The Crow-penned anthem was recorded by the Man in Black just months before he died in 2003, and now she's borrowed from it for her upcoming duets album. “The first time I heard him sing it," she said, "I wept"

By Nancy Kruh
April 19, 2019 12:55 PM
Products in this story are independently selected and featured editorially. If you make a purchase using these links we may earn commission.

The spirit of Johnny Cash will always resound in country music, but pop icon Sheryl Crow is turning up its volume with the release of a Crow-Cash duet of her bracing anthem “Redemption Day.”

Crow, 57, recorded the song for her Grammy-winning, triple-platinum album Sheryl Crow in 1996. Cash covered it a few months before his death in 2003.

“I feel like the song has found its moment, which is what you want for your songs,” Crow said at a Wednesday press gathering, where both the recording and its music video were previewed. “It’s great when they can recreate life for themselves but this, I think, is the moment, and I think [Cash] had a lot to do with the timing of this, and I hope he feels proud about it.”

sheryl crow
Sheryl Crow

The event took place just outside Nashville in Cash’s legendary cabin studio — where he recorded the song’s vocals — and Crow told the story of how Cash latched onto the work in 2003. It was a natural fit for the Man in Black, who was famous for taking a stand: Both a lament for humanity and a message of hope, the song poured out of Crow after a trip to Bosnia to perform for peacekeeping forces.

Once Cash decided to record it, he had his son-in-law call Crow to discuss it. “Johnny got on the phone and asked a ton of questions — like, just grilled me about what this line meant and what that line meant,” Crow recalled, “and he was adamant about knowing, so when he sang it, it would feel like it was his. And that’s why we loved him.”

sheryl crow, johnny cash
Sheryl Crow and Johnny Cash on Jan. 7, 1995

For Crow, that love was personal: She met Cash in 1995 through Tom Petty’s keyboardist, Benmont Tench, and a friendship developed; a year later, she also formed a close connection with Cash’s wife, June Carter Cash, after the two women appeared together on a radio show. “I got absorbed into them and who they were,” Crow said.

Cash recorded “Redemption Day” soon after his wife’s death in May 2003 — Crow sang at her funeral — and then he sent his version to Crow.

“The first time I heard him sing it, I wept,” she said after the video screening. “It was as profound for me then as it is watching it now, and I have the same reaction every time I hear him sing it.”

Cash told Crow he wanted the song to be “the cornerstone” of the album he was working on, but that intention died with Cash in September that year. (Crow sang at his funeral, as well.) Eventually the cover appeared on the 2010 album, American VI: Ain’t No Grave, one of several posthumous Cash releases.

sheryl crow
Sheryl Crow

Now working on an entire album of collaborations, Crow seized on the idea of adding Cash to her list of impressive duet partners, who include Stevie Nicks, Keith Richards, Don Henley, Willie Nelson, Joe Walsh and Vince Gill.

She has no qualms saying it was Cash’s spirit that moved her. “I’m sitting at the piano, start playing the piano and Johnny was all over it,” she recalled. “I’m not like one of those woo-woo metaphysical geeks, but I feel like, if you listen, you can hear. And I feel like he was all over it.”

sheryl crow
Sheryl Crow
| Credit: Kharen Hill

Cash’s son, John Carter, who produced the original track, quickly gave Crow the permission she needed for his father’s interpretation to live on.

The younger Cash, an accomplished producer who still works out of the cabin and helped host the event, noted that his father only recorded songs that he could embrace “as his own.” With “Redemption Day,” “the lyrical connection is so true and exact, and of course, he believed in everything that she said,” John Carter Cash said. “That’s how the honesty comes through — because it’s true.”

Having Johnny Cash’s voice on this new version, Crow says, means the song carries the weight of a man who “stood up for what he believed at a time that what he believed wasn’t so popular. He got all up in the middle of things that he believed in … I feel like he would be standing up now.”