In 1958, Merle Haggard saw Johnny Cash play in San Quentin, and went on to sing honest country songs for country outlaws. In 1982, future Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello saw Joe Strummer play with The Clash in Chicago and went on to play angry righteous rock for angry punks. Both Cash and Strummer, who died less than a year apart, were musical prophets in their way, inspiring others to pick up their message and carry it to the common fan. The same, of course, could be said of Bob Marley. And though those three would likely have different definitions of the word “redemption,” they shared a belief in music as a force for good.
Just above, hear Cash and Strummer sing Marley’s “Redemption Song,” with Morello on guitar. Recorded during the sessions for Cash’s last album, the Rick Rubin-produced American IV: The Man Comes Around, the duet happened more or less by chance. Says Rubin, “Joe was coming every day, because he loved Johnny Cash, and he just happened to be in L.A. on vacation. And he actually extended his trip a week longer just to come every day and be around Johnny.” Rubin also recorded a solo take of Strummer singing “Redemption Song” (below), which appeared on Strummer’s final album, the posthumously released Streetcore.
“Originally, the song was supposed to be a duet, and we recorded it as a duet,” Rubin continues, “But, just in case, both Johnny and Joe sang the whole song several times” on their own. The duet version appears on the third disc, titled Redemption Songs, of the posthumously released Cash box set Unearthed, which features outtakes and alternates from the Rubin-produced American Recordings series of Cash cover songs. Seems fitting somehow that one of the last songs both Strummer and Cash would record would be this one, and that they would sing it together. As one site succinctly put it, the recording represents “the first true punk rock star and the last. Together forever.”