Cashing In (1968-1970)
Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison was finally recorded on 13 January 1968, and it put Cash on the map as a music icon. As Hilburn explains, the Folsom album firmly established Cash as the crossover artist that Holiff had been striving to make him from the start. Appealing to both country and rock 'n' roll audiences, "[t]he album stayed on the pop charts for 122 weeks" and "eventually sold more than 3 million copies in the United States alone" (Hilburn 335).
Cash was in high demand again, and Holiff, ever the opportunist, perceived that the timing was ideal for Cash to make the transition to television.
Holiff had been trying to book a television special for four years, convinced that it was a crucial direction for Cash's career. CBC producer Stan Jacobson, an ardent Cash fan, had long been keen on the idea, and they produced The Legend of Johnny Cash in February 1968. According to Jacobson, the special was hugely popular--actually outranking the Stanley Cup playoffs in Canadian television ratings--and it helped Holiff secure a summer stint for The Johnny Cash Show on ABC the following year.
Although Cash would never completely overcome his addiction (he would struggle with it for the rest of his life), at this point in his career he had controlled it enough to get his life back on track. Shortly after filming the special, he proposed to June Carter on stage during a show at the London Gardens in London, Ontario (Holiff's hometown), and the two were married in Kentucky in March 1968. They took their honeymoon in Israel, the inspiration for Cash's next album The Holy Land, released in 1969. Cash also made a triumphant return to Carnegie Hall in October 1968, and filming began for the documentary Johnny Cash: The Man, His World, His Music that December, a production that exemplified his growing cultural status.
Yet, the most important event of Cash's career would come the following year, and it was one that Holiff had a direct hand in organizing. After the success of the Folsom Prison album, the British production company Granada Television Limited made a pitch to Holiff in December 1968: they wanted Cash to record another concert at Folsom, this time for television.
At first, Holiff declined because Cash did not want to do a follow-up show at Folsom. But when the Granada executives reached out again, Holiff--aware of the potentially lucrative benefits for Cash's career--told them that Cash was scheduled to play San Quentin in February and would gladly agree to have that concert filmed. In the short period of time they had to plan, Holiff coordinated with Granada producer and director Michael Darlow and Bob Johnston of Columbia Records to arrange the filming of the television special and the recording of the corresponding album. As Holiff later put it in Half a Mile a Day, "if it hadn't been for Granada Television in London, England, there never would have been a San Quentin LP."