"Hey Joe" is an American popular song from the 1960s that has become a rock standard and as such has been performed in many musical styles by hundreds of different artists since it was first written. "Hey Joe" tells the story of a man who is on the run and planning to head to Mexico after shooting his wife. However, diverse credits and claims have led to confusion as to the song's true authorship and genesis. The earliest known commercial recording of the song is the late-1965 single by the Los Angeles garage band the The Leaves; the band then re-recorded the track and released it in 1966 as a follow-up single which became a hit. Currently, the best-known version is The Jimi Hendrix Experience's 1966 recording, their debut single.The song title is sometimes given as "Hey Joe, Where You Gonna Go?" or similar variations.
While claimed by the late Tim Rose to be a traditional song, or often erroneously attributed to the pen of American musician Dino Valenti (who also went by the names Chester or Chet Powers, and Jesse Farrow), "Hey Joe" was registered for copyright in the U.S. in 1962 by Billy Roberts. Scottish folk singer Len Partridge has claimed that he helped write the song with Roberts when they both performed in clubs in Edinburgh in 1956. Other sources (including singer Pat Craig), claim that Roberts assigned the rights to the song to his friend Valenti while Valenti was in jail, in order to give him some income upon release.
Roberts was a relatively obscure California-based folk singer, guitarist and harmonica player who performed on the West Coast coffeehouse circuit. He later recorded the country rockalbum Thoughts of California with the band Grits in San Francisco in 1975, produced by Hillel Resner. Resner has stated that a live recording of Roberts performing "Hey Joe" exists, dating from around 1961.
Roberts possibly drew inspiration for "Hey Joe" from three earlier works: his girlfriend Niela Miller's 1955 song "Baby, Please Don’t Go To Town" (which uses a similar chord progressionbased on the circle of fifths); Carl Smith's 1953 US country hit "Hey Joe!" (written by Boudleaux Bryant), which shared the title and the "question and answer" format; and the early 20th century traditional ballad "Little Sadie", which tells of a man on the run after he has shot his wife. The lyrics to "Little Sadie" often locate the events in Thomasville, North Carolina and Jericho, (near Hollywood, South Carolina). Roberts was himself born in South Carolina.
Variations of "Little Sadie" have been recorded under various titles (including "Bad Lee Brown", "Penitentiary Blues", "Cocaine Blues", "Whiskey Blues") by many artists, including Clarence Ashley (1930), Johnny Cash (1960 & 1968), Slim Dusty (1961), and Bob Dylan (1970).
Despite extensive archives of U.S. folk and blues music, and studies of the same, in the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, and other bodies, no documentary evidence has been provided to support the claim, by the late Tim Rose and others, that "Hey Joe" is a wholly traditional work.
Rights to the song were administered from 1966 into the 2000s by the music publisher Third Story Music (now Third Palm Music); there the author is listed as Billy Roberts.
Roberts' song gained fans in the Los Angeles music scene of the mid-1960s, which led to fast-paced recordings in 1965 and 1966 by The Leaves, The Standells, The Surfaris, Love, The Music Machine, and The Byrds, swiftly making the song a garage rock classic. Both Dino Valenti and The Byrds' David Crosby have been reported as helping to popularize the song before it was recorded by The Leaves in December 1965.
The Leaves, who had been introduced to the song while attending live concerts by The Byrds (who had yet to record their own version of the song) at Ciro's on Sunset Boulevard, recorded and released three versions of "Hey Joe" between 1965 and 1966. Their first version was released in November/December 1965 but sold poorly. The band's third recorded version of the song became a hit in May/June 1966, reaching #31 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #29 on the Canadian RPM Magazine charts. The Leaves' version is notable for being the only recording of the song to reach the Top 40 of the Billboard chart.
The Surfaris recording of the song, released on the B-side of their "So Get Out" single, is sometimes cited as being the first rock recording of the song but a number of reliable sources contend that, in fact, the Surfaris' version dates from 1966, well after The Leaves' original 1965 version. There is some dispute over exactly when The Surfaris' recording of the song was released. Some sources list its release date as being late 1965 but there are many other sources that list it as being June 1966. However, the catalogue number of The Surfari's single is Decca 31954, which when cross-referenced with other contemporaneous Decca single releases, allows the single to be conclusively dated to a May - June 1966 time frame. A June 1966 release date is further corroborated by the discographical information on Gary Usher's website. Usher was the producer of The Surfaris' recording of the song and the discographical information on his website comes from the late producer's personal archives, as compiled by his biographer Stephen J. McParland at the request of the Usher family.
The Standells also recorded a version of the song, titled "Hey Joe, Where You Gonna Go", which was included on their 1966 Dirty Water album. The garage rock band, The Music Machine, recorded a slow, moody, fuzz-laden version of the song in late 1966 which bears a strong resemblance to Jimi Hendrix's later version.
