Walk the Line

“Walk the Line” or “I Walk the Line” was written by Johnny Cash and first recorded in 1956.  Cash wrote the song while stationed in Germany serving in the Air Force.  Cash was newly married at the time to Vivien and wrote the song to “lay out my pledge of devotion” to his wife.

Cash originally intended for the song to be a slow ballad, however, his producer encouraged the upbeat tempo known today.  Cash grew to like the change as it was met with much success in the music charts.

“Walk the Line” was the first hit for Cash’s group and remained on the record charts for 43 weeks.

“Walk the Line” has a unique chord progression that was inspired by accidental, backwards play backs of guitar rifts Cash had recorded while stationed in Germany.  In the original recording, Cash changes keys five times between verses.  Before each verse, Cash hummed tonic, which is audible on the recording.  The sound track to the movie “Walk the Line” (2005) remains true to this original version.

Cash enjoyed the sound of drums, particularly the snare drum, but drums were not common in country music.  To circumvent the issue, Cash put a piece of paper in the guitar strings to create a percussive effect.

An early version of Cash performing the song can be found below.  It highlights Cash’s chord changed and humming:

The following is a later recording of Cash performing the song with June Carter.  It highlights the percussive effects Cash created with his guitar:

Cash’s songs typically tell more of a story through the lyrics than through the music itself.  He utilized a “boom-chicka-boom” or “freight train” rhythm in many of his songs.

Lauren Morrow, MT-BC

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