Country Throwback: Johnny Cash Performs at Madison Square Garden Recording 86th Album 51 Years Ago Today

by Emily Morgan

In 1969, the iconic country outlaw Johnny Cash delivered a raucous, robust set when he recorded his 86th album at Madison Square Garden. 

On Dec 5th of 1969, Cash performed 26 of his famous songs, which added up to 77 memorable minutes with the “man in black” himself, according to Born To Listen.

Although Cash didn’t release the album until 2002, the songs are unique in that the listener hears the rough, somber sound of Cash’s voice as well as Cash’s stories in between songs. These little moments give the listener a glimpse into Cash’s life and upbringing, which adds to the performance’s value. 

In 1969, Cash was quickly climbing the stairway to success. Prior to the Madison Square Garden show, he recorded his pair of live prison performances known as Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (1968) and Johnny Cash at San Quentin (1969). Both of the albums hit No. 1 on “Billboard Country Album” chart, and the latter would reach the top of the “Billboard Pop Album” chart.

A Night at The Garden: A Culmination of Johnny Cash’s Success

That night at The Garden, over 18 thousand fans would cram into the venue for a chance to witness the once-in-a-lifetime performance. True to his reputation, Cash hit the New York stage wearing a black tuxedo. Accompanying Cash was his full band, which included “Tennessee Three” members Carl Perkins and his longtime friend Marshall Grant. 

You can travel back in time as you hear the crowd’s high energy even before Cash utters a word. Cash kicks things off with “Big River” and then transitions to “I Still Miss Someone.” Later on, he brings out his 72-year-old father, Ray Cash, to accompany him on the song “Pickin’ Time.”

Cash also breaks out classic hits such as “Long Black Veil” and “Folsom Prison.” He also included his smashes like “Boy Named Sue” and “Daddy Sang Bass.”

He also highlighted the importance of Native American advocacy when he sang “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” and “Remember the Alamo.” Cash also wasn’t afraid to show his spiritual nature when he sang “Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord.)”

Despite the size of the venue, Cash was able to provide intimacy with the crowd. He made sure to pair songs with meaningful anecdotes and thoughts on the Vietnam War, prison, and other topics.

As a finale, Cash included a medley of songs that included “I Walk The Line” and “Ring of Fire.” Members of The Carter Family and The Statler Brothers, accompanied Cash as he closed out the show.