Many rock fans think of “Hey Joe” simply as a Jimi Hendrix hit—the first single from his earth-shattering debut album of 1967, Are You Experienced? And while it was most certainly that, Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” is really just another version in a long line of performances, the song having been passed from artist to artist in a variety of genres, each compelled to put their own spin on it. Though it was first copyrighted by Billy Roberts in 1962, the true author of the classic murder ballad remains hotly debated. The Leaves released the first commercial recording of it in 1965, and the rest, as they say, is history. The Byrds did a version. So did The Surfaris. And the Standells. And Love.
Last week, Dobro master and 14-time Grammy winner Jerry Douglas visited the Paste Sutdio, where he offered a countrified take on “Hey Joe,” from his new album, What If, that gave the tune an uptempo, bluegrass styling with some jazzy, improvised solos throughout. Douglas’s virtuosity on the resonator guitar gives the song a sprightlier feel, but the story of a man going downtown to shoot his old lady remains as dark as ever.
The Paste Vault is a perfect place to track different versions of “Hey Joe” through the years. Below you’ll find an extended live version of “Hey Joe” from Hendrix’s 1968 performance at the Fillmore East, as well as a sampling of a few of our other favorite versions.
Robert Plant’s almost meditative version starkly contrasts with Hendrix’s. It’s worth noting that it includes a segment from “Nature Boy,” which functions in this new context as a means of delving into Joe’s psyche and experiences. Plant also uses the original phrasing: “Hey Joe, where you going with that money in your hand?” The best description for this cover? Definitely, “out of this world.”
The popular Louisiana-based band Buckwheat Zydeco added a Cajun flavor to “their cover of “Hey Joe in 1996 with the addition of the accordion, a brass section, and their talented drummer’s beat turning it into a more danceable tune.
True to their name, The Funky Meters (an off-shoot of The Meters), which disbanded in the late 1970s, bring the funk to “Hey Joe.” Their version sounds like a group of friends jamming out together in the best of ways, with each member getting their moment to shine and solos seamlessly bleeding into one another.
You can also find a variety of “Hey Joe”s in the Paste Vault from these classic artists. Compare and contrast!
Electric Flag (1968)
Booker T. & the MGs (1968)
Roy Buchanan (1973)
Ten Years Later (1978)
Johnny Winter (1978)
And if all this has left you craving some more covers courtesy of The Jerry Douglas Band, watch Douglas’s full Paste Studio session, along with bassist Daniel Kimbro, to find their version of Tom Waits’s “2:19.”