Rare Johnny Cash recordings are a godsend and we’re pleased to see this rare gem from the Man in Black finally become available. “Cocaine Blues” was part of the At Folsom Prison show but it wasn’t released. The backstory is interesting to say the least.
As Johnny Cash prepared to perform his soon-to-be classic “Cocaine Blues” at San Francisco’s Carousel Ballroom in April 1968, he offered an introduction that is fascinating in its matter-of-factness: “here’s another song from the show we did at Folsom prison. It’s in the album that’s out next week.”
In that instant, nobody at the Carousel Ballroom – not Cash nor his Tennessee Three, not the show’s legendary soundman Owsley “Bear” Stanley nor the 700 or so hippies in attendance – could have known that casually referenced live album would become one of history’s most illustrious and influential.
As Cash historian Mark Stielper has noted, this version of “Cocaine Blues” underscores the Carousel show as “the last picture of Cash before he was a prophet and a pilgrim and mover of mountains and a friend of presidents and the voice of God.”
And, in this way, adds a wholly new chapter to the story of Cash’s redemptive rise that’s so extraordinarily documented on At Folsom Prison and At San Quentin.
You can now Listen to Johnny Cash’s never-heard April 1968 version of “Cocaine Blues” from San Francisco’s Carousel Ballroom.
Adding another layer of singularity to the recording is the sonic touch of Owsley Stanley, the live sound pioneer and 60s counterculture icon known as the architect of The Grateful Dead’s “Wall of Sound.”
While seemingly an unlikely pairing with Johnny Cash, Stanley delivers a mix that’s been described as “probably the closest to what it actually sounded like to be in the audience for a Johnny Cash show in 1968.”
Featuring Cash entirely on the right channel and the Tennessee Three all on the left – a decision even Starfinder Stanley, Owsley’s son, admits is “a bit weird until your brain adjusts” – he sets the listener right between Johnny and his band, as if they were center stage at the Carousel that evening.
It’s a testament to the unconventional genius of a sonic innovator whose avant garde techniques are accepted as gospel today. At The Carousel Ballroom will be released widely on all digital formats by Legacy Recordings, the catalog division of Sony Music Entertainment, on October 24, 2021.
It will also be available on CD/2LP from Renew Records/BMG with new essays by Johnny and June Carter Cash’s son John Carter Cash, Starfinder Stanley, The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, and Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools, as well as new art by Susan Archie, and a reproduction of the original Carousel Ballroom concert poster by Steve Catron.
This release marks the latest entry in the Owsley Stanley Foundation’s ‘Bear’s Sonic Journals’ series, which has previously included Stanley’s live recordings of The Allman Brothers Band, Tim Buckley, Doc & Merle Watson and many more.