52 years ago today, 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 command of the track, the song itself belongs to another.
Written by the legendary pen of Bob Dylan, the real showstopping version of ‘All Along The Watchtower’ belongs to Hendrix and his utterly mesmeric solos. Here, we put a focus on that very famous fretwork as we isolate Hendrix’s guitar on ‘All Along The Watchtower’ and listen back to the sheer genius that emanates from it.
Written in 1967, the song 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 Neil Young, or even the Irish pop-rock poster boys U2, but none hold a candle to Jimi’s. While those bands all tried to match Dylan’s effort from ’67, Jimi ingested the track, digested it, and threw it up and walked away only a true stoner can.
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. 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 track record for playing ‘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. With Eddie Kramer, Hendrix’s regular engineer, saying that throughout the recording session the guitarist couldn’t sit still. 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 and he left before the session had finished.
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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’ 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 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 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.
Source: Society of Rock