Local Obituaries

Obituary: Lloyd Kelley helped bring Cash to perform at Folsom Prison

Lloyd Kelley, the Folsom State Prison recreation supervisor who was instrumental in bringing Johnny Cash to perform at the prison, died Feb. 18 at age 94.

The cause of death was internal bleeding from a cracked rib Mr. Kelley suffered during a fall.

A Rescue resident, Mr. Kelley had a long career with the California prison system, but it was his brush with musical history that most defined his career.

Mr. Kelley was the prison employee who saw to it that Cash would be able to perform on Jan. 13, 1968, at Folsom State Prison – at the time a maximum-security facility housing more than 1,000 inmates.

Cash performed twice that day with a host of talented sidemen. The recording made from the performances put the prison on the map and became a turning point in Cash’s career.

Mr. Kelley was born in Rexford, Kan., on Jan. 25, 1921. He joined the Navy in 1941, two weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and also served in the Korean War. He earned an honorable discharge in 1952.

Mr. Kelley first worked at San Quentin State Prison before transferring to Folsom, where he served as its recreation supervisor and earned the moniker of “coach.”

“He brought baseball teams to Folsom, he brought in boxing, he had everything in there,” said Lois Kelley, 84, his wife of 48 years.

For Mr. Kelley, who worked at Folsom for 31 years, bringing Cash to Folsom and making the concert happen was a highlight, Lois Kelley said.

Cash first sang about Folsom Prison in 1955 in the song he penned, “Folsom Prison Blues.”

The song was inspired by an American fictional film on the prison that Cash saw while serving in the Army.

The song would be a staple for Cash, who died in 2003.

Working with Columbia Records, Mr. Kelley helped coordinate the first unpublicized Johnny Cash concert in 1966 at the prison, said Valarie Coons, a longtime family friend.

It was such a success that two more shows were organized in 1968. Those concerts led to one of Cash’s best-known recordings, “At Folsom Prison,” an album considered a seminal work of American country music.

A 1968 Los Angeles Times article about the concerts said Cash and his band performed while flanked by two guards with shotguns at the ready.

Mr. Kelley told the Times that, “For some of the acts that we’ve had the men would come over and see what’s happening, and just walk away – but not with Cash.”

Soon after the concerts, Mr. Kelley’s name faded into a footnote.

“He was excited about the whole thing, but he never got any acknowledgment for it,” Lois Kelley said. “Every time you read something about it, it was this person did that and that person did that, but they never mentioned Lloyd.”

After retiring from Folsom, Mr. Kelley took to raising and selling appaloosa horses and goats on the property he and his wife shared in Rescue.

Mr. Kelley is survived by his wife, two daughters, three stepdaughters and seven grandchildren.

Services were already held.

Editor's note: This story has changed to update the date of the Cash performance.

Call The Bee’s Edward Ortiz, (916) 321-1071. Follow him on Twitter @edwardortiz.