This was originally recorded by Los Angeles band The Leaves in 1965. Their lead singer was bassist Jim Pons who joined the Turtles just before they recorded their Happy Together
It is unclear who wrote this song. Many people believe it was written by Chester Powers (aka Dino Valenti of Quicksilver Messenger Service), but Hendrix himself - and also The Leaves - attribute it to William (Bobby) Roberts. No one has been able to copyright it, so the song is considered "traditional," meaning anyone can record it without paying royalties.
The 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. 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.
In an early demo version, Hendrix is caught off guard by the sound of his voice in the headphones, and can be heard on the recording saying, "Oh, Goddamn!" Then telling Chas Chandler in the booth, "Hey, make the voice a little lower and the band a little louder." Hendrix was always insecure about his vocal talents, but thought if Dylan could swing it, so could he.
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.
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.
A popular female trio, the Breakaways (Jean Hawker, Margot Newman, and Vicki Brown) were brought in by producer Chas Chandler for backup vocals.
This was one of five bonus tracks added to the album Are You Experienced? when it was re-released in 1997. The only song on the album not written by Hendrix, it is credited to Billy Roberts.
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 the most famous, this has been recorded by over 400 artists. Before Hendrix cut his version in 1966, it was recorded by Love, The Byrds, Tim Rose, Leaves, Shadows of Knight and Music Machine. Since then it has been done by Mothers Of Invention (1967), Cher (1967), Deep Purple (1967), King Curtis (1968), Wilson Pickett (1969), Roy Buchanan (1973), Patti Smith (1974), Walter Trout (2000), Popa Chubby (2001), Robert Plant (2002).
The liner notes for Are You Experienced?
say this song is "A blues arrangement of an old cowboy song that's about 100 years old."
There have been countless versions of this song, but the first is thought to have been performed by California-based folk singer, guitarist and harmonica player Billy Roberts in an Edinburgh folk club in around 1956.
6,346 guitarists played "Hey Joe" simultaneously in the town of Wroclaw, Poland on May 1, 2009, breaking a world record for most guitarists playing a single song.
The BBC apologized after "Hey Joe" was played following a report on the Oscar Pistorius trial, following the disabled athlete's shooting of his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. (The song includes the lines: "Hey Joe, where you going with that gun in your hand? I'm going out to shoot my old lady, you know I caught her messing around with another man.")