Song Lyric Sunday – Hey Joe

Welcome to another Song Lyric Sunday where we, the participants in the challenge, share different songs after being prompted by our host Jim Adams. This week he has given us “Greet, Hey and Howdy”. We are to find a song with one of these prompt words in either the title or lyrics. Please join us if you want to play along. Create your own post with song choice, video and lyrics and link it to he SLS site so we can all see it and you can read everyone’s posts.

I have gone with the first song that jumped into my head and that is Hey Joe by the great Jimi Hendrix. I was fortunate to have seen him perform at The Upper Cut Club in London’s East End in 1966. Hendrix lived for a time in London in the 60s and it was here in the dressing room of the club that he began writing Purple Haze.

The story goes that, while tuning up backstage on Boxing Day 1966, Hendrix’s manager and producer, Chas Chandler, overheard Hendrix play the Purple Haze riff. He ordered him to write the rest of it and Hendrix wrote the lyrics of the infamous song in the dressing room there that very day.

Purple Haze was then recorded at De Lane Lea studios in Soho two weeks later.

I love the way the poster for the upcoming events at the club spelled his name as Jimmy rather than Jimi.

The second video is a more up front and personal one of Hendrix playing acoustic guitar. Just wanted to share something else.

Background

“Hey Joe” was written by a singer named Billy Roberts, who was part of the Greenwich Village folk scene in the early ’60s. The song is structured as a conversation between two men, with “Joe” explaining to the other that he caught his woman cheating and plans to kill her. They talk again, and Joe explains that he did indeed shoot her, and is headed to Mexico.

Billy Roberts copyrighted this song in 1962, but never released it (he issued just one album, Thoughts Of California in 1975). In 1966, several artists covered the song, including a Los Angeles band called The Leaves (their lead singer was bassist Jim Pons, who joined The Turtles just before they recorded their Happy Together album), whose version was a minor hit, reaching #31 in the US. Arthur Lee’s group Love also recorded it that year, as did The Byrds, whose singer David Crosby had been performing the song since 1965. These were all uptempo renditions.

The slow version that inspired Hendrix to record this came from a folk singer named Tim Rose, who played it in a slow arrangement on his 1967 debut album and issued it as a single late in 1966. Rose was a popular singer/songwriter for a short time in the Greenwich Village scene, but quickly faded into obscurity before a small comeback in the ’90s. He died in 2002 at age 62.

This is the song that started it all for Hendrix. After being discharged from the US Army in 1962, he worked as a backing musician for The Isley Brothers and Little Richard, and in 1966 performed under the name Jimmy James in the group Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. Hendrix introduced “Hey Joe” to the band and added it to their setlist. During a show at the Greenwich Village club Cafe Wha?, Chas Chandler of The Animals was in the audience, and he knew instantly that Hendrix was the man to record the song.

Chandler convinced Hendrix to join him in London, and he became Jimi’s producer and manager. Teaming Hendrix with Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, Chandler had the group – known as The Jimi Hendrix Experience – record “Hey Joe,” and released it as a single in the UK in December 1966. It climbed to #6 in February 1967, as Hendrix developed a reputation as an electrifying performer and wildly innovative guitarist.

America was a tougher nut to crack – when the song was released there in April, it went nowhere.

The song incorporates many elements of blues music, including a F-C-G-D-A chord progression and a story about infidelity and murder. This led many to believe it was a much older (possibly traditional) song, but it was an original composition.

Hendrix played this live for the first time at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. It was the first time the group performed in America.

This was released in Britain with the flip side “Stone Free,” which was the first song Hendrix wrote for The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

The song was released in the UK on the Polydor label in a one-single deal. Hendrix then signed to the Track label, which was set up by Kit Lambert, producer for The Who.

Dick Rowe of Decca Records turned down Hendrix for a deal, unimpressed with both “Hey Joe” and “Stone Free.” Rowe also turned away the Beatles four years earlier.

This is one of the few Hendrix tracks with female backing vocals. They were performed by a popular trio called the Breakaways (Jean Hawker, Margot Newman, and Vicki Brown), who were brought in by producer Chas Chandler.

The Hendrix version omits the first verse, where Joe buys the gun:

Hey Joe, where you goin’ with that money in your hand?
Chasin’ my woman, she run off with another man
Goin downtown, buy me a .44


In the original (and most versions pre-Hendrix), Joe also kills his wife’s lover when he catches them in bed together.

This was the last song performed at Woodstock in 1969. The festival was scheduled to end at midnight on Sunday, August 17 (the third day), but it ran long and Hendrix didn’t go on until Monday around 9 a.m. There weren’t many attendees left, but Hendrix delivered a legendary performance.

While Jimi’s version is by far the most famous, “Hey Joe” has been recorded by over 1000 artists. In America, three versions charted: 

The Leaves (#31, 1966)
Cher (#94, 1967)
Wilson Pickett (#59, 1969)

Hendrix is the only artist to chart with the song in the UK, although a completely different song called “Hey Joe” was a #1 hit there for Frankie Laine in 1963.

Lyrics

Hey Joe, where you goin' with that gun in your hand
Hey Joe, I said where you goin' with that gun in your hand
I'm goin' down to shoot my old lady
You know I caught her messin' 'round with another man
Yeah, I'm goin' down to shoot my old lady
You know I caught her messin' 'round with another man

Huh! And that ain't cool
Hey hoe, I heard you shot your mama down
You shot her down now
Hey Joe, I heard you shot your lady down
You shot her down in the ground yeah!
Yeah!

Yes, I did, I shot her
You know I caught her messin' round messin' round town
Huh, yes I did I shot her
You know I caught my old lady messin' 'round town
And I gave her the gun
And I shot her
Alright
Shoot her one more time again baby!
Yeah!
Oh dig it
Oh alright

Hey Joe
Where you gonna run to now where you gonna go
Hey Joe, I said
Where you gonna run to now where you gonna go
I'm goin' way down south
Way down to mexico way
Alright
I'm goin' way down South
Way down where I can be free

Ain't no one gonna find me
Ain't no hangman gonna
He ain't gonna put a rope around me
You better believe it right now
I gotta go now
Hey, Joe
You better run on down
Goodbye everybody
Hey, hey Joe

Playing Acoustic Guitar

  9 comments for “Song Lyric Sunday – Hey Joe

  1. June 13, 2021 at 5:34 pm

    Classic choice! I love the video of Jimi’s playing acoustic guitar.

  2. June 13, 2021 at 4:02 am

    Oh my gosh, brutal lyrics hahaha, but a real good choice Christine <3 <3 <3

    • Christine Bolton
      June 13, 2021 at 7:17 am

      Thanks Janis. Yes they are! 😳

  3. June 13, 2021 at 1:45 am

    Great song choice, Christine.

    • Christine Bolton
      June 13, 2021 at 7:17 am

      Thanks so much Fandango. ☺️

  4. June 12, 2021 at 11:38 pm

    Good one!

    • Christine Bolton
      June 12, 2021 at 11:55 pm

      Thanks Paula ☺️

  5. June 12, 2021 at 10:49 pm

    Tim Rose was in a group with Cass Elliot and the other person in this group was a guy named James or Jim Hendricks, not the same Hendrix. I think that Tim Rose claimed that he wrote this song. Nice pick Christine. Keith Richards’ girlfriend Linda Keith played Rose’s recording of Hey Joe to Chas Chandler.

    • Christine Bolton
      June 12, 2021 at 11:55 pm

      Very cool Jim. I loved Hendrix and the fact that he lived in London at that time made it so special ☺️ He went way too soon.

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