The Los Angeles band Love included a version of "Hey Joe" on their debut album, Love, recorded in January 1966 and released on Elektra Records in April. The song was brought to the band by guitarist and singer, Bryan MacLean, who had been introduced to the song by David Crosby during 1965, while MacLean had been a roadie for The Byrds. The band's lead vocalist,Arthur Lee, claimed in later years that it was Love's version that turned Jimi Hendrix onto the song as well as most of the other Los Angeles acts who covered the song. Love's recording of "Hey Joe" features slightly different lyrics to most versions of the song; for example, the lyric "gun in your hand" became "money in your hand" in Love's version. The Byrds recording of the song also features the same altered lyrics as Love's version. Love guitarist Johnny Echols claims that Love's and The Byrds' lyrics are the authentic ones. According to Echols, The Leaves (who they were friends with) had heard Love performing the song and asked them for the lyrics. He rewrote them to play The Leaves a "dirty trick", accidentally authoring the version that everybody got to know.
The Byrds included a recording of the song, titled "Hey Joe (Where You Gonna Go)", on their 1966 album, Fifth Dimension. The lead vocalist on The Byrds' version was David Crosby, who was instrumental in bringing the song to the group and in popularising the song within the larger L.A. music community. Crosby had wanted to record the song almost since the band first formed in 1964 but the other members of The Byrds had been unenthusiastic toward the song. By the time of the recording sessions for Fifth Dimension, several other bands had enjoyed success with covers of "Hey Joe", leaving Crosby angered by his bandmates' lack of faith in the song. Byrds' guitarist and band leader Roger McGuinn recalled in an interview that "The reason Crosby did lead on 'Hey Joe' was because it was his song. He didn't write it but he was responsible for finding it. He'd wanted to do it for years but we would never let him. Then both Love and The Leaves had a minor hit with it and David got so angry that we had to let him do it."
General consensus within the band and among critics was that The Byrds' version wasn't an entirely successful reading of the song and was inferior to previous recordings of the song by Love and The Leaves. In later years, both McGuinn and the band's manager, Jim Dickson, criticised Crosby's vocal performance on the song for not being powerful enough to carry the aggressive subject matter and expressed regret that the song had been included on Fifth Dimension. Even Crosby himself later admitted that the recording of the song was an error on his part, stating "It was a mistake, I shouldn't have done it. Everybody makes mistakes."
The song would go on to become a staple of The Byrds' live concert repertoire during 1966 and 1967. The band also included the song in their performance at the Monterey Pop Festival, which is included on the 2002 The Complete Monterey Pop Festival DVD box set as well as on the 1992 The Monterey International Pop Festival CD box set.
Folk rock singer Tim Rose’s slower version of the song (recorded in 1966 and claimed to be Rose's arrangement of a wholly traditional song) inspired the first single by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The ex-bassist for The Animals, Chas Chandler, who was now focusing on managing other acts, had also seen Rose performing the song at the Cafe Wha? in New York City and was looking for an artist to record a rock version of "Hey Joe". Chandler discovered Jimi Hendrix, who had also been playing at the Cafe Wha? in 1966 and performing an arrangement of "Hey Joe" inspired by Rose's rendition. Chandler decided to take Hendrix with him to England in September 1966, where he would subsequently turn the guitarist into a star. Tim Rose re-recorded "Hey Joe" in the 1990s, re-titling it "Blue Steel .44" and again claimed the song as his own arrangement of a traditional song.
Some accounts credit the slower version of the song by the British band The Creation as being the inspiration for Hendrix's version; Chandler and Hendrix saw them perform the song after Jimi arrived in the UK, although The Creation's version was not released until after Hendrix's. It is unclear if the members of The Creation had heard Tim Rose's version.
Released in December 1966, Hendrix's version became a hit in the United Kingdom, entering the Top 10 of the UK Singles Chart in January 1967 and peaking at #6. The single was released in the United States on May 1, 1967 with the B-side "51st Anniversary" but failed to chart. "Hey Joe", as recorded by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, remains the best known version of the song and is listed as #201 on Rolling Stone magazine's The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In 2009 it was named the 22nd greatest hard rock song of all time by VH1."Hey Joe" was the last song Jimi Hendrix performed at the Woodstock festival in 1969 and as such, it was also the final song of the whole festival. The song was performed after the crowd, comprising the 80,000 who hadn't yet left the festival, cheered for an encore.
Marmalade recorded a version of the song in 1968 because they needed a B-side to their single "Lovin' Things" in a hurry, and because they thought it was a traditional song and as such, the band would get the songwriting royalties from it. Marmalade guitarist, Junior Campbell, stated in interview that "Jimi Hendrix's version had already sold about 200,000 copies and then we sold about 300,000 on the flip of 'Lovin' Thing'. But then the following year, the bloke who'd written the bloody song suddenly turned up out of the woodwork!".
