We are dipping into the Far Out vault to bring you two of our favourite artists joining forces for one special collaboration as Johnny Cash and Joe Strummer sing Bob Marley.
The wide-ranging mix of Joe Strummer’s songs had us all musing on his love affair with ska, dub, reggae and other Jamaican-influenced genres. Living the island life may have been one of Strummer’s dreams before his untimely death.
Strummer injected a lot of the reggae culture that he was surrounded in during the seventies in London directly into The Clash’s songs. While many the band’s songs are generally rough homages to the sound, one particular tribute to the island came from an unlikely source. It sees Johnny Cash joining Strummer on vocals for a special cover of Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’.
Strummer’s love for Caribbean musical exports is entrenched in his and The Clash’s identity, almost form the very beginning, underpinning their punk sound. The band grew up in London during a time of unprecedented racial integration and, as such aligned with their values aligned and twisted with one another, It’s a staunch part of The Clash’s makeup—you only need to look at their seminal album London Calling to see that.
With the acclaimed producer Rick Rubin behind the desk and Rage Against The Machine’s enigmatic axeman Tom Morello on guitar, Strummer joined forces with Johnny Cash to deliver a behemoth of a cover track.
The story starts with Cash recording his own material at Rick Rubin’s house. The pair were sifting through songs for the LP American IV: The Man Comes Around when a familiar face entered the studio, the face of Clash man, Joe Strummer. The singer had been hanging around the studio while he was on vacation in L.A. just to watch a master like Johnny Cash sing.
Cash, at the time, was preparing to release the fourth album in the ‘American’ series which saw him take on some other artists’ songs and truly turn them into his own. It would see Cash turn Trent Reznor’s song ‘Hurt’ into a mass-appeal anthem for the downtrodden and act as his swansong. The album would be the last released in his lifetime and act as a bright and shining reminder of his undoubted devotion to his craft. During this time Cash was near his peak as a wind-beaten bastion of art and music.
Naturally, Strummer, who would also sadly pass away just a few months after this recording, was awe-struck. The former Clash frontman was in his element while watching Cash—one of the greatest singers to have ever graced this earth—perfectly performing songs that should’ve been nowhere near his reach.
Strummer extended his vacation so he could spend more and more time with one of his idols. He and Cash caught up and shared their thoughts on just about everything. They spoke about The Clash, about the early days of rock and roll, and also about Jamaica.
Strummer had been brought up with Jamaica as part of his lifestyle and Cash owned property out there. They spoke about the island at length and eventually decided, after much pushing from Rick Rubin who was likely salivating at the prospect of having two legends in one booth, that they should celebrate it the only way they know how; with a song.
The duo chose to honour their shared moments and picked out Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’. A track born out of Marley facing his own mortality, the lyrics are so pertinent that they even find their way into political speeches and moments of civil rights. A stripped-back, solo-acoustic number, it allows both Cash and Strummer to effectively hang the track on their unique vocals and the incisive, powerful lyrics, a fact which was not lost on Cash.
Rick Rubin remembered: “There was one line I was wary about because it was not good English and I said, ‘Johnny do you want to change this word to say it the way you’d say it?’”
Cash looked at Rubin and said, “Bob Marley wrote that. I can’t change that!” and they didn’t. What they did add though was the guitar work of none other than Tom Morello, with the Audioslave and RATM guitar impresario doing some fine work.
While we could go on about this story and the intricacies we which we knew, the best way to enjoy this moment is by listening to the track. So sit back and listen to Joe Strummer, Johnny Cash and Tom Morello perform Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ below.