- Here is a KILLER Triple Plus (A+++) original Columbia 360 pressing of Cash’s legendary live album, with Shootout Winning sound on side two (where Boy Named Sue can be found) and reasonably quite vinyl
- What made this side two really stand out from the pack was its combination of richness and clarity – take it from us, it’s not easy to find a pressing that gives you both the way this one does
- Forget the ’70s reissues and whatever dead-on-arrival Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magical you-are-there immediacy of Johnny Cash live in concert, this is the only way to do it
- So many great songs: Wanted Man, I Walk the Line, San Quentin, A Boy Named Sue, Folsom Prison Blues and more
- 5 stars: “…listen to “A Boy Named Sue,” … rescued by the wild-eyed, committed performance by Cash, where it sounds like he really was set on murdering that son of a bitch who named him Sue. He sounds that way throughout the record… “
We had a blast listening to this album. Cash’s banter between the songs is practically as good as the music itself!
This ’60s LP has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings rarely begin to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.
Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much in the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Johnny Cash singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of older recordings (this one is now 50 years old), I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we’ve played can serve as a guide.
What the Best Sides of Johnny Cash at San Quentin Have to Offer Is Not Hard to Hear
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1969
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
What We’re Listening For on Johnny Cash at San Quentin
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would have put them.
- The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
- Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
- Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
Watch Out For
Johnny Cash At San Quentin may not be the world’s greatest recording (San Quentin will probably never be mistaken for Olympic Studios), but on our better Hot Stamper copies, the sound can actually be surprisingly good. Above all, the best copies will sound real, making you think you are actually sitting in the audience with some of Johnny’s biggest fans (who, like him, have a criminal record they would prefer not to think about).
The biggest problem with the sound of Johnny Cash At San Quentin that we encounter in our shootouts is GRAIN. If you’ve got a copy lying around, throw it on and listen closely to the vocals. Odds are that you’ll hear more grain than texture, and that’s not the most pleasing way to hear this music.
Other big issues were lack of energy, an overall dark quality, thickness, and congestion. We had to clean and play a pile of copies to find those that were both smooth and involving. At the end of the shootout, it’s always a joy to hear how correct and musically involving the best pressings can sound.
Wreck of the Old 97
I Walk the Line
Starkville City Jail
A Boy Named Sue
(There’ll Be) Peace in the Valley
Folsom Prison Blues
AMG 5 Star Rave Review
… a nominal sequel to At Folsom Prison that surpasses its predecessor and captures Cash at his rawest and wildest.
Part of this is due to how he feeds off of his captive audience, playing to the prisoners and seeming like one of them, but it’s also due to the shifting dynamic within the band. Without Perkins, Cash isn’t tied to the percolating two-step that defined his music to that point. Sure, it’s still there, but it has a different feel coming from a different guitarist, and Cash sounds unhinged as he careens through his jailhouse ballads, old hits, and rockabilly-styled ravers, and even covers the Lovin’ Spoonful (“Darlin’ Companion”).
No other Johnny Cash record sounds as wild as this. He sounds like an outlaw and renegade here, which is what gives it power — listen to “A Boy Named Sue,” a Shel Silverstein composition that could have been too cute by half, but is rescued by the wild-eyed, committed performance by Cash, where it sounds like he really was set on murdering that son of a bitch who named him Sue. He sounds that way throughout the record…