The hard rock band, Deep Purple, recorded a version of the song and included it on their first album released in 1968 entitled Shades of Deep Purple. Original pressings of the album mistakenly credited Deep Purple as the songwriters. As was typical of early Deep Purple cover songs, the band added a lengthy intro and musical interludes, bringing the song's running time to over seven and a half minutes. Author Tim Sandlin references Deep Purple's version in three of his novels.
Frank Zappa recorded a parody of the song, titled "Flower Punk", on The Mothers of Invention album We're Only in It for the Money in 1968. The song was one of several on the album that parodied the fashionable hippie lifestyle. Lyrics in Zappa's version included "Hey Punk, where you goin' with that flower in your hand?/Well, I'm goin' up to Frisco to join a psychedelic band." Zappa also included the opening chord riff of "Hey Joe" in the song "Honey, Don't You Want a Man Like Me?" from his Zappa in New York album.
Patti Smith released a cover of the song as the A-side of her first single, "Hey Joe" b/w "Piss Factory", in 1974. The arrangement of Smith's version is based on a recording by blues guitarist Roy Buchanan that was released the previous year (and dedicated to Hendrix). Smith's version is unique in that she includes a brief and salacious monologue about fugitive heiress Patty Hearst and her kidnapping and participation with the Symbionese Liberation Army. Smith's version portrays Patty Hearst as Joe with a "gun in her hand".
The rock band The Who occasionally performed "Hey Joe" during their 1989 tour. Their version was influenced by Jimi Hendrix's arrangement and was dedicated to him.
Willy DeVille recorded a mariachi version of the song that was a hit in Europe in 1992, going to #1 in Spain. The song was released as a single in Europe and appeared on DeVille'sBackstreets of Desire album.
Type O Negative re-titled the song as "Hey Pete" (in reference to frontman Peter Steele) on their 1992 The Origin of the Feces album and changed the song's protagonist to an axe-murderer. This fit the song into a story arc spanning several of the band's own compositions.1,881 guitarists played "Hey Joe" inWrocław on May 1, 2007, setting what was, at the time, a new Guinness record.
1,572 guitarists played "Hey Joe" simultaneously in the town square of Wrocław, Poland on May 1, 2006, breaking a Guinness record. A new record was set when 1,881 guitarists played "Hey Joe" in Wrocław on May 1, 2007. Then on May 1, 2008, 1,951 guitarists played "Hey Joe" in Wrocław to set a new world record. The record was further broken in Wroclaw on May 1, 2009, when 6346 guitarists played the song in the same venue. A new record was set on May 1, 2012, when 7,273 guitarists turned out in Wroclaw.
The following versions of "Hey Joe" made the pop charts in the US or UK:
- The Leaves as "Hey Joe, Where You Gonna Go" (Mira 207, December 1965); re-recorded as "Hey Joe, Where You Gonna Go" (Mira 222, 1966), and then again as "Hey Joe" (Mira 222, May 1966). This last version charted, peaking at #31 in the US.
- The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1966) Peaked at UK #6. In 2000, Total Guitar magazine ranked it as the 13th greatest cover version of all time.
- Cher (1967) on her album With Love, Cher. Peaked at US #94.
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- Wilson Pickett (Atlantic 2648, July 1969) Peaked at #29 on the US R&B charts, #59 on the US pop charts, #42 on the Canadian RPM Magazine charts, and #16 on the UK charts. Featured Duane Allman on guitar.
Other recorded versions of "Hey Joe" include:
- The Surfaris as "Hey Joe, Where Are You Going" (Decca 31954, June 1966)
- Love (1966) on their album Love
- The Byrds on their album Fifth Dimension (1966)
- The Standells (1966) on their album Dirty Water
- The Music Machine (1966) on their album (Turn On) The Music Machine
- The Shadows of Knight (1966) on their album Back Door Men
- Warlocks (1966)
- Tim Rose (1966) (re-recorded as "Blue Steel .44" on the album Haunted, 1997)
- The Cryan' Shames (1966) on their album Sugar & Spice
- Gonn (1966 or '67)
- The SoulBenders (1967) on their album Can't Believe in Love
- The Stillroven (1967) scored a Midwest regional hit in early 1967 with their cover version
- The Hazards (1967) on the compilation CD Aliens, Psychos and Wild Things, Vol. 2
- Johnny Hallyday (1967) French lyrics by Gilles Thibault, on the album Olympia 67
- Martò (1967) Italian lyrics by Francesco Guccini
- Los Locos (1967) Mexican lyrics by Rafael Acosta, on the EP Negro es Negro
- Ant Trip Ceremony (1968) on their album 24 Hours
- The Golden Cups (1968) Japanese group
- The Creation (1968)
- Marmalade (1968)
- The Mothers of Invention (1968) parodied "Hey Joe" and took a satirical swipe at hippies in their song "Flower Punk" from We're Only In It For The Money
- Deep Purple on their first album, Shades of Deep Purple (1968), which mistakenly credited them as the writers
- Johnny Rivers (1968) on the album Realization
- Band of Joy (1968) demo version with Robert Plant issued in 2003 on the album Sixty Six to Timbuktu
- Saker (1969) UK single
- Fever Tree (1970) on For Sale
- Lee Moses (1971) on the album Time and Place
- The Les Humphries Singers (1971) on the album We'll Fly You to the Promised Land
- Carson (1973) on the album On the Air (recorded live at Sunbury Pop Festival)
- Roy Buchanan (1974) on the album That's What I Am Here For
- Patti Smith (1974) her first music single.
