Johnny Cash’s ‘I’ve Been Everywhere’: Story Behind the Song

by Matthew Wilson
johnny-cashs-ive-been-everywhere-story-behind-song

Johnny Cash was so talented he could read off a list of cities and somehow turn that into a song. The Man in Black had a gift for words and song.

His 1996 classic “I’ve Been Everywhere” inspires wanderlust in all of its listeners. Featured on his “Unchained” LP, the song provided the ultimate road-trip odyssey. The tune conjures images of the mid-west from Reno to Dodge City and everything that’s somewhere in between. Cash’s narrator visits the South, the North, even Canada because he’s been everywhere. Cash’s voice gives the tune authority and given his career as a singer, you truly believe he’s visited all the places he listed.

The song actually featured another famous musician, though listeners might not know it. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers backed up the aging country legend on the song. The band appeared on the entire LP with Petty having vocals in some of the other songs. Cash actually covered one of Petty’s tunes “Southern Accents” for the album.

Johnny Cash’s Version is a Cover

Despite being associated with the song, Cash’s version is actually a cover. The original tune wasn’t written about the United States at all. To visit all the locations in the original, listeners will need both a passport and a plane ticket. Australian artist Geoff Mack wrote and recorded the tune in 1959 about his own country.

So, replace all of the iconic American cities with Australian ones. At the same time, Mack was writing his song, country artist Hank Snow began to work on an American version. Miraculously, he managed to sub in cities in the United States while keeping the same tune and beat.

Snow’s version was very different than the Man in Black’s. For one, Snow lacks Johnny Cash’s deep rugged baritone. His voice felt lighter and breezier in comparison. While Snow’s version has its merits, Cash just makes the tune completely his own.

Since its composition, the song has been covered several times for several different countries. Hilariously, there’s a Texas-specific version written by Brian Burns. Because every American knows that Texas is its own country.

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