“Hey Joe” (Song)

“Hey Joe” is a narrative in which the titular Joe is one of two characters given a voice.  The name of the other is not specified, but he is the one who is actually having a conversation with Joe. And what he is doing is questioning Joe’s whereabouts and actions. The obvious reason he is doing so is because we see from the onset that Joe is going about with a ‘gun in his hand’. More specifically, he is searching for his wife who has “been running around with some other man”.

So then the other voice asks him what he’s actually going to do when he finds her. And his response is that he’s going to shoot both the woman and the guy she’s cheating with.

This then prompts the speaker to ask Joe where he is going to go in the event’s aftermath.  Joe responds by indicating his intention to flee to Mexico. He has a couple of reasons for doing so. First he already has a “place” down there. But more importantly, he views the South of the Border as a locality whereas he can evade the law and not face the legal consequences of his actions.

As noted in the trivia section, many artists have covered this song, with the most-famous rendition considered to be that of the late Jimi Hendrix. And it has been noted that his take on “Hey Joe” is darker than the original detailed above. Indeed Jimi doesn’t present the narrative as one in which he is simply conceptualizing shooting his unfaithful wife.  Rather it is revealed by the third verse that he did indeed ‘shoot her down’. And overall, it can be said that he is actually celebrating the murder.

In Conclusion

But that being said, regardless of which version you refer to, Joe is under the impression that his wife has cheated on him. And he is responding to the situation in a murderous fashion.

Did Jimi Hendrix write “Hey Joe”?

No. The writing of this song is credited to a musician named Billy Roberts (1936-2017).  And the success of “Hey Joe” was the highlight of his career.

It should also be noted that there have been disputes concerning the authorship of this song. For instance, another musician, Chet Powers, previously held legal ownership. And still others contend that its origins date back to traditional sources which cannot be actually identified.

Billy Roberts copyrighted the song as early as 1962. However, it was never commercially released until The Leaves, a band from California, came out with their rendition in 1965.  And at first it didn’t catch on. But then they released a couple of revised versions, and the third one hit in 1966. And it too proved to be their signature song, appearing on the Billboard Hot 100, the US Cash Box chart and also charting in Canada.

Other Versions of “Hey Joe”

A few other bands came out with their own covers during the same timeframe as The Leaves released the original. But the most-notable was “Hey Joe (Where You Gonna Go)” by The Byrds. In fact The Leaves became aware of the song after hearing The Byrds performed it live. In fact The Byrds’ lead singer, David Crosby, actually wanted his band to put out the song in 1964. Thus he became quite pissed off when, due to lack of support from his bandmates, other bands beat them to the punch.

The Byrds’ version is featured on their third album, “Fifth Dimension”. The track was released by Columbia Records on 18 July 1966.

Ultimately The Byrds’ rendition was not as well-received as some of the others. Indeed David Crosby himself later admitted that “it was a mistake” for him to record it. Yet and still, it is one of the tunes they played regularly during live performances.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Version

The most-popular artist to record “Hey Joe” during the 1960s – and indeed the entire 20th century – was the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970) did so in conjunction with a folk singer named Tim Rose (1940-2002). Rose was one of the individuals who asserted that the “Hey Joe” was actually a folk song not written by Billy Roberts.

Being released by Polydor Records on 12 May 1967, this version actually holds the distinction of being the first single Jimi Hendrix ever released (along with Stone Free). It proved to be a hit in that it reached number six on the UK Singles Chart.

But more important is the track’s legacy, as it established Hendrix as an artist and is considered one of the most-classic rock tunes of all time. For instance, in 2011 it was placed on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It has also been recognized in similar regard by the likes of VH1 and Total Guitar. And it was also the last song played at the classic Woodstock Festival (1969) after the massive crowd of concertgoers demanded Hendrix perform an encore.

Jimi’s version features a trio of backup singers who were known as The Breakaways.

Other Notable Versions of “Hey Joe”

Other covers of Hey Joe include a rendition which Cher dropped, also in 1966, that managed to make it onto the Billboard Hot 100. In 1969 Wilson Pickett came out with a cover which charted in Canada, the US and UK. And in 2006 a group of nearly 1,600 guitarists gathered in Wroclaw, Poland to set a Guinness world record when all of them played this tune simultaneously. This record was consecutively broken in the three years that followed, in the same location and using the same song, ultimately culminating in 1,951 guitarists playing it in 2009. And interesting to note is that Eddie Murphy also covered “Hey Joe” in 1993.

Usage in Movies

This song was also featured on the classic Hollywood film “Forrest Gump” (1994) (though not on its actual soundtrack).

British singer Seal also recorded a powerful live version of this classic. Said version was featured on the 1996 heist film titled “Set It Off“. It also appeared on the movie’s official soundtrack album.

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