10 Songs You Didn’t Know Johnny Cash Wrote for Other Artists

Outlaw, gospel singer, country music legend—Johnny Cash was a lyrical slinger, moving with the times, from his 1956 “I Walk the Line” ode to his wife June Carter to his Vietnam protest with the 1971 classic “Man in Black” and more within his collection of stories spanning more than 90 albums.

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A musical marauder, Cash’s multifaceted stories galloped through traditional country tales and into reflections on spirituality, morality, and his own social and political stances on war or racial injustice.

[RELATED: Story Behind the Song: “I Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash]

Cash’s storytelling never lacked in luster, from the songs within his catalog to those in the peripheral.

Peeling back another layer within Cash’s collection, here’s a look behind 10 songs he wrote and co-wrote for other artists.

1. “All Mama’s Children,” Carl Perkins (1956)
Written by Johnny Cash

In the mid-1950s, Carl Perkins and Cash became friends and kicked off their long-running collaborative relationship. The two began working together when Cash penned one of Perkin’s first singles “All Mama’s Children,” first released in 1956. Perkins would return the favor by writing several tracks for Cash, and even joined his touring troupe in 1965, playing alongside him during his famous Folsom Prison performances, and on several collaborative albums over the years.

The uptempo “All Mama’s Children” was later released on Perkins’ 1957 debut, Dance Album.

All your children wanna rock, mama
All your children want to roll
They wanna roll, wanna rock
Wanna bop till they pop
All your children want to rock

2. “Rock N’ Roll Ruby,” Warren Smith (1956)
Written by Johnny Cash

“Rock N’ Roll Ruby” was covered nearly 20 times, including a 1974 version by Jerry Lee Lewis, but rockabilly country singer and guitarist Warren Smith was the first to release the song in 1956.

Hitting No. 1 on the pop chart, “Rock N’ Roll Ruby” was Smith’s first release with Sun Records and outsold the first releases by Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Elvis Presley under the label.

Well, I took my Ruby jukin’ on the out-skirts of town
She took her high heels off and rolled her stockings down
She put a quarter in the jukebox to get a little beat
Everybody started watchin’, all the rhythm in her feet

3. “Restless Kid,” Ricky Nelson (1958)
Written by Johnny Cash

Backed by the solid harmony of The Jordanaires, Ricky Nelson closed his third album, Ricky Sings Again, with a song penned by Cash. Rambling off guitar and vocals like a classic Cash fashion, “Restless Kid” is a slightly darker song about an unsettled young man trying to find his place. Ricky Sings Again also features a cover of Hank Williams‘ 1951 hit “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You).”

They got a man locked in a cell
That’s a free’r man than I
He’s gonna laugh right in their face
When they lead him out to die
And he’s gonna leave this badland
And ride off in the sky

4. “You Wild Colorado,” Tex Ritter (1964)
Written by Johnny Cash

Though Cash recorded his own version of “You Wild Colorado” in 1964, country singer and actor Tex Ritter released his version first as a single in 1964, then again on his 1965 album, The Friendly Voice of Tex Ritter. The chorus of “You Wild Colorado” remains intact, but Ritter and Cash’s verses differ in their individual versions of the song.

Ritter’s opening verse:

Oh, you wild Colorado, you ramblin’ reckless river P
ied piper of the desert, roll on to the sea
Twistin’ like a gypsy woman
I’d follow where you go
But you’ll never be returnin’, you wild Colorado

Cash’s opening verse:

Oh, you wild raging river, like my woman’s lips you lure me
Pied piper of the desert, roll on to the sea
You’re the same at noon or midnight and I’d follow where you go
But you’re planning no returning, you wild Colorado

5. “Ain’t You Ashamed,” Jean Shepard (1965)
Written by Johnny Cash and June Carter

In 1964, June Carter Cash was the first to record “Ain’t You Ashamed,” but she didn’t release her version until more than a decade later in 1975. In 1965, Jean Shepard first released the slow country croon, penned by Cash and Carter.

