In the early 1980s, Johnny Cash recorded a series of tunes with producer Billy Sherrill that were shelved after completion. The singer hung onto the master tapes, which his son John Carter Cash came across among a huge stash of Johnny and wife June Carter's effects. The album was eventually released through Legacy Recordings on March 25, 2014.
This mid-tempo ballad of regret was released as the project's first single. "I really love this song," Carter Cash told Rolling Stone. "The depth that's there reminds me of the real serious stuff that Dad did later in his life. And I truly think it's one of the beautiful undiscovered gems in my dad's catalog."
Among the instrumentalists is a young Marty Stuart, whose mandolin helps color the song. Stuart was a member of Johnny Cash's backing band between 1980 and 1985 and married the Man in Black's daughter Cindy in 1983. They divorced five years later. "I thought I was going to work with the character that has made the Folsom records, all San Quentin, but what I walked into was more of a family show," recalled Stuart to Uncut magazine April 2014. "He was Patriot Cash, working a lot of state fairs."
"I sensed right off the bat that he was doing his duty, that he was musically discontent," Stuart added. "He asked me not longer after I'd been there, 'How are you liking it?' I said, 'Pretty good.' And he went, 'Pretty good?' I said, 'Yeah, the music is not what I thought it was. I love it but...' We didn't have to go much further, because I think he knew what I was feeling, and I certainly knew what he was feeling."
The song was written by Dennis Morgan, Charles Quillen, and Kye Fleming and was also recorded by David Allan Coe. His version was released in December 1984 as the lead single from the album Darlin', Darlin, peaking at #11 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart.
The video was directed by filmmaker John Hillcoat, whose resume includes the movies The Proposition and The Road. Hillcoat shot the clip over the course of a month in locations across the United States. "I've been a lifelong fan" (of Cash), Hillcoat told the Guardian. "The first film I made was a prison film [Ghosts … of the Civil Dead] so there's definitely a connection there with the whole Folsom prison thing. I was also inspired by his voice, which has a truth to it at all times - that's always helped me in terms of working with actors, no matter how big."
Speaking with Billboard magazine, Carter Cash commented on the song's lyrical content. "We could take it at face value as a song about a woman, but it's this world we live in, America for that matter, the things that moved on," he said. "In many ways, you gotta look back and see the foundations that were laid are firmly in place. It's good to remember what they were and how we got where we are. We can look at it in many ways, but for me it's just a great communication in my experience with my father. To listen to the song reminded me of who he was and his integrity and strength as a person."