Classics: Jimi Hendrix Experience – Hey Joe (Polydor)
Believe it or not, ‘Hey Joe’ stands as a case in many senses of the terms. It is the song whose rendition by Jimi Hendrix got him to have a manager then eventually secure a record deal soon after. ‘Hey Joe’ also happens to be Jimi Hendrix Experience‘s debut-single. And, in the meantime, one of their greatest classics ever. With its lyrics narrating the story of a man who is on the run and planning to head to Mexico after shooting his unfaithful wife…
It is also remembered as the last song Hendrix performed at the Woodstock festival in 1969. And, as such, ‘Hey Joe’ also happened to be the final song of the whole festival. But it’s also a cold case with its paternity remaining the subject of ongoing disputes. Even though it has been registered for copyright in the United States by Billy Roberts back in 1962.
Jimi Hendrix is of those rare figures speaking of whom the souvenir has remained alive along with time. Belonging to a list where are to be found Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Donny Hathaway or Amy Winehouse more recently. If not 60’s actor James Dean or Formula 1 Brazilian pilot Ayrton Senna among others. As many faces which a tragical destiny prevented from delivering the entirety of their talent.
The least we can say about Seattle, WA native Jimi Hendrix is that he most likely spent his childhood in some continuous instability. With the poverty of his parents pretty much contributing to the whole. A shy and sensitive kid, he found himself deeply affected by his life experiences. Eventually confiding to a girlfriend he’d been sexually abused by a man in unform. His parents eventually divorcing when he was nine. This with the court granting his dad custody on him and his brother, Leon.
By the mid-50’s, one could eventually see Hendrix handling a broom with him to sort of emulate a guitar while at elementary school. After more than year of his habit, the school’s social worker wrote a letter requesting school funding intended for underprivileged children. Thus specifying that leaving him without a guitar might result in psychological damage. Her request failed to get a positive response. Meanwhile his dad refused to buy him a guitar.
In 1957, while helping his father with a side-job, Hendrix found a ukulele amongst the garbage that they were removing from an older woman’s home. She told him he could keep the instrument which had only one string though. This being how he started, learning by ear.
The year after at age 15, he bought his first acoustic guitar for $5. Playing the instrument for several hours daily. And, in the meantime watching others and getting tips from more experienced guitarists. And, last but not least, listening to Blues artists such as B.B. King, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters.
Soon after forming his first band – the Velvetones – Hendrix realized he needed an electric guitar to be heard. In mid-1959, his father bought him a white Supro Ozark. He then managed to have his first gig with some unnamed group. But the band finally fired him between sets after he’d done too much to show off. He later joined the Rocking Kings. And when someone stole his guitar after he’d left it backstage overnight, his dad bought him a red Silvertone Danelectro.
Before he was 19, he got given the choice between spending time in prison or joining the Army. This after the police had caught him twice riding a stolen car. He chose the Army and enlisted by the end of May 1961. This being how he got to cross the path of Bill Cox who was to become his bassist after being discharged from the Army.
From then, the two mates moved to Clarksville, TN, and put together a group by the likes of the King Kasuals. After some time, the band naturally moved to Nashville. There, in addition to playing with his band, Hendrix performed as a backing musician for various Blues, R&B and Soul luminaries. From Sam Cooke to Ike & Tina Turner and Wilson Picket to name a few.
By January 1964, tired of following the rules of bandleaders, he decided to make the big move and relocated to the Big Apple. This being how, at the recommendation of a former associate of Joe Tex, Ronnie Isley granted him an audition. With the latter leading to an offer to become the guitarist with the Isley Brothers‘ back-up band, the I.B. Specials, which he readily accepted…
In March 1964, Hendrix recorded ‘Testify’ with the Isley Brothers which failed to chart. Two months later, he played along with Don Covay on ‘Mercy Mercy’. A cut which eventually established the latter’s recording career.
Hendrix toured with the Isley during much of 1964 as a matter of fact. But near the end of October, he left the band. This after growing tired of playing the same set every night.
He soon after joined Little Richard‘s touring band, the Upsetters. Eventually recording his first and only single with Richard. In other words, ‘I Don’t Know What You Got (But It’s Got Me)’, written by Don Covay and released on Vee-Jay Records. He briefly rejoined the Isley Brothers in 1965. And together they recorded a second single by the likes of ‘Move Over And Let Me Dance’.
By May 1966, Hendrix briefly rejoined Curtis Knight And The Squires whom he’d previously played with. This for an engagement at one of New York City’s most popular nightspots. There, Linda Keith, the girlfriend of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, noticed him. With the twosome soon after becoming friends.
Keith first recommended him to the Stones manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, and producer, Seymour Stein. Both failed to see Hendrix‘s musical potential, and rejected him. But not Chas Chandler who was leaving the Animals and looking for managing and producing artists.
Chandler saw the then-unknown Jimi Hendrix playin in Cafe Wha?, a Greenwich Village, New York City nightclub. In love with the Billy Roberts‘ song ‘Hey Joe’, Chandler was convinced he could create a hit single with the right artist. Impressed with Hendrix‘s version of the song, he brought him to London in September 1966. There, he signed him to a management and production contract with himself and ex-Animals manager Michael Jeffery. This before recruiting members for a band designed to highlight the guitarist’s talents… The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
In October 1966, the Jimi Hendrix Experience got an engagement as Johnny Hallyday‘s supporting act during a brief tour of France. And in late October, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, managers of the Who, signed them to their newly formed label, Track Records. With the group recording their first song – ‘Hey Joe’ – soon after.
This would mark the start of a lighting rise for Hendrix & Co. From the recording of manifestos such as the famous cover version of Bob Dylan‘s ‘All Along The Watchtower’. Or the firing ‘Voodoo Child’ and, of course, ‘Hey Joe’. To some memorable live performances at the Monterey Pop Festival. And, even more at the mythic Woodstock where he delivered a one of a kind rendition of the U.S. national anthem…
Although the details of Hendrix‘s last day and death are widely disputed, Hendrix made his last public performance a bit more than 36 hours before his passing. This while joining War onstage for the last 35 minutes of their second set at the Ronnie Scott’s Club in London on Sept. 16, 1970.
When wakin’ up in the morning of Sept. 18, Hendrix‘s girlfriend Monika Danneman found him breathing but unresponsive. She called for an ambulance which transported him to St Mary Abbot’s Hospital where Dr. John Bannister pronounced him dead at 12:45pm. Dannemann later revealed that Hendrix had taken nine of her prescribed Vesparax sleeping tablets. This being 18 times the recommended dosage!