“He was very self-effacing about his music but when he picked up that guitar he was just a monster.” – Paul McCartney on Jimi Hendrix.
Monsters by definition are hard to replicate, just look at the havoc Dr Frankenstein wreaked when he tried it. Jimi Hendrix was the Amadeus Mozart of the six-string. In the repurposed words of Hunter S. Thompson, he was “one of God’s own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.” Hendrix survives not only through his music but through the legacy that he imparted. The old cliché of ‘often replicate but never bettered’ can’t even be applied to him, he stands alone as an incomparable pariah of unrivalled talent, many have admired the trail he left behind but nobody has tried to follow it.
This entirely sui generis maelstrom of musical ability makes his work incredibly difficult to cover. Even the sort of covers whereby the transposition of the original piece results in a highly mutated beast are few and far between. That being said, enough brave fools have tried it to make it worthwhile for analysis.
Amidst the slew of sorry imitations, there are a gilded few that stand up as suitable homages to Hendrix. From the oddly beautiful to the beautifully odd, we’re taking a look at the seven best Jimi Hendrix covers of all time below.
The 7 best covers of Jimi Hendrix:
DEVO – ‘R U Experienced’
DEVO certainly fit the bill of being sui generis but from a musicological standpoint, they’re not the most obvious fit for a Hendrix cover. At least that would seem the case on the surface, but when you remove the energy dome helmets and dig a little bit deeper, the Ohio band have a little more in common with the kaleidoscopic mayhem of Hendrix than you might think.
The finely tuned mania that both artists share makes for a very interesting interpretation of ‘R U Experienced’. The instrumentation might be entirely different, but the feel of the song still somehow remains, and the whole thing has a sort of reckless, carefree, drunk on a bouncy castle sort of fun to it.
Stevie Ray Vaughan – ‘Little Wing’
In contrast to DEVO, Stevie Ray Vaughan is indeed someone far closer to expectations when it comes to envisaged Hendrix shoe-fillers. Stevie Ray Vaughan brought blues back in the 1980s and infused it with an adrenalised electronic edge. This scintillating sonic mix of the old and the new is what made his sonic so iconic — and it was his unrivalled skill that catapulted that unique sound into the rarefied air of the guitar greats.
He doesn’t change much about the original with this scintillating piece of guitar work other than removing the vocals and affirming himself as a true master of the guitar. What the track lacks in originality, it regains with its ability to remind you of what a belting piece of music it is.
Patti Smith – ‘Hey Joe’
This cover of ‘Hey Joe’ befittingly announced to the world the arrival of a new musical force. It was Patti Smith’s first-ever single. Beginning with a torrent of her poetry it then cascades into a stripped back recital of Jimi’s searing blues classic.
The beauty of the cover is that at no point does anyone involved fall victim to thinking that they can compete with his musicianship. This liberation allows those involved to try and capture the spirit of the song and they triumphantly succeed. Smith masterfully matches his string shredding crescendo with a powerful unfurling of words.
Nick Cave – ‘Hey Joe’
The darker than blue story of ‘Hey Joe’ proves to be a popular track to try and tackle. Although the roots of the ownership of the song actually belong to either Billy Roberts or Dino Valenti in the early 1960s, it was Hendrix who became the eponymous owner by proxy.
Appearing on the popular American TV show Sunday Night, Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds bandmate Mick Harvey teamed up with the house band as well as Charlie Haden, Jools Holland and Toots Thielemans for an absolute tower of song. It might not have the same visceral edge as Hendrix’s version but in many ways, it is a more faithful performance of the swamp-riddled origins of the mystic song.
Gary Clark Jr. – ‘Third Stone from the Sun / If You Love Me Like You Say’
Gary Clark Jr. is one of the most talented contemporary guitar players on offer. His blues riffing kicks like a mule and a pretty powerful mule at that. For this track, he took the moody intro of ‘Third Stone from the Sun’ and ran with it.
The cacophonous melee of sound might not be Hendrix but it’s passable enough to suffix with an ‘-Esque’. Its greatest feat is capturing the dark mysticism that surrounding Hendrix’s playing, Clark Jr. captures the embalming atmosphere that the Voodoo Child propagated throughout his tragically short career, making this a fitting homage to a hero.
Fiona Apple – ‘Angel’
“Okay so if you’re a fan of Jimi Hendrix, you’re either going to really like me or really, really not like at the end of this.” That’s how Fiona Apple introduces her take on Hendrix’s classic slowed introspective piece ‘Angel’. It’s certainly a good way to disarm the critics from the get-go and it sets up a homage that surely would leave most people liking her.
Hendrix’s original is one of those rare songs that seem to be plucked from the ether, a rare spiritual gem that can offer an emotional wallop if it catches you on the right whim. Thus, you could certainly say that it’s a brave song to take on. Fiona Apple clutches the same thistle that Hendrix’s was grabbing and uses the song as a chance to communicate a spiritual howl. As different as it is, it still proves very affecting.
Derek & The Dominos – ‘Little Wing’
Eric Clapton and his Derek & The Dominos bandmates embarked on a markedly different to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s uber faithful interpretation of the original. Instead, the song takes on a slightly country feel, with the guitar effects peddle sounding almost like adrenalized Pedal Steel in places.
Hendrix and Clapton were mutual admirers and together they bestrode the guitar world of the sixties like Leonel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, albeit the songsmiths were more openly complimentary of one another than their modern-day football counterparts. On this occasion, Clapton musical bestows a compliment to Hendrix with a homage that is neither an imitation nor a heavy-handed butchering and Bobby Whitlock’s vocals are rattlingly brilliant to boot.