Friday, December 16, 2016

The 50th Anniversary of "Hey Joe" by The Jimi Hendrix Experience

It was 50 years ago today, on December 16 1966, that the first single by The Jimi Hendrix Experience was released on Polydor Records in the United Kingdom. The song was "Hey Joe", a song with a rather complicated history.

"Hey Joe" was written by folk singer Billy Roberts, who registered the song for copyright in 1962. The song drew much of its inspiration from the traditional ballad "Little Sadie", also known as "Bad Lee Brown", "Cocaine Blues", and several other titles. Like "Little Sadie", "Hey Joe" deals with a man (the Joe of the title) who killed his lover.

Billy Roberts performed "Hey Joe" live around California in the early to mid-Sixties. The first recorded version of the song was by The Leaves in 1965. Unfortunately, The Leaves' version attributed authorship of the song to folk singer Dino Valenti. When Billy Roberts found about this, he contacted an attorney and was able to assert his authorship of the song. Unfortunately, over the years the authorship of "Hey Joe has been attributed to many others. It would also be recorded by several other artists before The Jimi Hendrix Experience version. The Byrds recorded a version under the title "Hey Joe (Where You Gonna Go)", which was released on July 18 1966. Tim Rose also recorded a version of the song in 1966, even though he claimed the song was a traditional ballad. Despite Mr. Rose's claims, there appears to be no evidence to support the idea that "Hey Joe" was a traditional song. Regardless, Tim Rose's arrangement differed from earlier versions in that it was much slower paced. The Leaves and The Byrds' versions both had fast paces.

It seems possible that it was Tim Rose's arrangement of "Hey Joe" that would inspire The Jimi Hendrix Experience's version. Of course, Mod band The Creation also recorded a slower version of the song, which might also have provided inspiration for The Jimi Hendrix Experience's version. Regardless, the slower version by The Jimi Hendrix Experience was not only the band's first single, but also their first hit. It peaked at #7 on the UK singles chart in January 1967. When it was released in the United States in May 1967 it would not see the sort of the success it had in Britain, but it would still become the best known version of the song.

Here, then, is The Jimi Hendrix Experience's version of "Hey Joe".

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