“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.” – Bob Dylan on Jimi Hendrix’s cover
In 1968, Jimi Hendrix and his band The Experience began recording what would become one of their most iconic releases, ‘All Along the Watchtower’. But despite their incredible command of the track, the song itself belongs to another hero of the decade, no matter just how much the singer gives it back to the guitar impresario.
Written by the legendary pen of the freewheelin’ troubadourBob Dylan, the real showstopping version of ‘All Along The Watchtower’ belongs to Hendrix and his utterly mesmeric solos, which not only takes the song in a new direction but has the ability to take you to a new dimension. Here, we put a focus on that very famous fretwork as we look at Hendrix’s isolated guitar track on the fabled song and listen back to the sheer genius that emanates from it.
Written in 1967, the song, as with many Bob Dylan tracks, has had a fair few renditions from famous faces over the years. Whether it’s from Eddie Vedder’s Pearl Jam, the smoother than smooth tones of Bryan Ferry, the salt of the earth charm of Neil Young, or even the Irish pop-rock poster boys U2, the compliments paid to the freewheelin’ troubadour are numerous. But none hold a candle to Hendrix’s enigmatic performance.
The difference being; while those bands all tried to match Dylan’s effort from ’67 pay homage and deliver a fitting tribute, Jimi Hendrix ingested the track, digested it, and threw it up in a special new style of splatter. He then walked away from it the way only a true stoner can, happy with the steaming pile of brilliance he had left behind — a masterpiece.
The original song featured as part of Dylan’s LP John Wesley Harding, and it has been included on most of Dylan’s subsequent greatest hits compilations—ranking as one of his most beloved songs among many of his fans. In fact, since the late seventies, he has performed it in concert more than any of his other songs, which when you consider Bob Dylan’s long-running track record for playing or avoiding, ‘the hits’ is no mean feat.
The recording process for Hendrix’s version of the track was the type of creative session that most of us could only dream of and has us reminiscing of studios of old. It is full to the brim with iconic 20th-century legend.
With Eddie Kramer, Hendrix’s regular engineer, saying that throughout the recording session the guitarist couldn’t sit still, agitated by the music. He was constantly changing chord patterns and arrangements, endlessly trying to perfect the sound. It was, however, a scene that displeased Noel Redding who was playing the bass on the track, upset, he left before the session had finished.
Dismayed but honest, Kramer later admitted that it was Hendrix who played the last bass parts on the track. But there was another famous face in the studio. Hendrix’s version of the song gets an extra dose of superstardom as The Rolling Stones’ founding guitarist, Brian Jones, was said to have played the percussion on the song: “That’s him playing the thwack you hear at the end of each bar in the intro, on an instrument called a vibraslap.”
The reason we’re here, however, talking about the magical transformation of a simple folk song into something as encompassing as rock heaven itself, is Jimi Hendrix’s incredible guitar work. An impresario of his instrument in many ways, Hendrix was a maestro on the guitar but he was also a perfectionist.
The artist was known to spend hours and hours deciphering minute details into more discernible patterns. He created new soundscapes that some would never and only those with an expert ear would catch a glimpse of. It was the kind of uniqueness that makes him still adored to this day.
It was claimed that Hendrix could hear so many more differentiations on the notes that others simply couldn’t pick up. It was this pursuit of perfection, coupled with an undeniably tuned-in spirit, that made him the greatest guitarist to have ever lived. With that talent, he could take this, and frankly any other song, and make it entirely his own.
Dylan said of Hendrix’s version; “It overwhelmed me, really. 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.”
It wouldn’t be the only notable cover of Dylan’s Hendrix picked up either. At the Monterey Pop Festival Hendrix’s cover of ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ brought the house down. But for now, let’s listen below to Jimi Hendrix’s isolated guitar on ‘All Along The Watchtower’ and marvel at his sheer genius.