After a tumultuous 1967 for Johnny Cash, the year 1968 was bookended by what would become his two iconic, highest-grossing albums, At Folsom Prison and At San Quentin. But now, fifty-three years later, a lost chapter has emerged to enrich and complement the story of that very good year.
Johnny Cash – At the Carousel Ballroom, recorded on April 24, 1968, captures the Man in Black at the height of his charismatic powers. Confidently departing from the more formalized setlist he’d been doing, we hear him in a playful and powerful dialogue with his new bride June Carter and his longtime musicians—guitarist Luther Perkins, bassist Marshall Grant and drummer W.S. Holland—connecting with an audience more accustomed to the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.
What makes the performance even more significant is that it was recorded by the innovative sound wizard Owsley “Bear” Stanley in a verité style that startles with clarity and dimension missing from the two more well-known releases. In 1968, it was just another entry in Bear’s continuing “sonic journal” of recorded shows, a means to keep improving his art. But thirty years later, Stanley would recognize it as one of a handful of the most significant performances he’d captured.