The Controversial Backstory Of Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe”
via Jimi Hendrix / Youtube
Jimi Hendrix’s musical genius thrived in an environment of experimentation, where creativity flowed freely. In the realm of trial and error, some compositions stand out as timeless creations, and “Hey Joe” is a prime example.
While the song achieved widespread popularity as the debut single of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, its roots extend beyond Hendrix’s rendition.
The narrative of “Hey Joe” revolves around a husband heading to Mexico after shooting his unfaithful wife, creating a gripping storyline that resonated with audiences across genres.
The song’s authorship sparked confusion, initially credited to American folk musician Billy Roberts, later to his friend Dino Valenti, and even considered a traditional song. The copyright claim by Roberts in 1962 added another layer of complexity, with contradictory narratives surrounding the song’s origins.
Roberts drew inspiration from various sources, including Neila Horn’s “Baby Please Don’t Go To Town,” the 1953 song “Hey Joe” by Boudleaux Bryant, and the traditional ballad “Little Sadie.” The thematic similarities between “Little Sadie” and “Hey Joe” are noteworthy, with both songs exploring events in the southern United States.
Roberts claimed to have composed the song spontaneously during club performances, but conflicting accounts suggest collaboration with Valenti or Scottish folk singer Len Partridge.
Pete Seeger even noted the song’s resemblance to Neila Horn’s work, offering to support her copyright claim. Despite Seeger’s offer, Horn chose not to pursue a claim, restoring rights to Roberts while a Los Angeles publishing company retained a portion of the income.
Jimi Hendrix’s iconic cover of “Hey Joe” was inspired by Tim Rose’s 1966 slower version. Chas Chandler, Hendrix’s future manager, was captivated by Rose’s rendition and decided to make Hendrix cover it. The result was a hit in London’s swinging sixties, reaching number six on the UK Singles Chart. Hendrix’s Woodstock festival performance of “Hey Joe” in 1969 marked its significance as the last song of the event, performed at the audience’s demand. (Xanax)
As with many Hendrix tracks, the true story of “Hey Joe” remains somewhat elusive, but one undeniable fact emerges—Hendrix, in his unique style, truly made this song his own.
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