Hendrix Plays - Just Not Hendrix

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The forthcoming Jimi Hendrix biopic, to be called All Is By My Side, will not feature any Jimi Hendrix songs.  This sounds crazy, but you can probably guess the reason: licensing those songs from the Hendrix estate can be tricky to negotiate and painful to pay for.  (For their part, the estate told Rolling Stone that doing the film this way is like doing a portrait of Abraham Lincoln and not using the Gettysburg Address.)

The producers, meanwhile, say that it’s all part of the plan.  They’re looking at Jimi’s early years, before he became a rock legend, so they’ll have Andre 3000 (from the band Outkast) re-creating some of Jimi’s performances of other people’s music – music which they’ve successfully licensed. 

So this won’t be the Rise and Fall of a Guitar God.  It’ll just be the Rise, and then… well, you know how the story ends. 

But it got me to thinking: Jimi Hendrix wrote some great songs (“The Wind Cries Mary,” “Purple Haze,” “Little Wing”), but he also made his reputation by playing other people’s songs, and in some cases he became more closely identified with those songs than the people who wrote them.  So here is my list of Jimi Hendrix’s greatest covers:

5. “Mannish Boy” by Muddy Waters.  Jimi grew out of the blues, and those roots are clearly evident here.  But this is the sound of a guitarist whose skill and vision could not be contained by the traditional blues forms. 

4.  “Wild Thing,” by Chip Taylor.  Made famous by the garage rock band The Troggs, Jimi did a version at the Monterey Pop Festival which took this fun, party tune and made it into something dark and dramatic.

3.  “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  Yeah, I know there will be people saying this should be at #1, but this is a list of songs, not acts of musical theater.  Plus Jimi did the light-the-guitar-on-fire trick on “Wild Thing” already.

2. “Hey Joe” by, perhaps, a guy named Billy Roberts, but also claimed by some to be a traditional folk ballad.  Either way, Hendrix’s take on the story of a man on the run after killing his girlfriend is a great example of a slow burn.   

1. “All Along The Watchtower” by Bob Dylan.  How good is Jimi’s version?  Dylan himself basically ceded the song to Hendrix, acknowledging that Hendrix’s version was the essential one. Generations of subsequent listeners seem to agree.