June Carter and Johnny Cash touchdown in Australia in 1973
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June Carter and Johnny Cash’s love affair is one of the greatest (and most tortured) in music history. They were both married when they finally met and although their connection was instant, it took another twelve years before they could be together. But in the early days, there were more actually rumours surrounding June and The King – and her first husband believed they were having an affair.
Elvis and June were contemporaries on the Memphis and Southern US music scenes in the mid-1950s and often toured together. Their families were even distantly related.
Meanwhile, The King and Johnny were both signed to Sun Records and June recalled how the young aspiring star would often talk about Johnny and croon his songs, innocently promising to introduce her to the man who would become her husband one day.
Elvis, of course, was notoriously linked with women he worked with throughout his career.
In 2008, June and Johnny’s son John Carter Cash released the biography Anchored In Love: An Intimate Portrait of June Carter Cash with his own insight into the stars’ relationship.
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He said: “Mom and Elvis occasionally toured together, along with other performers, sometimes including (June’s) Mother Maybelle and one or more of June’s sisters. The Carter’s were friends of Elvis, and there are stories about Mother Maybelle sewing buttons on Elvis’ shirts when they popped off during his wild onstage gyrations.”
June had married singer Carl Smith in 1952 but their marriage was on the rocks just when Elvis’ career was taking off in 1955 and 1956. John says Carl was convinced something was going on and after the couple separated, The King would come and stay over.
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John said: “Though Mom always maintained that she never had an affair with Elvis, Carl (her first husband) believed differently and perhaps for good reason. After Carl moved out of their Madison home, Mom would sometimes let Elvis stay at the house to ‘rest’ after a tour…
“Throughout my life, I would see Mom get a mischievous twinkle in her eye whenever she mentioned Elvis Presley. Her eyes would flash merrily, and she would say, ‘You know, son, your father (Johnny Cash) was always jealous of Elvis.’
“She even told me once that she sometimes wondered what would have happened if she had fallen in love with Elvis.”
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Incredibly, it was Elvis who introduced June to Johnny’s music when he used to sing one of Johnny’s earliest hits, Cry Cry Cry, as he tuned his guitar
June later said: “Elvis was stooped down on one knee and grasping a guitar trying to tune it to somewhere near the correct pitch to make a correct chord ring. (He would sing) ‘Everybody knows where you go when the sun goes down, Ah-ummm, Ah-ummm’ and he’d strike the guitar again. Plink, plunk: ‘Ah-ummm …’
“‘What are you trying to do?’ I asked. ‘I’m trying to tune this guitar, honey, and I’m trying to sing like Johnny Cash.'”
“‘Who is Johnny Cash?’ I asked Elvis Presley. ‘What’s the a-um-a-um for?’
“‘That’s what drives the girls crazy,’ Elvis said.
“‘I don’t know this Johnny Cash,’ I said, and Elvis said: ‘Oh you’ll know Cash. The whole world will know Johnny Cash. He’s a friend of mine’.
June added: “So the whole tour, my first with Elvis, we went into small cafes all throughout the south and Elvis played Johnny Cash on the jukebox while I fought off the girls trying to get through Scotty, Bill and I to Elvis.”
June and Johnny finally met backstage at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, in June 1956. He was about to go onstage to debut what would become one of his most iconic hits, I Walk The Line.
She said: “I found myself backstage trying to tune my guitar humming ‘Ah-ummm Ah-Ummm’, when all of a sudden, there he was! The voice was the same. Johnny Cash took me by the hand and said, ‘I’ve always wanted to meet you’.
June said their chemistry was overpowering: “The strangest feeling came over me. I was afraid to look him in the eyes. It was one of the things I did best. I never stammered and still found myself not able to say much of anything.
“I think I finally blurted out – ‘I feel like I know you already. Elvis plays you on the jukebox all the time and he can’t tune his guitar without humming Cry, Cry, Cry. Now he’s got me doing it.'”
But both were married – June to Carl then Edwin Lee Nix, and Johnny to his teenage sweetheart Vivian Liberto.
June had a daughter with each husband while Johnny had four with Vivian. He was also battling with drugs and alcohol.
Their infamous chemistry was channelled into a hugely successful professional partnership from the mid-1960s. She wrote his biggest hit, Ring of Fire in 1963.
Both divorced their spouses in 1966 and they were finally married in 1968, remaining together on stage and off until they died. June passed away on May 15 2003 after heart surgery. Johnny died four months later.
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