 13, 1968 was a date in which one of the most famous concerts ever performed took place.  The entertainer played to a packed house, and certainly everyone who was in attendance certainly appeared to have a good time.

The catch was that most of you reading this blog post right now probably won't remember seeing it.  Mostly because most of you were probably born after 1968.  But if there's anyone out there reading this post that is old enough to remember this concert, I bet you had difficulty securing tickets to this gig.  That's because none were ever printed.

No, the only way to get into this particular concert was to commit a crime.  A crime serious enough to land you a prison sentence.

Now, I bet you're thinking to yourselves "what kind of man would ever agree to perform a show in front of a group of convicted felons at a prison"?  I've seen episodes of "Beyond Scared Straight".  Performing a concert at a prison would be the equivalent of jumping in front of a speeding train these days!

But country music legend Johnny Cash decided to take a chance and that's exactly what he did.

On January 13, 1968, Johnny Cash performed at Folsom State Prison.  The end result provided a free show for the inmates incarcerated in the prison at the time, and provided material for Johnny Cash's 27th album!

And wouldn't you know it?  When the album "At Folsom Prison" was released four months later in May 1968, it hit #1 on the country charts, and was certified triple platinum in 2003 - the same year that Johnny Cash passed away.

But here's the million dollar question.  What in the world would possess Cash to even perform a concert - let alone record an entire live album - inside of a prison?

Well, he had wanted to do a project like that for quite some time.  In 1955, Cash released the single "Folsom Prison Blues", a song that came to him after he watched the 1953 film "Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison".  The song quickly became a huge hit, and it gained quite a following inside prisons all over the United States.  Prisoners actually wrote Johnny Cash letters from their cells, asking Johnny to perform the song live inside of their prisons!  Now, in today's world, this would seem unthinkable, but Cash was more than willing to honour his end of the deal.  In fact, his first performance at a prison took place eleven years prior to the Folsom Prison gig, in 1957, and over the next eleven years he had plenty of practice by going around various prisons all over the United States to perform concerts for the inmates.

Of course, the period between 1955 and 1965 was considered to be Cash's golden era of performing.  He had charted hit after hit with such singles as "I Walk The Line" and "Ring of Fire", but by 1965 he found that his music wasn't getting a lot of airplay.  This was also compounded by the fact that Cash had started dabbling in drugs around this time and was becoming quite the addict.  The year before "At Folsom Prison" was recorded, Cash sought treatment for his addiction, and these efforts proved successful.  As 1967 ended and 1968 began, his recreational drug use decreased, and he became more focused on his career.

Interestingly enough, the period in which Cash decided to make a comeback came right around the same time that a change in personnel at Cash's record label was taking place.  The man who was now in charge of the country sector of Columbia Records was Bob Johnston, who was known in the music industry for being quite unpredictable, and often made impulsive decisions and often butted with executive heads over said decisions.

In short, Johnston was the perfect person for Cash to go to in order to float his idea of not only performing at Folsom Prison, but to record an album there as well.  Johnston wasted no time in approving Cash's request, and he even got on the phone to call Folsom Prison and San Quentin State Prison to see if they would be willing to accommodate Cash's request.  Folsom responded first, so the concert was recorded there.

Interestingly enough, there were two separate concerts recorded on the morning of January 13, 1968.  One was performed at 9:40 in the morning.  The second one was performed exactly three hours later at 12:40pm.  The reason for the double performances was simple.  If in case there were any problems with the audio during the morning performance, they would use the recordings from the afternoon performance and splice the two together, if necessary.  As it turned out, the second performance really wasn't needed, as most of the album was made up of songs from the first concert.  Still, two songs from the second set did make it onto the finished cut.

And some may not know this, but Johnny Cash actually had an opening act preceding him.  Carl Perkins performed "Blue Suede Shoes" - later made famous by Elvis Presley, and The Statler Brothers performed "Flowers on the Wall" and "This Old House".  

The end result was that the album was released four months later, and quickly became a best-selling album for Cash.  The album also renewed Johnny Cash's popularity and as the 1970s began, he had been given even more opportunities than ever before.  "At Folsom Prison" wasn't the only album that Cash would release from a prison either.  In 1969, he recorded another album from San Quentin State Prison, which gave us the single "A Boy Named Sue".  Cash also worked out a deal with ABC to have his own television show which ran for two seasons from 1969-1971.

And just to give you a little bit of an idea as to how successful this album became, here's a list of statistics for you.

As mentioned, the album hit triple platinum status in 2003.  But did you know that it also...

- placed 88th on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time"?
- added into the Library of Congress' "National Recording Registry"?
- named the third greatest country music album ever recorded by the CMT network?
- named as one of the 100 Greatest Albums of All Time by TIME Magazine?

Now, that is outstanding!

It definitely was a risk for Cash to record and release an album from inside of a prison, but in this case, that risk paid off handsomely.  Cash had another hit record, which resurrected his career at the same time.  Even better was the fact that even though Cash's concert was made up of 99% prisoners, they sat still and behaved themselves during the whole show!

And now for your special treat at the end.  You had better enjoy this while it lasts because I don't believe that anything stays up on YouTube for long.  But if you CLICK HERE, you can listen to one of the two concerts performed at Folsom Prison by Johnny Cash on January 13, 1968.  Have fun!

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