June Carter and Johnny Cash: “Ring of Fire”

See image credit below.

See image credit below.

For the bride and groom

“Ring of Fire” – written by June Carter and Merle Kilgore and recorded by Johnny Cash – is no ordinary love song. For it tells not only of the sweetness of new love but even more so the all-consuming, burning nature of a deeply passionate love.

According to the most widely accepted account of the song’s composition, June Carter came across a phrase in a book of Elizabethan poetry that had belonged to her uncle, the famed A.P. Carter. He had underlined the words “Love is like a burning ring of fire.” June suggested to songwriter Merle Kilgore that they write a song based on those words. June said, “There is no way to be in that kind of hell, no way to extinguish a flame that burns, burns, burns.”

Apparently, June Carter knew what she was talking about. In 1962, when she wrote the song with Kilgore, she was touring with Johnny Cash for the first time, and theirs was a burning new love indeed. Kilgore was also on that tour, and Rolling Stone reports that whenever they were on tour together, June Carter and Merle Kilgore would often write songs together.

The first person to record the song was June’s sister Anita Carter, but it failed to hit big on the charts. Johnny Cash claimed that, after hearing Anita’s version, he had a dream with the mariachi-style horns added to the song. Recorded in March 1963 and released the following month, Cash’s version features Mother Maybelle and the Carter sisters singing harmony. The song remains the most recognizable and most enduring of Johnny Cash’s many hits.

Perhaps Cash’s daughter Rosanne put it best when she said, “The song is about the transformative power of love and that’s what it has always meant to me and that’s what it will always mean to the Cash children.”

Learn more about Johnny Cash in his books Man in Black and Cash: The AutobiographyThe fine film Walk the Line is also well worth your time. John Carter Cash’s book, Anchored in Love: An Intimate Portrait of June Carter Cashis a wonderful tribute to his mother. Beth Harrington’s book, The Winding Stream: An Oral History of the Carter and Cash Familyprovides key insights into this influential musical family.

To my friends who are celebrating their wedding today, may the transformative power of love be with you in the years to come.

Image Credit: Johnny Cash and June Carter, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Look Magazine Photograph Collection, card number lmc1998005787/PP, https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:JohnnyCashJuneCarterCash1969.jpg#mw-jump-to-license.


  1. I remember seeing Johnny Cash in concert in Indianapolis many years ago. Through the years I’ve come to appreciate his music more and more. His songs tell stories, just recently listened to music recorded at Folsom Prison. Thanks for the good StoryWeb. Bonnie

  2. Linda, if you’re interested in unorthodox interpretations of “Ring of Fire,” my absolute favorite is by Adam Lambert on American Idol 2009. You can find it in the #1 spot on this page: http://www.musictimes.com/articles/8508/20140807/8-ring-fire-covers-ranked-alan-jackson-frank-zappa-blondie.htm. Anything that shocks and confuses the judges must have something good in it, right? 🙂 I thought it was genius: a radically different tempo and mood, yet it preserves the “burn burn burn” drive of the song, maybe even heightens it. If you listen, I’m curious what you think.

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