PRIVATE PILE: TEXAS PRISON MUSIC

Sop2

There’s albums recorded in prisons – think Johnny Cash’s famous At Folsom Prison or Eddie Palmieri’s Live at Sing Sing albums – but then there are prison albums recorded by prisoners. These seem to coincide with the heyday of custom album-making (since most of them were recorded remotely, at prison) as well as, perhaps, pre-“War on Crime” era prison policies were music was seen as one pathway to rehabilitation.

That was certainly the idea behind this prison LP issued in 1965 by the Texas Department of Corrections, with help from Austin Custom Records. 10 bands, made up of inmates, ended up recording a variety of country, rock, jazz and soul songs. I originally picked this up for this cover, by black singer/white band combo called The Frames (pictured above):

The Frames: Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag
From The Sound of Prison (Austin Custom, 1965)

For a remotely recorded tune, this sounds really solid. The JB cover is loyal but it’s done well and swings nicely. I would have loved to hear a whole suite of JB covers by The Frames.

On the jazz tip, you got The Gamblers on the hard bop tip:

The Gamblers: Eleven By Seven1

And they even have some Latin sabor:

The Latin Band: Perfida

This isn’t the best prison music LP out there but it’s an interesting artifact of a particular moment in American correctional history that feels very long past.2

  1. I presume “Eleven by Seven” are the dimensions of a prison cell.
  2. I can’t imagine that you’d hear something like this coming out of Pelican Bay these days.

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