As I was leafing through Keith Richards’ new autobiography, Life, before diving in, I found this offhand mention of how one of rock’s great guitarists got his hands on one of rock’s great guitar songs:
“And then, so [Richards’ ex-girlfriend] Linda [Keith] says, she also picked up a copy of a demo I had of Tim Rose singing a song called ‘Hey Joe.’ And took that round to Roberta Goldstein’s, where Jimi was, and played it to him. This is rock-and-roll history. So he got the song from me, apparently.”
While I had never gone searching for the origins of “Hey Joe,” I always knew Jimi Hendrix wasn’t the first to record it. Once when the song was playing on the radio, my mom told me she had heard an earlier version of the song. She couldn’t recall the singer, or when she heard it. But I’ve always kept my ears open for that mysterious other version. Could Tim Rose, who I had never heard of, be the singer my mom meant?
So I began my online search. It turns out that both “Hey Joe” and Tim Rose have complicated stories.
“Hey Joe” rose from a tradition of folk songs in which an enraged man shoots his two-timing lover down. The creation of the song itself is disputed, although it was registered for copyright in the U.S. in 1962 by Billy Roberts, according to Wikipedia. A number of uptempo versions were recorded in 1965-’66, including one by the Byrds.
Rose’s version, by contrast, was slow and brooding. Rose, who recorded “Hey Joe” in 1966, always maintained that “Hey Joe” was a traditional song that he had arranged. He died in 2002.
If you know Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” by heart, see how powerful Rose’s 12-string guitar version was, in this 1969 performance:
My mom died in 1986. She would have been 91 today.