Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of Bob Dylan song ‘All Along The Watchtower’ is the ultimate cover that saw the guitar god elevate what was already already great track to another level and, to this day, it still remains the perfect cover version. Hendrix made a Michelin star meal out of the ingredients that Dylan left behind and is widely seen as the guitarist’s finest hour.
Written by the legendary pen of the freewheelin’ troubadour Bob Dylan, the real showstopping version of ‘All Along The Watchtower’ belongs to Hendrix and his utterly mesmeric solos, a rolling freestyle which not only takes the song in a new direction but has the ability to take you to a new dimension. Hendrix’s version of the track was only recorded less than a month after Dylan released John Wesley Harding and it was love at first listen for him.
Engineer Andy Johns recalled how the cover was born after Hendrix had been given a tape of Dylan’s recording by publicist Michael Goldstein, a figure who worked for Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman. Together, they all gathered around at Olympic Studios in London to listen to the latest Dylan release together.
Eddie Kramer, another one of Hendrix’s engineers, later said that throughout the recording session the guitarist couldn’t sit still after becoming agitated by the music. He was constantly changing chord patterns and arrangements, endlessly trying to perfect the sound, Kramer later recollected. Hendrix even reportedly played the last bass parts after Noel Redding walked out of the studio during the recording process.
Hendrix did Dylan’s song the ultimate justice and provided a guide to the art of covering. He took Dylan’s words and reimagined the song in a way only he could rather than trying to do an impression of Bob, which many have fallen into the trap of doing. “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,” Hendrix once proclaimed.
“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,” the guitarist continued.
“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,” Hendrix added. “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.”
It’s safe to say that Dylan was blown away by Hendrix’s magnificent rendition of ‘Watchtower’ and even seems to agree with the consensus that the cover was the definitive version. “It overwhelmed me, really,” Dylan said. “He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day.”
The completed version was released as a single in the US on September 21, 1968, almost a month prior to the album release of the seminal Electric Ladyland in October. ‘Watchtower’ would go on to reach number five in the British charts, becoming the first UK stereo-only single to do so, and number 20 on the Billboard chart which made it Hendrix’s highest-ranking American single.
Take a moment to watch Hendrix play a splendid rendition of ‘All Along The Watchtower’ at Atlanta Pop Festival, below.