This was written and originally recorded by Bob Dylan in 1967, but it was the Jimi Hendrix cover that made the song famous. Many other artists have covered it, including Eric Clapton, Neil Young, U2, Dave Matthews Band and The Grateful Dead. Dylan was so impressed with Jimi's version that Dylan for years played it the way that Jimi had recorded it. (thanks, Jamie - Sydney, Australia)
This was Hendrix' only Top 40 hit in the US, where his influence far outpaced his popularity. He charted a few times in the UK, where he rose to fame before making a name for himself in America.
This was recorded while Hendrix played with the Jimi Hendrix Experience: Hendrix on guitar, Noel Redding on bass, and Mitch Mitchell on drums. For this song, however, Redding was not on bass; Hendrix did it. Redding was also the guitar player for his band Fat Mattress, which Hendrix referred to as Thin Pillow. Hendrix often felt that Redding did not put his heart into the bass and was concerned that Redding concentrated more on Fat Mattress than he did on the Experience. Things like these led to him being replaced by Billy Cox. (thanks, Ethan - Ridgely, MD)
The original version of this song is very slow. Jimi Hendrix' version had a large impact on Dylan which made him make his own version "heavier." (thanks, Ben - Manchester by the Sea, MA)
Hendrix: "All those people who don't like Bob Dylan's songs should read his lyrics. They are filled with the joys and sadness of life. I am as Dylan, none of us can sing normally. Sometimes, I play Dylan's songs and they are so much like me that it seems to me that I wrote them. I have the feeling that Watchtower is a song I could have come up with, but I'm sure I would never have finished it. Thinking about Dylan, I often consider that I'd never be able to write the words he manages to come up with, but I'd like him to help me, because I have loads of songs I can't finish. I just lay a few words on the paper, and I just can't go forward. But now things are getting better, I'm a bit more self-confident." (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
Hendrix had been working on and off with the members of the band Traffic as he recorded Electric Ladyland
. Traffic guitarist Dave Mason caught Hendrix at a party and the two discussed Bob Dylan's newest album, John Wesley Harding
, containing "All Along The Watchtower." Hendrix, long fascinated with Dylan, decided to cover the song on the album. On the resulting track, Mason plays rhythm on a 12-string acoustic guitar.
In our interview with Mason
, he explained: "Hendrix just happened to be sitting in one of those semi-private clubs in London. He was there one night just sitting alone, and it was like, "F--k, I'm just going to go over and say hi and talk to him."
Mason recorded the song himself in the Hendrix arrangement for his 1974 self-titled album. He also made the song a mainstay of his concerts. Mason says it's a deceptively simple song: "It's just the same three chords, and they never change."
This was used in an episode of The Simpsons when Homer's mother was telling him a story that took place in the '60s about why she had to leave him. (thanks, Jonathan - Toronto, CA)
In a 2008 poll conducted by a panel of experts in the Total Guitar magazine, this was voted the best cover song of all time. The Beatles' rendition of "Twist and Shout," first recorded by the Top Notes, came second, followed by the Guns N' Roses version of the Wings song "Live and Let Die" in third place.