Jim Marshall: Johnny Cash flips the bird

Jim Marshall’s photograph of Johnny Cash flipping the bird during the soundcheck for his concert at San Quentin prison on 24 February 1969 is undoubtedly the most famous photograph of Johnny Cash. 

Warming up, Johnny Cash was chatting with the band and with Jim Marshall. Jim remembers saying, “Hey, John, how about a picture for the warden?” The unforgettable frame was the result. 

It has been many years now since we have had our hands on a signed original print of this photograph, and we were delighted when the Jim Marshall archive decided to release a limited edition of the contact sheet which features this image. This contact sheet is an estate authorised limited edition of just 25 worldwide and is made on 20 x 24 inch paper. It is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the Jim Marshall archive, and is available to purchase now. 

The ‘hero’ shot is the final frame on the extreme right of the second row of images, and is marked up with yellow chinagraph pencil markings on the contact sheet. Contact sheets are always interesting working documents, and this one is no exception, particularly as you get to examine the two warm up ‘bird-flips’. You can see exactly why Jim Marshall selected the frame he did – the Cash finger clearly works best against the black background, and that only happens in one frame. 

Jim Marshall first met Johnny Cash in 1963 in New York, while photographing for Columbia Records, and developed a friendly relationship with him and June. Johnny Cash requested that Jim document the Columbia Records sessions at Folsom and San Quentin, invited him to Thanksgiving at the Cash family home, and Jim was given unlimited access to the set of The Johnny Cash Show.

We offer a nice selection of Jim Marshall’s Johnny Cash photographs, including the cover photograph for his 1968 At Folsom Prison album.