The Story Behind Johnny Cash’s ‘I Walk The Line’ And The Tape Playing Backwards

The Story Behind Johnny Cash’s ‘I Walk The Line’ And The Tape Playing Backwards | Society Of Rock Videos

via Johnny Cash/YouTube

His Breakthrough Hit

Johnny Cash wrote and recorded “I Walk the Line” in 1956 and it became his first #1 hit on the Billboard charts. It sold more than two million copies and is part of “The 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll”.

Cash found the inspiration for the song’s melody while he was still in the Air Force and stationed in Germany. His friends borrowed his tape recorder and when they returned it, the tape was on backwards. When he played it, he heard a haunting sound which he later described as sounding “like spooky church music.”

And as to the lyrics, he married his then-wife Vivian less than two years before the track’s release. Cash explained, “I wrote the song backstage one night in 1956 in Gladewater, Texas. I was newly married at the time, and I suppose I was laying out my pledge of devotion.” But then he gave other versions as to the song’s origins. In one autobiography, he claimed that he wrote it before a gig in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1955. The lyrics came to him quickly. In some interviews, he said he finished it in 20 minutes while in others, he claimed 50 minutes.

Cash originally planned it to be a slow ballad but it was producer Sam Phillips who told him to speed up the arrangement. On The Johnny Cash Show, he told the audience: “People ask me why I always hum whenever I sing this song. It’s to get my pitch.”

Bob Dylan once described “I Walk the Line” as “one of the most mysterious and revolutionary of all time.”

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