Over his 50-year career—armed with a sad baritone, guitar thumps, mysterious demeanor and a rebellious reputation—Johnny Cash was, and always will be, country music royalty.
Monday (September 12) marked 19 years since the legend was passed down. Whether you love him for his outlaw image and edgy persona, for his great song styles and humble stage presence, or all of the above, here are five gripping live performances as we celebrate the man in black.
1. “Ring of Fire” – The Jimmy Dean Show1964
Appearing next to fellow country singer-turned-TV host Jimmy Dean, a young Cash looks stoic, almost shy, until he bursts into his classic “Ring of Fire.” Comfort seems to invade him with the first regular scratches and through the performance he even manages to smile.
2. “San Quentin” – Live in San Quentin, 1969
Cash began performing free concerts in prisons in the late 1950s. He played his first famed prison concert at San Quentin State Prison in 1958, which led to a highly successful live album in 1969, Johnny Cash in San Quentin. Like his 1968 live album Johnny Cash at Folsom Jailit reached number one on the Billboard the country charts and also topped the pop charts.
His performance of “San Quentin” live in San Quentin shows a crowd of inmates absolutely thrilled by the Man in Black.
3. “I walk the line” – The Johnny Cash Show
Cash broke the country star-turned-TV personality mold when he starred on his own television show from 1969 to 1971. The Johnny Cash Show saw the legend become one of country’s greatest showmen. He shone alongside non-country guest artists like Neil Young, Louis Armstrong, James Taylor, Ray Charles, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and many other mainstream artists of the day.
Appearing humble, yet enthusiastic on stage – maybe a little hyped up, but genuinely happy to see the audience – the singer is all smiles in his rendition of the hit “I Walk the Line.”
4. “Sunday Morning Coming Down” – Live in Las Vegas, 1979
Cash perfectly delivers Kris Kristofferson’s original on stage in Las Vegas. Performing the song with Kristofferson on The Johnny Cash ShowCash was requested by ABC network executives to change the lyrics, but he refused, keeping the marijuana references just to:
On a Sunday morning sidewalk / I wish, Lord, to be stoned.
5. “Folsom Prison Blues” – Glastonbury, 1994
Johnny Cash never had “maximum” success. Once he arrived on the country music scene, he remained a staple for 50 years, his music never seeming to peak or dip from the nose.
During a 1994 performance at England’s famous Glastonbury Festival, crowds were still captivated by the musician and his signature songs.
Courtesy of John R Cash Trust / Shorefire Media