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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