Oh you sit there and smile and you hold him by the hand
You make him a failure and break him as a man
You know he was mine you took the things I claimed
Look into the mirror woman ain’t you ashamed
Ain’t you ashamed that you took all I owned
You lured him away from me with your sweet lies and song
Your kinds’re dime a dozen and you think that love’s a game
Look into the mirror woman ain’t you ashamed

6. “I Tremble For You,” Waylon Jennings (1967)
Written by Johnny Cash and Lew DeWitt

On Waylon Jennings‘ 1967 album, Love of the Common People, he takes on Cash’s “I Tremble For You.” In 1979, Cash’s version of the song was released on a compilation of rarities, Tall Man. Once Nashville roommates in the mid-1960s, Cash and Jennings had their share of collaborations throughout the decades, including founding the outlaw country supergroup The Highwaymen in 1985, along with Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson.

This world that I live in is empty and cold the loneliness cuts me and tortures my soul
I’m no child of destiny and no fortune’s son
I’ve just chased you so long now I’m too weak to run
A new day is here but nothing is new alone in my room I tremble for you

7. “Ramblin’ Man,” Bonnie Guitar (1967)
Written by Johnny Cash

Also listed as “I Love a Ramblin’ Man,” on Cash’s song, Bonnie Guitar sings about how she’s drawn to her man’s wandering ways. Prior to the release of “Ramblin’ Man,” Guitar (real name Bonnie Buckingham) became one of the first female country artists to cross over from the country to the pop charts with her 1957 hit “Dark Moon,” which peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100.

I love my ramblin’ man
And my ramblin’ man loves me
I know he’ll be back, so I’ll help him pack
Then I’ll give him a kiss and my key

8. “Fair Weather Friends,” Don Williams (1981)
Written by Johnny Cash and Joe Allen

On Don Williams‘ 11th release, Especially for You, he recorded a duet with Emmylou Harris, “If I Needed You,” which was originally recorded by Townes Van Zandt in 1972, and he opened the album with the Cash-penned “Fair Weather Friends.” Cash released the song a year later on his 68th album, The Adventures of Johnny Cash

In 2014, Cash’s sister Joanne also released her own rendition of the song with Razzy Bailey on her album Breaking Down The Barriers.

We never know which way the wind will blow
Nor when or where the next turmoil will be
But he’s a solid rock when troubles grow
And he’s holding out a saving hand for me

9. “Passin’ Thru,” Randy Scruggs, featuring Joan Osborne (1998)
Written by Johnny Cash and Randy Scruggs

Featured on Randy Scruggs’ 1998 solo debut, Crown of Jewels, “Passin’ Thru” also made its way on the soundtrack of the 1999 comedy, Happy, Texas, as a duet with Joan Osborne. A four-time Grammy-winning singer and songwriter, Scruggs played with Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris, and George Strait, among other artists throughout his career.

Well I have stood upon the mountain
I have seen the other side
Wrestled with the devil
I have wrestled with my pride

Been down in the valley
I have stood out in the rain
Seen my love forsaken
Felt the pleasure and the pain

10. Gold All Over the Ground,” Brad Paisley (2016)
Written by Johnny Cash and Brad Paisley

Technically, Brad Paisley never had a writing session with the man in black, though “Gold All Over the Ground” was a song Cash originally wrote in 1964 but never finished or set to music and was left as a poem. With the blessing of Cash’s son, John Carter Cash, Paisley was given the lyrics and put some music to the song more than 50 years later. It is the first of Cash’s poems to ever be put to music.

Paisley released the song on his 12th album, Love and War. The track was later released on the posthumous poetry collection Forever Words: The Unknown Poems in 2018, featuring a collection of artists—Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson, Rosanne Cash, Elvis Costello, Jewel, and John Mellencamp among other artists—singing through Cash’s poetry.

[RELATED: 5 Striking Live Performances from the Man in Black – Tribute to Johnny Cash]

“His son, John Carter Cash, is a good friend of mine and decided to dig up some old songs that were unfinished by his father,” said Paisley. “He brought one to me that was just a lyric and wasn’t really in song form, and he said, ‘If you want to finish this and turn it into a song, I think Dad would approve.'”

Clips of Cash’s voice can be heard at the beginning and the end of the song as he reflects on how his wife June Carter kept him alive.

I’d pick you up and carry you across every stream I see
And I’d bundle you in kindness until you’d cling to me
We’d sit beneath strong branches
My arms would twine around
I’d turn your green to emerald
And give you gold all over the ground

Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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