Records and Roots: Breaking down the “Ring of Fire” – by Tom Netherland (Times News – June 2023)

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Johnny Cash was in a rut. By the spring of 1963, Cash had recorded just one top 10 record, his uninspiring 1962 cover of Jimmie Rodgers’ “In the Jailhouse Now,” since 1960’s “Seasons of My Heart.” Furthermore, Cash had not touched down with a No. 1 single since February 1959 with “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town.”

Johnny Cash needed a hit. Not only that, his marriage to wife Vivian was crumbling, battles with addiction escalating. Well, this month marks an important anniversary for “Ring of Fire” and Johnny Cash.

But “Ring of Fire” was not initially intended for Johnny Cash. He certainly inspired his future wife, who was impossibly drawn to him, to write such lines as “and it burns, burns, burns.” However, its title may have been taken from a passage, “love is like a burning ring of fire,” underlined from a book of Elizabethan poetry owned by her uncle, A.P. Carter.

June Carter intended the song, which she co-wrote with Merle Kilgore, for her sister, Anita Carter, who recorded the song as “(Love’s) Ring of Fire” in October 1962. She beat her future brother-in-law to the song by five months.

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