Music

'Jackson': The Story Behind Johnny and June's Iconic Duet

Johnny Cash and June Carter perform on stage at Concertgebouw in 1972 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)

When it comes to writing hits, there's a man who knows his way around a hook and melody. Billy Edd Wheeler, a North Carolina resident, is one of the most successful songwriters of the state. He's known best for penning the famous Jackson lyrics for Johnny Cash and June Carter's spicy duet with his friend Jerry Leiber. His songs have been cut by Judy Collins, Neil Young, The Kingston Trio, Elvis Presley, Kenny Rogers and more.

In an interview with Come Hear North Carolina, Mr. Wheeler answered the following questions about his writing of the country music classic "Jackson."

"When I was at Yale, we were studying Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? We got a copy of it at Yale before it really was opened on Broadway," Wheeler told Come Hear, North Carolina. "So we analyzed it, and if you saw the movie - I mean [remember] how the man and woman fight and go at each other like crazy? I mean, it's mean. Mean spirited. It is natural for a couple to spar in good faith, good spirit, but this was not [that]. This was mean. For some reason, when I was trying to write a song, I remembered that, and it really inspired me. Now that's a stretch, isn't it! Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf ends up being 'Jackson'!"

"I needed a town, and I tried Nashville and some others, and that was too soft," Wheeler continued. "I wanted something that really got you, so I finally got Jackson. Of course, that was my most successful song and still is."

Billy Edd Wheeler is a member of the Nashville Association of Songwriters International's Hall of Fame and the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. He is also a playwright, novelist, poet, painter, singer and sculptor.

Read More: Johnny Cash's Children: Where Are They Today?

"Jackson"  is known for two popular recordings. It was released as a pop hit single by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, which reached No. 14  on the Billboard Hot 100, and as a country hit single by Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, which reached No. 2 on the Billboard Country Singles chart.

'Jackson' Lyrics:

We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout,
We've been talkin' 'bout Jackson
Ever since the fire went out.
I'm goin' to Jackson, I'm gonna mess around,
Yeah, I'm goin' to Jackson,
Look out, Jackson town.

Well, go on down to Jackson; go ahead and wreck your health.
Go play your hand, you big-talkin' man, make a big fool of yourself,
Yeah, go to Jackson; go comb your hair!

Honey, I'm gonna snowball, Jackson.

See if I care.

When I breeze into that city, people gonna stoop and bow. (Hah!)
All them women gonna make me, teach 'em what they don't know how,
I'm goin' to Jackson, you turn-a loosen my coat.
'Cos I'm goin' to Jackson." Goodbye, " that's all she wrote.

But they'll laugh at you in
Jackson, and I'll be dancin' on a Pony Keg.
They'll lead you 'round town like a scalded hound,
With your tail tucked between your legs,
Yeah, go to Jackson, you big-talkin' man.
And I'll be waitin' in Jackson, behind my Japan Fan.

Well, now, we got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout,
We've been talkin' 'bout Jackson, ever since the fire went out.
I'm goin' to Jackson, and that's a fact.
Yeah, we're goin' to Jackson, ain't never comin' back.

Well, we got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout
We've been talkin' 'bout Jackson
Ever since the fire went out...

 

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'Jackson': The Story Behind Johnny and June's Iconic Duet