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This was written by June Carter and Merle Kilgore. Kilgore wrote several other Country hits, acted in a few movies, and became a manager for artists like Hank Williams. Kilgore was best man when Carter married Cash.
June Carter wrote the lyrics about her relationship with Johnny Cash. She felt being around Cash was like being in a "ring of fire." Cash was involved in drugs and had a very volatile lifestyle. When she wrote this, both June and Johnny were married, but they became singing partners and close friends. By 1967, Cash and Carter were single again and they got married in 1968. Johnny claimed that June saved his life by helping him get off drugs. June died in 2003 after 35 years of marriage to Johnny.
According to the Rolling Stone magazine's Top 500 Songs, June Carter wrote this song while driving around aimlessly one night, worried about Cash's wildman ways - and aware that she couldn't resist him. "There is no way to be in that kind of hell, no way to extinguish a flame that burns, burns, burns," she wrote. Not long after hearing June's sister Anita's take on the song, Cash had a dream that he was singing it with Mariachi horns. Cash's version became one of his biggest hits, and his marriage to June 4 years later helped save his life. The song was based on a poem Love's Ring Of Fire, and it was originally recorded in a more folksy manner by June Carter's sister, Anita, as "Love's Fiery Ring." Cash held back on his single to give her version a chance to chart. (thanks, Edward Pearce - Ashford, Kent, England)
In her autobiography I Walked the Line
, Johnny Cash's first wife, Vivian Cash, denies that June Carter had any part in writing "Ring of Fire." In her words: "She didn't write that song any more than I did. The truth is, Johnny wrote that song, while pilled up and drunk, about a certain private female body part." (thanks, Keely - Bronx, NY)
In 2004, a company wanted to use this song to promote hemorrhoid-relief products. Kilgore thought it was funny and liked the idea - he sometimes made hemorrhoid jokes when introducing the song in concert. Cash's daughter, Roseanne, thought it would demean the song and refused to allow its use. 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."
Popular cover versions of this song include a 1968 rendition by The Animals, which hit #35 in the UK, and a 1980 recording by Wall of Voodoo on their first album. Stan Ridgway of Wall of Voodoo
told us: "I used to play Johnny Cash music as a teenager. I grew up with a lot of it. My dad had a big collection of Johnny Cash and all kinds of country western stuff. And as I got older I got into jazz and all kinds of stuff. There's good music, and there's not-so-good music. So a lot of the labels and things like that are really just that: labels.
The song came about with me f--king around with this Moog synthesizer that we had that was brand new at that point. And out came this crazy kind of throbbing sound. And I knew that we needed to assign some sort of idea to it immediately or we'd lose the whole idea, we wouldn't know what was going on. So I had to think to myself, 'Quick, quick, what's a three-chord song that's a good song?' I thought, 'Ring of Fire.' So I sang it over that and then moved my hand and it kind of worked. We made a quick little demo of it, and from there it grew. I do think 'Ring of Fire' is an excellent cover."
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