The Story Behind the Famous Photo of Johnny Cash at San Quentin Prison

Besides the picture of him standing outside Folsom Prison, this is the most iconic photo of Johnny Cash. Collector's Weekly says that during a performance at San Quentin Prison, music photographer Jim Marshall asked Johnny Cash to take a picture for the warden. Johnny decided flipping the bird spoke much louder than words. It was that moment that the 'Johnny Cash middle finger' photo was born.

Johnny Cash used country music to voice his concerns. Next time you find yourself singing along to "The Man in Black," you won't be surprised to hear lyrics that sympathize with people who were dealt a bad hand in life.

The famous black and white photo is now on T-Shirts, posters, and even hats. I have a T-shirt with the famous photo printed on it. (It's the perfect shirt for a trip to Nashville.) Surely music photographer Jim Marshall wasn't expecting the country legend to give him the picture of a lifetime.

Besides the finger, it was a special day at San Quentin Prison. Johnny Cash performed "A Boy Named Sue" and "San Quentin" for the first time live. "At San Quentin" received a Grammy nomination for Best Album, but the hit "A Boy Named Sue" won Best Male Country Vocal Performance.

Now, you're probably wondering why the 'Johnny Cash middle finger photo' T-shirt is so appealing. Of course, the best ways to remember Johnny are by listening to his music and watching old performances, but there's something about him flipping the bird.

Rock and roll photographer Jim Marshall called himself a "reporter with a camera," and to me, that says that Marshall captured more than just an iconic Cash photo, but a piece of history. Jim Marshall went on to photograph Johnny Cash at more shows.

He even has a book compiled of behind the scenes photos of Cash at shows, titled Pocket Cash. You can find the book on Amazon, along with a few items printed with the famous Johnny Cash photo on it.

Pocket Cash

Pocket Cash Paperback - August 25, 2010

Kris Kristofferson even offered personal recollections.

Walk the Line

Walk The Line

Hear some of his best hits while watching this movie.

It's one of the best country albums of all time.

At Folsom Prison

For you "Folsom Prison Blues" fans.

This post was originally published in 2020.

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The Story Behind the Famous Photo of Johnny Cash at San Quentin Prison