- Spirit (1975) on the album Spirit of '76
- Alvin Lee (1979) on the album Ride On
- Hobo Blues Band (1980) (Hungarian lyrics) on the album Középeurópai Hobo Blues
- Buldožer (1982) on their live album Ako ste slobodni večeras
- More (1982) as the B-side of their single Trickster
- Soft Cell (1983) as part of the B-side "Hendrix Medley", later re-issued on The Art of Falling Apart
- "Weird Al" Yankovic (1984) as part of the medley "Polkas on 45" on the album "Weird Al" Yankovic In 3-D
- Nash The Slash (1984) on the album American Bandages
- Alain Bashung (1985) covered the Johnny Hallyday version of the song on the album Live Tour 85
- Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (1986) on the album Kicking Against the Pricks
- Dead Moon (1988) on the album In The Graveyard
- Francesco Di Giacomo (1989) on the album Non Mettere le Dita nel Naso in duet with Sam Moore
- Rambo Amadeus (1989) on the album Hoćemo gusle as "Čovek sam, ženo"
- Seal (1991) on the "Killer" single; later included on the Set It Off Soundtrack album (1996).
- The Offspring (1991 and 1997) on their Baghdad EP and, in a different version, as a B-side on their "Gone Away" single
- Willy DeVille (1992) on the album Backstreets of Desire
- Type O Negative (1992) as "Hey Pete" on the album The Origin of the Feces
- Jerry Douglas (1992) on the album Slide Rule. Vocals by Tim O'Brien
- Buckwheat Zydeco (1992) on the album On Track
- Roy Buchanan (1992) on the album The Best of Roy Buchanan
- Body Count (1993) on the albums Born Dead and Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix
- Eddie Murphy (1993) on the album Love's Alright
- Captain Sensible (1994) on his live album Live at the Milky Way
- Mathilde Santing (1994) as "Hey Joan", where the woman shoots her man
- Lick the Tins (1995) on the album Blind Man on a Flying Horse
- Brazilian Band O Rappa (1996) recorded a Portuguese version on the album Rappa Mundi, with considerably different lyrics and plot.
- Fifteen (1996) on the EP There's No Place Like Home (Good Night)
- Otis Taylor (1996) on the album Blue Eyed Monster. This version has slightly different lyrics, though.
- Guitar Shorty (1996) on the album Billie Jean Blues. Guitar Shorty is Jimi Hendrix's brother in law.
- The Make-Up (1999) on the album Save Yourself
- Axel Rudi Pell (1999) on the album The Ballads II (originally a bonus track on the Japanese edition of the Black Moon Pyramid album)
- Helge Schneider (1999) on the album Eiersalat in Rock
- Medeski Martin & Wood (2000) on the album Tonic
- Franco Battiato (2001) on the album Ferro Battuto
- Robert Plant (2002) on the album Dreamland and also earlier with the Band of Joy in 1967
- Vijay Iyer (2003) on the album Blood Sutra (titled "Because of Guns")
- Brant Bjork (2004) on his album Local Angel
- Gabe Dixon Band (2005) on Live at World Cafe
- Cassie Steele (2005) on How Much For Happy
- Psychedelic Deja Vu (2006)
- Arklio Galia (2007) Lithuanian version called "Ei, Juozai" on their debut album.
- Bap Kennedy (2009) on Howl On
- Brown Sugar (2009) as an extra on the cassette release of their Deportation EP
- Josh Charles (2010) on the album Trippin the Keys: Music of Jimi Hendrix
- Israel Nash Gripka (2011) on the album Working Class Hero and other Favorites
- Majek Fashek - Nigerian Reggae Star (2005) on the album Rainmaker
- Pond on Nuggets: Antipodean Interpolations of the First Psychedelic Era (2012).