Johnny Cash and Jim Marshall

*DISCLAIMER: the image below contains vulgarity that may not be suitable for everyone, but if this disclaimer offends you, well dang us for bein’ soft on you 😉

It’s one of the most recognized, revered and reproduced images in rock ‘n’ roll photography: alt-country hero Johnny Cash, just before performing at San Quentin Prison, gives a vicious middle finger to music photographer Jim Marshall.

In terms of popularity, the image is right up there with classic portraits of Che Guevara and Bob Marley — it’s a staple of college dorm rooms everywhere. The photo itself has achieved iconic status since it was snapped in 1969, but it’s only now that we finally know the story behind it.

In a recently revealed quote, Marshall, who passed away last March at the age of 74, told the San Francisco Art Exchange that the photograph was the result of Cash’s response to a simple request.

“I said, ‘John, let’s do a shot for the warden’,” before the country legend flipped the camera the bird.

Marshall added that the photo was “probably the most ripped off photograph in the history of the world.”

The quotes are part of a larger release being made public for the first time in conjunction with the new book Pocket Cash, a collection of Marshall’s photographs of Johnny Cash. An exhibition of the photos is also running at London’s SNAP galleries.

Known as the Godfather of Rock Photography, Marshall was a titan of the industry that we were unable to interview due to his untimely death. To see a great video with another member of music photography royalty, check out this interview with none other than the Z-Man himself, Michael Zagaris.

Johnny Cash at San Quentin