Johnny Cash & Joe Strummer Sing Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” (2002)

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.”

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Related Content:

Animated Video: Johnny Cash Explains Why Music Became a Religious Calling

Remembering The Clash’s Frontman Joe Strummer on His 60th Birthday

Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” Travels Around the World

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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Comments (6)
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  • slvs says:

    The duet version appears on the third disc, titled Redemption Songs, of the posthumously released Cash box set Unearthed,

  • Toad says:

    On the night of Thursday, February 27, 2015, a young black inmate in the A pod of the county jail in El Reno, Oklahoma, sang this a capella (obviously) in the middle of the night while all the other inmates sat in silence and listened. He had a beautiful voice; it rang through the big room like a bell, and he sang Redemption Song from the heart of it. It was like a scene from a movie.

    I know, because I was in that pod, thrown in jail by an Oklahoma cowboy cop for my first arrest in my life at the age of 53, for half a joint. I was cowering in misery and fear on a bunk next to the guy singing.

    I’ll never forget that moment, and this song now is, for me, exactly what it was always meant to be.

  • Toad says:

    Dammit, sorry, February 26. Can’t believe I flubbed that.

  • peter p says:

    Just a friendly, brotherly hug to Toad from the other side of the Big Pond… while listening to this wonderful song. In jail for half a joint — is this justice?? No for sure.

  • Semere Robinson says:

    No disrespect but this song was a message to black people!

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