One of his most famous songs, "I Walk The Line" details Johnny Cash's values and lifestyle. It was a promise to remain faithful to his first wife, Vivian Liberto, while he was on the road.
Cash was 22 when he married Vivian on August 7, 1954; their daughter Rosanne was born 10 months later. Cash got a taste of temptation later in 1955 when he signed with Sun Records. He released two singles for the label that year and toured with their star, Elvis Presley, who attracted throngs of female fans at every stop. Cash wrote "I Walk The Line" as a reminder to stay true, which it turned out was not very, very easy to do. When the song took off, he became a star and was suddenly enveloped in distractions and vice.
Constantly touring, Cash was rarely home. In 1956 he met June Carter at the Grand Ole Opry; in the early '60s, they started working together and also kindled an affair. Vivian filed for divorce in 1966; it was finalized a year later and, in 1968, Cash and Carter got married. That one took: they were together until June's death in 2003.
While performing the song on his TV show, Cash admitted that his eerie hum at the beginning of each verse was to get his pitch. The song required Cash to change keys several times while singing it.
This was a breakthrough hit for Johnny Cash, his first #1 Country song and also his first pop hit - it reached #17 on that tally.
Recorded at Sun Studio in Memphis on April 2, 1956, Cash played the song at a slow tempo, but his label boss, Sam Phillips, asked him to do another version at a faster pace, which ended up being the version that got pressed. The song was released on May 1, 1956.
Regarding the inspiration for the melody, Cash said that when he was in the Air Force, stationed in Germany, his friends borrowed his borrowed his reel-to-reel tape recorder. When he got it back, the tape - a recording by his band the Landsberg Barbarians - was on backwards, and when he played it, he heard a haunting sound that intrigued him. In his autobiography, Cash wrote that it "sounded like spooky church music."
Cash gave varying accounts of this song's origin story. In his first autobiography, he said he wrote it in 1955 before a show in Shreveport, Louisiana. In his next autobiography, he said it was in 1956 in Gladewater, Texas, and proffered more details, saying that as he was hashing out the lyrics, he hit on the phrase "I walk the line," which his tourmate (and labelmate at Sun Records) Carl Perkins said would be a good title. In this version of the story, the song took him just 20 minutes to write.
Cash's bass player, Marshall Grant, told Robert Hilburn, author of Johnny Cash: The Life, that the song came to life in late March 1956. According to Grant, he was playing some slow bass runs when warming up for a show in Longview, Texas, when Cash started humming along. Cash came up with the line, "I keep a close watch on this heart of mine," and completed the song soon after.
On March 31, 1971, Cash closed out the finale of his television series The Johnny Cash Show with this song. The show had run since June 7, 1969, and drew a substantial audience, but was eliminated as part of the "rural purge" that cancelled many popular shows because they didn't appeal to the younger generation of television viewers who were primarily concerned with things like the Vietnam War, rock and roll, and the Hippie counterculture.
With a stable of stars that included Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley, Sun Records merged blues, rock, gospel and country sounds. Cash was the most country of these artists, which was a concern when he started. Jack Clements, who worked with Cash, recalled to Uncut magazine April 2012: "I wasn't impressed with Cash at first, because I like recordings with class... And Cash seemed rough, but 'I Walk The line' was a class recording."
In his autobiography Chronicles, Bob Dylan said "I Walk the Line" is a song that's "one of the most mysterious and revolutionary of all time."
"Walk The Line" is the title of the 2005 Cash biopic
starring Joaquin Phoenix as Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter. Witherspoon won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance.
A version by Megan Wyler and Adem Ilhan was used in popular Levi's commercials
that aired in 2006.
Bertrand - Paris, France
contestant Craig Wayne Boyd reached #84 on the Hot 100 following a November 24, 2014 performance of the song
on the show where he reinterpreted it as a slow, soulful ballad. It was the tune's first appearance on the chart since Jaye P. Morgan's cover reached #66 in 1960.