Who Wrote “Ring of Fire?”

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I just finished reading Vivian Cash's “I Walked the Line”, a memoir telling her story with ex-husband Johnny Cash. Indeed Vivian and Johnny were in love and indeed there were two things that tore apart the marriage, drugs and June Carter.

Now, clearly Vivian, who has since passed away, did continue to have feelings for Johnny. And clearly there was no love lost for June. The problem is, there were so many allegations made against June you don't know what is bitterness and what is the truth.

To me the most interesting item in the book, besides all of Johnny's love letters, was the revelation that June Carter Cash may not have written Johnny's megahit “Ring of Fire.”

The original story is that June co-wrote “Ring of Fire” with country song writer Merle Kilgore. She claims the song came to her while she was driving aimlessly around one night wondering what she's going to do about Johnny.

Vivian claims “June wrote ‘Ring of Fire' no more than I did.” She said Johnny wrote it with Merle Kilgore and it was about a certain part of a woman's anatomy. Musician Curly Lewis who toured with Johnny backs up this claim and says the pair wrote it on a fishing trip, and he was present.

“Johnny and Merle Kilgore and I were fishing in Casitas, Calif., and that's when ‘Ring of Fire' was created.

“After it got pretty well settled, Johnny told Merle Kilgore that this is gonna be one big song. He said, ‘I'm going to be going through a divorce, and I don't want it tied up in my divorce, so put June's name down as the writer.'”

What's even more shocking are Curly's claims that the devout Cash used “ring of fire” as a double meaning for June's genitalia. “Well, use your imagination,” Curly testified on tape. “We got a female part involved. [The] vagina is the ring of fire.”


Vivian contends Johnny told her one day he was giving June half the song writing credit because she needed the money and he felt bad for her. Of course at this point everyone's dead and we may not ever know the truth.

Another interesting note is that none of Johnny's four daughters from his marriage to Vivian (including Roseanne Cash) are receiving a percentage of the royalties to this and many other Johnny Cash songs now that he's gone. Half son with June Carter Cash, John Carter, receives a large majority of the royalties for most Johnny Cash hits. And of course, a battle ensues.

A lawyer for the Cash estate told fancast.com, “We find it noteworthy that their authorship has been unchallenged for over 40 years, and was only questioned after the deaths of Kilgore and the Cashes.”


So tell me what you think? Who really wrote “Ring of Fire?”

Image: Newscom

I Walked the Line