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Best Cover Versions of Hey Joe (Music Monday)

Original Artist: Billy Roberts(?) (Or is it Dino Valente? Or is it a traditional folk song with unknown author?)
Cover Versions by The Leaves, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Patti Smith

I’ve always knew that Jimi Hendrix is not the original artist of this song, but I never guessed that it will be this difficult to know who the original artist of this magnificent song is. Some claim it as a traditional folk song. If so, it will be kinda impossible to track down who the original artist is.

What is more unbelievable about this song is the number of cover versions made. Along my searching, I found a site stating that there are about 1600 versions and I also found a link to a torrent that contains 141 versions (and looks like those are official releases), which including great musicians and bands such as The Who, Robert Plant, Cher, Frank Zappa, The Offspring, Deep Purple, Seal, Lenny Kravitz, and still many more. And besides the marvel of this song itself, those facts are proofs that Hey Joe is one of the greatest and most influential songs ever created on this world (something I never guessed before).

This first version is still very dubious. I mean, it’s still not perfectly clear whether he really is the original one or was it Dino Valente. There are numerous articles on the Internet that give their favors to either one of them. Even Wikipedia is not sure! However, since Wikipedia states that Billy Roberts was the first to register the copyright, I’m gonna pick his version.

I also found these emails sent to Hey Joe Versions (I’ll give the link on the name of the sender). The first one is an email from Niela (Halleck) Miller, ex-girlfriend of Billy Roberts, and the point of the letter is she wanna say that Billy Roberts stole the song from her (She was a singer songwriter too).
 “In the late fifties, Billy Roberts was my boyfriend for awhile. I was a songwriter and had written a song called ‘Baby Please Don’t Go To Town.’…He stole it from me, kept the melody and put different words to it. Thereby turning it into Hey Joe…The famous chord progression was mine ie F C G D A. The original song had a bridge: A C D G. A C D G. then back to the original chord progression. Even the question answer format was mine.”
The second one is from Billy Robert’s friend, Billy Stapleton.
“Billy Roberts wrote the classic “Hey Joe” in 1962……yeah! …royalty battles raged for years….originally it was stolen by an LA group “The Leaves” who hadah big hit with it in the early 60′s…..but Billy thankfully had it copyrighted…….and it all was finally put to rest when a fellah named Jimi Hendrix recorded it on a little LP called “Are You Experienced?” and gave the publishing rightfully to Billy.”
So, are those enough to convince that it really is Billy Roberts? Oh, BTW, I gotta say that I’m still unsure about the video too. A comment on YouTube says that it isn’t Billy Roberts singing. I never heard Billy’s voice before and couldn’t find any other links to his version. So, if there’s any of you sure it’s him or it is not him, please share with us.

The reason I put them after Billy Roberts (and before Hendrix) is because they are the second to make the official release of the song in 1966 as an LP entitled Hey Joe. The Leaves were a garage band from California that was formed in 1963 after their bass player, Jim Pons, inspired by The Beatles. And they do prove that they were indeed a garage band in their faster and crunchier Hey Joe version. Though it’s not my top choice, I like their sound in this song.

Now here comes the most famous version of all and the VERY, VERY, VERY BEST ONE. Any objection?!
(Oh, just a little thing to say about Jimi Hendrix’s version. The Jimi Hendrix Experience released this version in their US version of Are You Experienced (1967)--the UK version doesn’t contain the song until it’s reissued in 1997--and, as said by Billy Stapleton, Jimi credited the song to Billy Roberts. If that video of Billy’s version is true, than Jimi was indeed influenced by it a lot in this song.)

Some say Patti Smith is more of a poet than a singer. Well it might be true. Technically, she’s maybe not having the best vocal but being a great singer is not all about vocal techniques. I mean, come on, even Iggy Pop or Joy Ramone or Lou Reed doesn’t have that “melodious” voice right? But they are all great and one-of-a-kind singers and their singings really kick your ass. (Pardon my language.) And what Patti Smith does is exactly the same. She is absolutely brilliant, soulful, strong and bold, raw…anything beyond technical.

In her version of Hey Joe, she changed most (if not all) of the lyrics and opens it with a poem. The musical arrangement itself, the instruments and her vocal, is more…psychedelic; goes slower and with simpler beat, but so intense.

And, as a bonus (everybody like bonus, don't they?), I included this video of Cher's version. I simply cannot leave this stunning beauty behind. :)

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