Johnny Cash never actually went to prison, but he felt great compassion for prisoners.
Cash cares so much that he gave countless free prison concerts and has even recorded a few live albums at his shows there.
His live album Johnny Cash At San Quentin wasn't recorded and released until 1969, but he began performing there a decade earlier.
His first concert at San Quentin Prison was on January 1, 1959. One of the inmates in attendance at this concert was none other than Merle Haggard. Cash's performance inspired Haggard to turn his life around and pursue a country music career.
In an interview with Men's Journal, Haggard told the story of how Cash found out he was one of those inmates.
"One time we were doing a television show and he was talking about playing San Quentin in 1958, and I said, 'You didn't have a voice that day, Cash!' And he turned around like, 'How the hell would you know?' And I said, 'I was there.' It blew him backwards."
For Haggard, Cash's appearance was life-changing, but not everyone saw it that way. Even a decade after he started playing these concerts, they remained controversial. Before he starts this particular performance he asks, "Any of the guards are still speakin' to me, can I have a glass of water?"
After receiving a small cup of water, Cash begins singing his hit song "San Quentin". The inmates went crazy for the line "San Quentin, may you rot and burn in hell".
The video is combined with other clips of the inmates walking in lines and the guards walking around with guns.
Watch the amazing performance below.
San Quentin, you've been livin' hell to me
You've hosted me since nineteen sixty three
I've seen 'em come and go and I've seen them die
And long ago I stopped askin' why
San Quentin, I hate every inch of you.
You've cut me and have scarred me thru an' thru.
And I'll walk out a wiser weaker man;
Mister Congressman why can't you understand.
San Quentin, what good do you think you do?
Do you think I'll be different when you're through?
You bent my heart and mind and you may my soul,
And your stone walls turn my blood a little cold.
San Quentin, may you rot and burn in hell.
May your walls fall and may I live to tell.
May all the world forget you ever stood.
And may all the world regret you did no good.
San Quentin, you've been livin' hell to me.
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