Walking the Line through the Ring of Fire – Johnny Cash

Which Johnny Cash song is your favorite? Walk the Line, Ring of Fire or Folsom Prison Blues?

If you live in Sacramento, just 30 miles from Folsom Prison, the Folsom Prison Blues has to be your favorite.  It had to be Johnny’s favorite too, since it revitalized his career.

On January 13, 1968, at Folsom Prison, Johnny Cash performed live in front of an audience of guards and inmates. Less than six months later, Folsom Prison Blues hit #1 on the Billboard Country chart. In his career he made the Billboard charts 42 times,  but this particular song represented a turning point in the legendary musician’s career and made an indelible mark on the history of Folsom.

The anthem would become one of Cash’s most beloved and well-known songs, one that continues to inspire musicians today. And Folsom Prison would forever be associated with Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues.

Folsom Johnny Cash and June CarterThe REAL Story behind Folsom Prison Blues

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Cash’s iconic album and single, we’re taking you behind the scenes and uncovering the facts that even the most hard-core Johnny Cash fans may not know about this legendary song, the album, and the Man in Black himself.

Cash Wrote Folsom Prison Blues in the Air Force

Before he became a country music legend, Cash enlisted as a member of the United States Air Force in 1950.

After completing basic training, Cash was assigned as a morse intercept officer and stationed in Landsberg, Germany in 1951.

“The Air Force taught me the things every military service imparts to its enlisted men … plus one skill that’s pretty unusual: if you ever need to know what one Russian is signaling to another in Morse code, I’m your man.” 
Cash: The Autobiography, by Johnny Cash and Patrick Carr

During his time as a morse interceptor, despite his military success (Cash was the first to intercept news of Stalin’s death), music remained on Cash’s mind.

Johnny Cash had been playing the guitar and writing songs since he was 12 years old. His mother once scraped together enough money for singing lessons, but his teacher was so impressed with his talent that she sent him home with a warning never to change his voice.

While enlisted in Germany, Cash used his first steady paycheck to buy his first guitar (it cost him $5 US dollars), and later, a tape recorder. Cash worked on his singing and even listened to the Grand Ole Opry live from Tennessee on the military radio equipment.

In 1953, Cash saw Crane Wilbur’s film Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison while stationed in Germany. The 90-minute long film left an impression on Cash, who emphathized with the tale of the imprisoned men, and inspired him to write a song:

Folsom Prison Blues.

“It was a violent movie,” remembers Cash. “And I just wanted to write a song that would tell what I thought it would be like in prison.”
Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: The Making of a Masterpiece, by Michael Streissguth

But a prison movie wasn’t the only muse that lead to the creation of this iconic tune; Cash had some lyrical inspiration, as well.

Did you know? While serving in the Air Force and stationed in Germany, Cash wrote a number songs that he would later record professionally:

  • Folsom Prison Blues
  • Hey Porter
  • Run Softly Blue River
  • Oh What a Dream

A TALE OF TWO CITIES

Cash adapted both melody and lyrics for Folsom Prison Blues by a song called Crescent City Blues, from a then-uncredited Gordon Jenkins.

Crescent City Blues was written by Jenkins and performed by his wife, Beverly Mahr, on the 1953 album Seven Dreams.

Cash’s lyrics were similar enough to Jenkins’ that he would later settle with the man in court. But at the time, young John R. Cash (as he was called in the Air Force) wasn’t a professional musician with copyright issues on his mind…

He was a young man inspired.

 

“Ring Of Fire”
(originally by Anita Carter)

Love is a burning thing
And it makes a fiery ring.
Bound by wild desire
I fell into a ring of fire.[2x]
I fell into a burning ring of fire,
I went down, down, down and the flames went higher
And it burns, burns, burns,
The ring of fire, the ring of fire.

The taste of love is sweet
When hearts like ours meet.
I fell for you like a child,
Oh, but the fire went wild.

I fell into a burning ring of fire,
I went down, down, down and the flames went higher
And it burns, burns, burns,
The ring of fire, the ring of fire.

I fell into a burning ring of fire,
I went down, down, down as the flames went higher
And it burns, burns, burns,
The ring of fire, the ring of fire.

And it burns, burns, burns,
The ring of fire, the ring of fire,
The ring of fire, the ring of fire.

 

 

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