Nearly 2.5 million Americans are in prison in the United States. Although we've mastered that form of low income housing, the Shawshank Redemption has all taught us that prison is not that much fun. During the 1970s, however, some of America's incarcerated were treated to the best American blues musicians including a stand-out set by B.B. King forty-two years ago (he plays Segerstrom Hall this weekend) and music industry executives (better dressed wardens) saw a great opportunity to capitalize on their performances before a permanent and uniformly dressed audience.
B.B.King contemplates how to defend himself with a sharpened guitar pick.
It's all Johnny Cash's fault. His 1968 album At Folsom Prison was an unprecedented success. He even returned to lock-up the next year to record Live At San Quentin. Record labels took note of these raucous crowds and found a gimmick that could sell. The gimmick tailed off by the mid 1970s but country musicians and blues cats had a new stop on the touring circuit for a little while. Here are five of blues records recorded in the clink: