When June Carter Cash and Merle Kilgore first penned “Ring Of Fire,” something tells me they never saw this coming.
Of course, “Ring Of Fire” was popularized by Johnny Cash in 1963, and went on to become one of the most iconic country music songs of all time. According to her autobiography, I Walked The Line: My Life With Johnny, Cash’s first wife Vivian alleges that Johnny wrote the song himself, but gave the credit to June Carter because she needed the extra money.
And it pissed Vivian off because she could tell he was smitten by her:
“One day in early 1963, while gardening in the yard, Johnny told me about a song he had just written with Merle Kilgore and Curly while out fishing on Lake Casitas.
‘I’m gonna give June half credit on a song I just wrote,’ Johnny said. ‘It’s called “Ring of Fire.”‘
‘Why?’ I asked, wiping dirt from my hands. The mere mention of her name annoyed me. I was sick of hearing about her.
‘She needs the money,’ he said, avoiding my stare. ‘And I feel sorry for her.'”
Vivian also confessed that she was a bit blind to Johnny’s affection for June, even though the writing was on the wall:
“I was so naïve and trusting. The idea made me uncomfortable, but I didn’t argue about it. I still believed everything Johnny told me. To this day, it confounds me to hear the elaborate details June told of writing that song for Johnny. 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. All those years of her claiming she wrote it herself, and she probably never knew what the song was really about.”
Of course, Johnny would go on to divorce Vivian in 1966 and would later marry June Carter in 1968… so her fears proved to be true. But whether it was written by Johnny or June, and whether it was about female body parts or burning love, “Ring Of Fire” firmly cemented its place in the country music history books.
However, in 2004, it took a funny twist.
Merle Kilgore, the co-writer of the song and manager of Hank Williams Jr., got a call from Florida television producer who cooked up the idea to feature “Ring Of Fire” in a hemorrhoid commercial for Preparation H.
Ok, that’s pretty funny… I mean, it’s a perfect fit, right?
Kilgore thought it was funny and had even made that joke himself in the past, but the Cash Family wasn’t having any of it. Rosanne Cash told The Tennesseanin a 2004 interview:
“He started talking about this moronic tie-in without talking to any of us. 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.”
Kilgore apologized, and the commercial idea got thrown in the trash.
“I certainly didn’t want to upset the Cash family because I love them. I just thought it was kind of funny.”