Hey Joe Original

Get Hey Joe by Jimi Hendrix

Where Did the Hey Joe Original Originate?

“Hey Joe” became a rock standard in the 1960s. It’s a song about a man on the run to Mexico after shooting his unfaithful wife. It was also the song that turned guitarist Jimi Hendrix into a star. Some claim that “Hey Joe” is a traditional song. However, no documentary evidence backs this up, and folk singer Billy Roberts is generally credited with authorship. In late 1965, Los Angeles garage band the Leaves recorded and released the “Hey Joe” original version.

Billy Roberts

In the early 1960s, Roberts played in coffeehouses and on the streets of Greenwich Village, New York City. There it’s said he composed “Hey Joe”, registering it for copyright in 1962. He performed the song on the Greenwich Village hootenanny scene and later in San Francisco.

Before Roberts could record and release “Hey Joe”, he heard that a musician friend from New York, Chet Powers (also known as Dino Valenti), had listed himself as songwriter on some early releases of “Hey Joe”.

In 1965, Roberts’ friend and producer, Hillel Resner, told him about the Leaves’ recording of “Hey Joe”. It turned out that Valenti had signed a publishing contract with Third Story Music (now Third Palm Music). With help from Resner’s attorney father, Roberts retrieved his authorship rights. But this didn’t stop the release of recordings of “Hey Joe” with other songwriters listed as author.

Roberts was injured in a serious car accident in the 90s. He hasn’t performed or recorded since. Royalties from “Hey Joe” continue to be paid to him through Third Palm Music. Online you can find folksy, banjo-plucking versions of “Hey Joe” that people say are original Roberts recordings. However, the consensus is these are fakes.

Another Greenwich Village musician, Tim Rose, performed “Hey Joe” and said it was a traditional song he’d learned as a boy. The actual origin and authorship of “Hey Joe” isn’t clear, but credit tends to be given to Roberts, who has the strongest claim.

LA Garage Rock Versions

In the mid 1960s, “Hey Joe” became popular on the Los Angeles music scene. Bands like the Leaves, the Standells, the Surfaris, Love, the Music Machine and the Byrds recorded garage rock versions of the song. Love’s and the Byrds’ recording of “Hey Joe” features slightly different lyrics than the other versions.

Love’s lead singer, Arthur Lee, claimed that his band’s version brought “Hey Joe” to Hendrix’s attention, as well as to most of the other LA bands who covered the song. In 1966, Rose recorded a slower version of “Hey Joe” which he said influenced Hendrix.

The Byrds’ lead singer, David Crosby, wanted to record “Hey Joe” as early as 1964, but his band members were unenthusiastic. So it wasn’t until 1966 that the Byrds released a version of “Hey Joe” on their album Fifth Dimension.

Some claim the Surfaris’ recording of “Hey Joe”, released on the B-side of their single “So Get Out”, was the original recording. But its catalogue number places the release at mid-1966, before the Leaves’ version.

“Hey Joe” was so popular in the mid 1960s for a number of reasons. “Old Americana and romantic gloom” were going through a resurgence and the song tied in nicely with this. The chord pattern C-G-D-A-E, a circle of reversed fifths, sounds great and the lyrics tell a timeless story.

The Leaves’ Hey Joe Original Recording

The Leaves released the “Hey Joe” original recording in late 1965. It didn’t sell well, so they re-recorded and re-released it in 1966. This version became a US hit. In fact, this Leaves version of “Hey Joe” was the only one to reach the Top 40 of the Billboard chart.

The Leaves’ “Hey Joe” is fast paced with a screaming guitar and thumping bass, pure garage rock. It’s completely different from the Hendrix version, but a cracking good tune.

Get the Leaves version of Hey Joe

Hendrix & Hey Joe

Former Animals bassist, Chas Chandler, had moved on to managing other bands. In 1966, he saw Hendrix, perform “Hey Joe” at the Greenwich Village club Cafe Wha? with his band Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. Chandler loved the song and persuaded Hendrix to join him in England, where he became Hendrix’s producer and manager.

Hendrix, with Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience. In October 1966, they recorded their first single, “Hey Joe”, with backing vocals performed by the Breakaways (Jean Hawker, Margot Newman and Vicki Brown).

The single was released in December 1966, instantly becoming a hit. It entered the Top 10 of the UK Singles Chart in January 1967, peaking at number six. Hendrix and his band became sensations. “Hey Joe” was released in the US in May 1967 but failed to chart.

Today Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” is widely considered the best version of the song. It’s listed as number 201 in Rolling Stone magazine’s The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In 2000, Total Guitar magazine ranked it as the 13th greatest cover version ever, and in 2009 VH1 listed it as the 22nd greatest hard rock song.

Probably the most memorable “Hey Joe” performance by Hendrix took place around 9am on Monday 18 August, 1969 when he closed the Woodstock festival with this song to a crowd of 80,000 who cheered for more.

Compared with earlier versions of “Hey Joe”, Hendrix’s version is slower-paced. It’s moved away from garage rock to blues, and of course his guitaring is magical.

Other Versions

“Hey Joe” is one of the most-played songs of the twentieth century. It was a staple in coffeehouses, garages, rock clubs and festivals, and seems to sum up the mid-to-late 60s in a way no other song does.

Many other artists released their own version of “Hey Joe”, including:

  • Cher in 1966
  • Johnny Hallyday in 1966
  • Johnny Rivers in 1968
  • Deep Purple in 1968
  • Marmalade in 1968
  • Wilson Pickett in 1969
  • Patti Smith in 1974
  • Soft Cell in 1983 (definitely worth a listen if you like your synth)
  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in 1986
  • Willy DeVille’s mariachi version in 1992
  • Eddie Murphy in 1993 (yep, the comedian)
  • The Offspring in 2001
  • Robert Plant in 2002

In 2006, 1572 guitarists played “Hey Joe” in the town square of Wrocław, Poland, setting a Guinness record. They then upped it to 1881 guitarists in 2007, 1951 in 2008, 6346 in 2009 and 7273 in 2012. A feat as monumental as the song itself.

AZLyrics - Hey Joe
Discogs - Billy Roberts
Genius - Hey Joe
Hey Joe didn’t start or end with Jimi Hendrix
Songfacts - Hey Joe
The Weird, Tangled Story of Hey Joe
Wikipedia - Billy Roberts
Wikipedia - Hey Joe

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