August 9

Merle Kilgore, The Man Behind Johnny Cash’s Hit Song “Ring of Fire”

Merle Kilgore, The Man Behind Johnny Cash’s Hit Song “Ring of Fire” 1
Merle Kilgore Photo credit:

Today, we celebrate Merle Kilgore’s supposed 84th birthday by remembering the music he wrote and contributed to the world of country music.

Merle Kilgore’s Beginning

Merle Kilgore was born as Wyatt Merle Kilgore on August 9, 1934. He was born in Oklahoma, but he grew up in Louisiana. Kilgore, growing up, was introduced to music at a young age. He had been playing the guitar and during his teenage years, Kilgore worked with Hank Williams Sr. by carrying his guitar. Aside from working with Williams, he became part of the Louisiana Hayride and performed with them as their guitarist.

First Hit Song Written

The first song Kilgore wrote was Webb Pierce’s song “More and More” in 1953. The song made it to the top of the Billboard chart. During that time, Kilgore was signed with Imperial Records. However, he was not able to make any hit songs.

First Hit Song Recorded

After moving to Starday Records, Kilgore released his first song to hit the chart. “Dear Mama,” released in 1960, made it to No. 12 of the Billboard chart. Other songs that Kilgore released that entered the chart in 1960 were “Love Has Made You Beautiful” and “Getting Old Before My Time.”

“Wolverton Mountain”

“Wolverton Mountain” became a hit song written by Kilgore. The song was recorded by Claude King in 1962. The song entered three charts of the Billboard. It reached No. 1 on the Country chart and No. 3 on the Easy Listening chart. In addition, the song crossed over to the pop chart at No. 6.

“Ring of Fire” By Johnny Cash

Aside from his big hit with “Wolverton Mountain” Kilgore co-wrote a song with June Carter, “Ring of Fire.” The song was written in 1962 and first recorded by June Carter’s sister Anita Carter. In 1963, Johnny Cash recorded the song and placed it at No. 1 on the Billboard Country Chart. “Ring of Fire” is one of Johnny Cash’s biggest hit songs.

Other Achievements

Kilgore who was an actor, songwriter and performer also managed Hank Williams Jr. Furthermore, he became Vice President of CMA and part of the Board of Directors. Kilgore became the President of the Nashville Songwriter’s Foundation and Association International in 1990. He won The CMA Manager of the Year in 1990. In his later years, he focused most of his time in his management work.


He died on February 6, 2005, due to heart failure, while he was being treated for Lung cancer.

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