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Credit: Ed Vill

Music

Watch Slash pay tribute to Jimi Hendrix with ‘Hey Joe’

@SamWKemp

The idea of having to perform a track written and immortalised by a figure as iconic as Jimi Hendrix sounds pretty intimidating to me. We’re talking about a man who is widely regarded as the very embodiment of rock ‘n’ roll virtuosity. His imaginative and exploratory approach to the guitar saw him develop near-mythical status in his own lifetime, and, today, he is no less revered. He really was one in a million, the kind of talent that comes along maybe every 100 years or so. So for a musician such as Slash to walk on stage and deliver a fitting tribute to Hendrix is actually quite astonishing.

This footage of the Guns N’ Roses guitarist performing ‘Hey Joe’ with Steve Winwood on vocals and keys and Mitch Mitchell on drums is taken from a tribute concert held in honour of Hendrix some years ago. Slash’s presence was bound to draw criticism. By appearing with those musicians and playing those riffs, he was taking a spot once held by one of the most unique guitarists in the genre’s history.

And yet, the guitarist seems to bristle with confidence, his signature sunglasses and hat disguising a wry smile. With his Les Paul slung over his shoulder, he delivers a stunning rendition of the 1966 single without letting his ego get in the way or trying to play exactly as Jimi would have. He remains fairly static for the duration of the performance – his own fuzz-drenched style blending with Hendrix’s original riffs.

‘Hey Joe’ was written by a Greenwich Village folk singer called Billy Roberts in the early ’60s. While most of us remember Hendrix’s version, everyone from The Byrds, The Turtles, and Love tried to make it a hit single. These groups didn’t feel much affinity with the maudlin atmosphere of the original and ended up speeding it up to make it more radio-friendly. Singer-songwriter Tim Rose, on the other hand, decided to take a slower approach, emphasising the undulating rhythm of Robert’s original. It was this version that Hendrix was introduced to and decided to cover with his group Jimmy James and the Blue Flames.

The band performed the cover at Cafe Wha? in February 1967, where Chas Chandler happened to be drinking with a friend. The track convinced The Animals’ bassist that Hendrix was the man to make ‘Hey Joe’ a hit. After persuading Hendrix to join him in London, Chandler put the guitarist with Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell and called them The Jimi Hendrix Experience. They released their first recording, ‘Hey Joe’, as a single in the UK in December 1966. It peaked at number six on the charts and earned Hendrix as one of the most intoxicating live guitarists on the circuit. The rest, as they say, is history.