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Photographer Jim Marshall (1936-2010) with Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison

March 25, 2010 |  4:09 pm

Johnny Cash at Folsom

Jim Marshall, the great rock, jazz, country, blues and folk photojournalist who died Wednesday in New York at age 74, was the world’s eye on countless key moments in pop music during the '60s and beyond.

In this shot that Marshall took in 1968 at Folsom Prison, the focal point obviously is Johnny Cash, on his way to the watershed concert that helped rejuvenate his career at a time many in country music, and even executives at his own record label, considered him washed up.

But look to Cash’s left. That skinny fellow in the Woody Allen-like glasses is The Times’ own Robert Hilburn, the paper’s longtime pop music critic who was the only reporter to accompany Cash at that historic performance. Hilburn also had to do some heavy lobbying to get editors at The Times to agree to send him to cover the show.

“I had been a fan since hearing ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ on the radio in the '50s, and what could be better than to see him sing it live at Folsom?” Hilburn wrote in recalling the assignment many years later, one he recounts in his 2009 book “Corn Flakes With John Lennon: And Other Tales from a Rock 'N' Roll Life."

“Cash wore a black leather coat over his black suit as he stepped  past the prison's gray walls just after sunrise," Hilburn noted. "The mood was tense. Two weeks earlier, inmates had held a guard at knifepoint. Guards with rifles followed Cash's party everywhere. He seemed nervous, but not for his safety.

“What worried Cash was the concert itself. He wanted to capture on tape the electricity he had felt in other prison shows, when the inmates' response to his tales of sin and salvation, redemption and regret was so intense that he had chills. Cash was spellbinding on that stage, and ‘Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison’ turned out to be one of the most acclaimed live albums ever, revitalizing his career.”

Marshall also was the official photographer for Cash’s 1960s musical variety TV series, and photographed the singer and his wife, June Carter Cash, many times over the years. I reached out to their son, John Carter Cash, shortly after getting the news of Marshall’s death.

“Jim sent me a photo of my grandparents that hangs on my wall,” Cash responded by e-mail. “I cherish it dearly.  There is an amazing photo Jim took of my father and Shel Silverstein hanging beside it…. My family in particular will cherish your art for generations to come. We will miss you.”

-- Randy Lewis

Photo of Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, 1968. Credit: Jim Marshall