How Johnny Cash’s ‘I Walk the Line’ Uses a Piece of Paper as an Instrument

TL;DR:

  • Johnny Cash made “I Walk the Line” and other songs with the same producer behind early Elvis Presley songs.
  • “I Walk the Line” was originally a ballad.
  • A piece of paper was used as an instrument for the song.
Johnny Cash with a guitar
Johnny Cash | Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

“I Walk the Line” is one of Johnny Cash’s most famous classic rock songs. To create the song, he worked with the same producer behind early Elvis Presley songs. Audiences can hear noise made by a piece of paper on “I Walk the Line.”

What Elvis Presley’s producer thought when he 1st heard Johnny Cash sing

Sam Phillips was the founder of Sun Records. Without him, the careers of Cash, Elvis, and Jerry Lee Lewis might not be the same. During a 1986 interview with Rolling Stone, Phillips discussed what he thought of Cash.

“When Johnny Cash came in, he sang his original country-gospel songs, and I have never been as moved in my life by anything to this day,” Phillips remembered. “But I was very honest with him. I told him, ‘Man, I love this, but God, I can’t sell it, and if I can’t sell it, you and me can’t be in business.'” Phillips convinced Cash to make secular music.

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Why Sam Phillips decided Johnny Cash’s ‘I Walk the Line’ shouldn’t be a ballad

Phillips’ produced Cash’s “I Walk the Line.” “The song was originally a ballad. Phillips explained why this changed. “Well, with a little tempo, here he was, a modern-day Burl Ives, with a commanding voice and a hell of a song,” he said. “If I can’t tell that, I mean, I better get out of the business.”

Subsequently, Phillips explained how a piece of paper was used as an instrument for the song. “I had a little piece of paper that I wove through Cash’s strings,” he recalled. “It had to be just the right width. I don’t know how many times I ran it through those damn strings. And when I got it just right I told him, ‘Now you chord that damn guitar like you would with no paper in it.'”

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How ‘I Walk the Line’ performed on the charts

“I Walk the Line” was not a hit on the Billboard Hot 100 as the chart did not exist when Cash first released the song. The song appeared on a number of Cash’s albums, including the album of the same name. The album I Walk the Line peaked at No. 53 on the Billboard 200 and stayed on the chart for 23 weeks.

“I Walk the Line” influenced popular culture. Joaquin Phoenix starred in a biopic about Cash titled Walk the Line. “I Walk the Line” became a classic song and it wouldn’t be the same without a piece of paper.

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