Who Wrote “Ring of Fire?”


I just finished reading Vivian Cash’s “I Walked the Line”, a memoir telling her story with ex-husband Johnny Cash. Indeed Vivian and Johnny were in love and indeed there were two things that tore apart the marriage, drugs and June Carter.

Now, clearly Vivian, who has since passed away, did continue to have feelings for Johnny. And clearly there was no love lost for June. The problem is, there were so many allegations made against June you don’t know what is bitterness and what is the truth.

To me the most interesting item in the book, besides all of Johnny’s love letters, was the revelation that June Carter Cash may not have written Johnny’s megahit “Ring of Fire.”

The original story is that June co-wrote “Ring of Fire” with country song writer Merle Kilgore. She claims the song came to her while she was driving aimlessly around one night wondering what she’s going to do about Johnny.

Vivian claims “June wrote ‘Ring of Fire’ no more than I did.” She said Johnny wrote it with Merle Kilgore and it was about a certain part of a woman’s anatomy. Musician Curly Lewis who toured with Johnny backs up this claim and says the pair wrote it on a fishing trip, and he was present.

“Johnny and Merle Kilgore and I were fishing in Casitas, Calif., and that’s when ‘Ring of Fire’ was created.

“After it got pretty well settled, Johnny told Merle Kilgore that this is gonna be one big song. He said, ‘I’m going to be going through a divorce, and I don’t want it tied up in my divorce, so put June’s name down as the writer.’”

What’s even more shocking are Curly’s claims that the devout Cash used “ring of fire” as a double meaning for June’s genitalia. “Well, use your imagination,” Curly testified on tape. “We got a female part involved. [The] vagina is the ring of fire.”


Vivian contends Johnny told her one day he was giving June half the song writing credit because she needed the money and he felt bad for her. Of course at this point everyone’s dead and we may not ever know the truth.

Another interesting note is that none of Johnny’s four daughters from his marriage to Vivian (including Roseanne Cash) are receiving a percentage of the royalties to this and many other Johnny Cash songs now that he’s gone. Half son with June Carter Cash, John Carter, receives a large majority of the royalties for most Johnny Cash hits. And of course, a battle ensues.

A lawyer for the Cash estate told fancast.com, “We find it noteworthy that their authorship has been unchallenged for over 40 years, and was only questioned after the deaths of Kilgore and the Cashes.”


So tell me what you think? Who really wrote “Ring of Fire?”

Image: Newscom

I Walked the Line

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    • inthebuff

      I wrote it. And I sent the lyrics to Johnny on the back of a coffe-stained envelope with the words, “use this as you wish, but if it becomes a big hit, I will sue your ass.”

      That’s the real story and if you want to confirm, call Johnny and ask him.

    • http://www.sheplaysmusic.com dng

      Where’s that eye rolling icon when you need it.

    • Pingback: Ring of Fire: Written About Johnny Cash or June Carter’s Vagina. You Be the Judge | Glamorati()

    • http://www.breakingthemirror.com Angelique

      Hmmm… I’m not sure. “Ring of Fire”. Huh. Never thought of my anatomy in that way! :) Sounds like something that needs to be cured with an antibiotic!

      Incidentally, I’m doing a lyrics contest at my eating disorder blog and wanted to invite you and your readers to participate. Stop by if you have the opportunity!

    • Sarah

      All makes sense to me now…

    • Forrrest Gump

      Ring of Fire, was song writen by young Michael Holland Shepard songwriter of Puff The Magic Dragon, American Pie, Geramiah was a Bullfrog, Little Boxes, Michael Row The Boat Ashore etc. etc. etc. Say it ain´t Michaels song. The Mexican French Horn lead in, and other help, was neighbor Doug Brown. Lets stop plagiarism of childrens songs.

    • Chaz Bundy

      Ewww! If her vagina was a ring of fire I prolly would have stayed away from it! haha!

    • Pat Fabric

      I have read numerous books regarding June Carter, Johnny Cash and at long last the one where Vivian finally speaks out. I am of their generation and followed Johnny Cash’s career – so often wondering about the first marriage and the four beautiful little girls. I believe Vivian Cash was a young girl who dated Johnny Cash for less than two months before he went to Germany for 3 yrs. with the US Air Force. His letters were persistent, controlling and very needy. She was young / he was young.
      She didn’t have a mind of her own and even speaks of that as time passed in the book. I do believe the story that John Cash wrote the song Ring of Fire with a friend while fishing. I have seen and witnessed throughout my life working in the legal / medical profession people being clever enough to do what John Cash is said to have done, not taken credit for Ring of Fire – he knew if June got the credit, i.e., royalties it was as good as his.
      Vivian, after all these years, had no reason to lie about this. Most people, I think, can understand why she needed to finally get all of this out. John Cash knew she wanted to do this and sanctioned it even though he knew “some people might feel hurt”. Their hurt is a small price next to what Vivian and their four daughters endured for decades and I would bet John Cash had more than a few restless nights over the decades…wishing he hadn’t been controlled by addiction. Hope this gives some of you food for thought. PHF

    • Jacki

      Oh codswallop. Her statement “no more wrote it than I did” gives away where this jealous lady is coming from. I love how everyone is so quick to take up the idea that Ring of Fire COULDN’T possibly have been written by a woman. Of course it could and was written by a woman. Women can write and women feel passion. And PULEASE! It’s not about a part of a womens anatomy. That’s such a stupid notion, why on earth would Cash write something that crass if it was about a womans vagina? And the terminology of “ring” would make more sense if Cash was a gay man. It’s such a stupid nonsense that it totally undermines any credibility of her claim that Cash wrote it. It sucks that people can do this sort of thing after people have died and can’t defend themselves. Really sucks.

    • Jeff

      In the 80s, my job at times entailed rooming with Bob Johnson, who played banjo for Johnny Cash and was his best friend for about twelve years. He told me he once was recording in a studio with Mr. Cash and they needed one more song, and that he, Bob, wrote it then and there and sold it to Mr. Cash for $10,000. Bob died in 2008 and I am relying on memory. In fact, I found this site in an effort to corroborate the claim. Bob Johnson was a genius and could easily have written the song.

      • SR in Texas

        Bob Johnson was my sister-in-law’s father. He did write the lyrics.

    • Steven Mendez

      Guy Leggit wrote it.

    • mitch

      According Sleepy LaBeef, Merkel Kilgore wrote the whole song and gave June half credit if Johnny would record it.