More than a decade before she made the official leap to country music with her Nashville-made Feels Like Home album, Sheryl Crow was proudly showing a reverence for the genre’s roots. In the summer of 2002, she teamed with longtime friend Willie Nelson for a CMT’s Crossroads episode — the series’ fifth installment, to be exact. Fresh off her chart-topping single “Soak Up the Sun,” from her multi-platinum C’mon C’mon album, she joined the Redheaded Stranger for an hour-long, televised (and countrified) jam session. Aside from swapping lines on their own hits, they also paid tribute to Johnny and June Carter Cash by resurrecting the classic duet, “Jackson.”
The show’s set-list included “Abilene,” “New Orleans,” “Let It Be Me,” “It’s So Easy,” “You Remain,” “Crazy” and “Everyday Is a Winding Road,” but it was “Jackson” – made famous by the iconic Cash pair – which hypnotized as the show’s opener. With Nelson taking on the Man in Black’s role, and the “Strong Enough” singer adding some rasp on June’s parts, the two traded looks and lines on the bickering husband and wife call-and-response.
Penned by Billy Edd Wheeler and Jerry Leiber in 1963, “Jackson” was first a pop hit for Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, but it was Mr. and Mrs. Cash who cashed in on the country charts the following year with the tune, and won a Grammy for Best Country & Western Performance for Duet, Trio or Group.
Both Nelson and Crow have close ties to the Cash family. As country outlaws, Nelson and Cash shared a tight kinship and a band, the Highwaymen, alongside Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson. The Missouri-born Crow, who also considered the couple dear friends, sang at both of their funerals in 2003. She duetted with Johnny on “Redemption Day,” which she still sings in concert to this day, with a jumbotron video containing clips of Cash playing behind her on stage.
“I believed everything that Johnny sang,” Crow told Rolling Stone Country last year. “His words had real meaning and real connection to his spirit.”
Crow and Nelson probably didn’t need much rehearsing for “Jackson.” Three years prior to their Crossroads debut, they opened an All-Star tribute to Cash in New York City with the song. The pair also teamed for a second Crossroads together in 2011, this time at Nashville’s Third Man Records with Jack White, Neil Young, Jamey Johnson, Norah Jones, Ashley Monroe and several other Nelson disciples.