In the mid-fifties Johnny Cash released what would become a classic: Folsom Prison Blues. Although the original studio version has since been overshadowed by a live recording. On January 13, 1968 Cash performed the song during a concert at Folsom Prison. This live version is the most popular and familiar.
Although there are rumours to the contrary, Cash never did time in prison. Over the years he was arrested a number of times for various misdemeanors and on seven such occasions spent the night in jail. Not exactly the hardened convict he sometimes portrayed himself as.
I have heard the live version of Folsom Prison Blues countless times, but I noticed something just recently that had eluded me before. Perhaps it was because I was wearing earbuds, but for the first time I heard something that struck me as odd indeed.
At about the 28-second point Cash sings the line: “But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die”. Anyone who knows this song will be familiar with that line, but what I noticed were the hoots and applause for the lyric from the prisoners in attendance. A hearty round of appreciation for the idea of a senseless killing is not the type of thing you hear everyday. Even taking into consideration who the audience was that day in Folsom State Prison, the cheering for the shooting of a man just to watch him die is a bit eerie.
An in depth analysis of the song can be found at Country Music Project.