Elvis Presley: June Carter Described the King Trying to Play like Johnny Cash

by Jon D. B.
(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

While Elvis Presley was famously the one to tell June Carter of Johnny Cash, few fans of the trio know just how envious of Cash Elvis was.

From touring together during their early careers, to rumors of a relationship amidst Elvis staying over at her house to “rest” after tours, it’s no secret that Presley and June Carter were close friends during his lifetime.

At the same time, both Elvis and Johnny Cash were recording with the iconic Sun Records. The label would launch them both to superstardom, and even form a friendship between the two. While touring together, June would often hear her friend speak of this “Johnny Cash” in high esteem. And that’s putting it lightly.

“I don’t know this Johnny Cash,” the late Carter recalls saying in her memoir, From the Heart.

To which she says Elvis replied: “Oh you’ll know Cash. The whole world will know Johnny Cash. He’s a friend of mine,” she continues.

In fact, June would “constantly” catch the one and only Elvis Presley humming, strumming, and even chanting Johnny Cash’s early work.

During their first tour together, Carter (then June Carter Cash), says 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?” she asked Elvis.

“I’m trying to tune this guitar, honey, and I’m trying to sing like Johnny Cash,” he replied.

Elvis Presley Would Tune & Warm Up to Johnny Cash’s Early Hits

American singer-songwriter Johnny Cash (1932 – 2003) and his wife, June Carter Cash (1929 – 2003), attend the Bob Hope charity dinner, in aid of the Eisenhower Medical Centre, held at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York, 27th January 1970. (Photo by Tim Boxer/Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Sure enough, The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll was crooning one of Johnny Cash’s earliest smash hits, “Cry Cry Cry”, whilst tuning his own guitar.

“‘Who is Johnny Cash?’ I asked Elvis Presley,” she asks again in her 1987 memoir. “What’s the a-um-a-um for?”

“‘That’s what drives the girls crazy,’ Elvis said.”

And drive them crazy it did – for both Cash and Presley.

“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 continues.

Finally, in June of 1956, June Carter would meet Johnny Cash herself at the Grand Ole Opry. Cash was backstage prepping to perform “I Walk The Line,” the song that would come to define his career, and later lend itself as title to the film made about their life together.

“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,” June writes of their first meeting.

“Johnny Cash took me by the hand and said, ‘I’ve always wanted to meet you’,” she continues. And it was all thanks to their friend, Elvis Presley, constantly talking one up to the other.