Those are the chords to Hey Joe. Along with House Of The Rising Sun it’s one of those simple songs that nearly every budding guitarist learns how to play very early in the uphill struggle to rock stardom.
Perhaps the most famous version of Hey Joe is by Jimi Hendrix. It was Jimi’s very first single, recorded as a slow, lazy ballad in late 1966 not long after he arrived in London. But the song has a long and illustrious history going back much further than Hendrix.
It’s thought that Hey Joe was written in 1962 by Billy Roberts, an obscure California-based folk singer, but even that is shrouded in uncertainty.
The Leaves, The Standells, The Surfaris, Love, The Music Machine, and The Byrds all recorded versions before Jimi and the song became an LA garage band standard, in much the same way as Louie, Louie had before it.
The song became so ubiquitous around LA, usually in fast-paced, speeded-up form that perhaps inevitably, Frank Zappa lampooned it as Flower Punk a track from the Mothers’ 1967 album We’re Only In It For The Money. It’s thought that Frank based Flower Punk on The Leaves version of Hey Joe. Ironically the bass player with The Leaves, Jim Pons, would later join The Mothers, via the Turtles.
The Leaves recorded what is thought to be the first commercial recording of the song in 1965, but then re-recorded it in 1966 and that’s the recording which became the first hit version (still with me?)
The lyrics of Hey Joe tell a grim and, in the world of pop music, unlikely tale. The titular Joe picks up his gun and sets off to kill his girlfriend because he “caught her messin’ ’round with another man”. All of which results in a date with the hangman, of course. Strangely this sad and violent scenario doesn’t seem to raise nearly as much ire among the PC brigade today as, say, the Fabs’ song Run For Your Life does, but there you are.
There are thought to be 1800 different versions of Hey Joe, let’s hear yours.