“Well my goodness gracious, let me tell you the news!”

I’ve never been blessed with musical ability.  Unfortunately I was bypassed completely in the music making department. I’m lucky to find a radio ‘ON’ button. 

When I think of Lamar County, Alabama and tunes, Johnny Cash and Wallis Willis come to mind.  There’s valid reason for it.  1963 is the year my brother and I received transistor radios.  Dad brought them back from Japan after a 12 month military tour in Korea. I believe we were only able to pick up one channel in Vernon.

The popular song back then, “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash, played like clockwork each and every hour.  I loved the tune not knowing its true meaning.  Jim and I thought Johnny Cash was singing about an airplane pilot in trouble.

We tried to sing the words, or at least a small portion of them.

“I’m going down in a blazing ring of fire.”

Years later I heard a preacher say Johnny Cash was singing about going to hell.  Johnny’s daughter Roseanne disproved that statement, claiming lyrics were strictly about the transformative power of love.  I sometimes wonder what is the truth. Johnny Cash never commented publicly about the song meaning.

Johnny and June Carter-Cash performed many gospel songs towards the end of their career.  Johnny acknowledged finding God in a long dark cave near Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1967.  The story is quite riveting.


Johnny Cash entered ‘NickaJack Cave’ with intentions of never returning.  Drug abuse and alcohol had taken hold of his life.  When he crawled into that dark black hole he believed he’d distanced himself from relentless torment. Little did he know had his suicide been successful he was far from it.  Fortunately God had better plans for his life; saving him by grace.

Johnny said he had to get down on his knees and crawl, literally feeling his way out. Wife June stood outside the cave entrance waiting. She’d brought a basket of food and comforting hug.  June Carter-Cash was directed to the cave strictly by the Lord’s hand, having no idea where her husband had gone.

Because of God’s intervention, Johnny Cash miraculously was led out of the place without a working flashlight.  The dim flashlight he’d carried into the cave eventually went dead.


Johnny Cash wrote a song about his experience called “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”.  It’s a powerful message with no sugar coating of words.  My favorite lyrics in the gospel tune are,

“Been down on one knee, talkin’ to the man from Galilee.”

Perhaps Johnny Cash’s best known gospel song is an old black spiritual tune, “Swing low, Sweet Chariot”.

Freed slave Wallis Willis wrote the lyrics around 1840. Wallis was called ‘Uncle Wallace’ by most people he knew.  He received his name from half Choctaw – half Irish – Mississippi slave owner Britt Willis.  

The song presents an uplifting message for those wondering if there’s life after death.  The hymn refers to God sending a chariot to take departed believers to their new Heavenly home. Slaves sang it in the fields and at religious services.  The old hymn is still heard at some traditional churches.  Opening line sounds like something a fire and brimstone preacher might use,

“Well my goodness gracious, let me tell you the news!”

Those are words that every Bible believing church should begin services with. They definitely get your attention!

What I find most interesting about “Ring of Fire” and “Swing low, Sweet Chariot” is that one speaks about going down, while the other mentions going up.

Something tells me that Johnny Cash is still singing the later.

Author: michaeldexterhankins

ordinary average guy

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