We recently published a list of Jimi Hendrix's best original songs. Hendrix was, of course, an incredible songwriter. But he was also a master song interpreter: his first single, “Hey Joe,” is actually a cover one of his most iconic songs. Some of Jimi’s covers were done with a lot of intent: many would argue that his version of “All Along The Watchtower” is the definitive one, not Bob Dylan’s. Others were just impromptu jams, but they’re still fun to listen to. Here, then, are our favorite of Hendrix’s takes on other people’s music.
The gold standard of covers. Jimi transformed Dylan’s harmonica-driven mellow tune into a raging rock anthem. Dylan himself acknowledged this; when he plays it live, it sounds more like Jimi’s arrangement than his own. When Dylan received the MusiCares Person of the Year award in 2015, in his acceptance speech, he said, “We can’t forget Jimi Hendrix. He took some small songs of mine that nobody paid any attention to and brought them up into the outer limits of the stratosphere, turned them all into classics… I have to thank Jimi. I wish he was here.” So say we all.
This impromptu instrumental jam is a cover of the Stevie Wonder classic, and features Stevie himself on drums (although mostly associated with keyboards and harmonica, Wonder is a great drummer as well). It’s too bad that Jimi didn’t live long enough for the two geniuses to collaborate again.
A cover of a Guitar Slim song. Guitar Slim was a big influence not just on Hendrix, but also on electric rock music in general. His original version of this song is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll" exhibit.
A Beatles cover, it features bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell’s vocals up front, with Jimi chiming in. While it’s a very different take on the Fab Four classic, it’s clear that all three Experience members were huge Beatles fans.
One of many Bob Dylan covers that Jimi took a swing at. Like “All Along The Watchtower,” “Drifter’s Escape” was from Dylan’s 1967 album ‘John Wesley Harding.’ Jimi probably didn’t intend for this to be released commercially, but we’re glad it was. Jimi’s guitar playing is wild here and he sounds like he was having a blast.
Written by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller and originally made famous by Big Mama Thornton, the most well-known version of the song was, of course, by Elvis Presley. Jimi was an Elvis fan, as were most rock artists of that era. But by ‘67, “The King” was generally seen as “over the hill,” and here, Hendrix gives one of his signature songs some new bite, pun intended.
An instrumental cover of the Albert King classic. King’s version came from his 1967 album of the same name, which was released just as young white rock and roll fans were starting to get hip to the blues artists who inspired the Stones and the Yardbirds (among many others). In ‘68, King opened a few West Coast shows for Jimi, and Jimi recorded this during a jam the following year.
“Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?” was a single only release from Bob Dylan, and not a very famous one. It’s no surprise that Hendrix, a huge Dylan fan, opted to cover it. Dylan may not be an obvious influence on Jimi, but as Hendrix said in a 1968 interview, (per Medium), “Dylan really turned me on. Not the words or his guitar, but as a way to get myself together.” Meaning, Dylan was an unconventional singer who nevertheless made a huge impact in music without compromise. That was obviously something that resonated with Hendrix.
The opening song at Jimi’s immortal Monterey Pop Festival set, it heralded a new force on the music scene. Monterey was Hendrix’s first major American performance and music would never be the same. This was a totally different take on the Howlin’ Wolf blues classic. But then, Hendrix also had a totally different take on rock and roll.
The writing credit for this one, as is the case with many Chess Records classics, goes to Willie Dixon. It was first recorded by Muddy Waters, and is a quintessential electric blues song. Hendrix and the Experience don’t just sell it with their playing; Jimi does an amazing job singing it as well.
“I’d like to bore you for about six or seven minutes…” Hendrix said, as the Experience started playing one of Bob Dylan’s most impactful songs. It was a loud reimagining of a classic, and was a hint of what would come the following year when Hendrix took on “All Along The Watchtower.”
Originally by New Orleans R&B artist Earl King, who borrowed quite a bit from the 1946 jump blues hit “Let The Good Times Roll” by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five. It’s a song Jimi played early on in his career and finally got around to recording with the Experience for his final studio album to be released in his lifetime, ‘Electric Ladyland.’
Even if people don’t remember that Jimi covered the Troggs’ frat-rock classic “Wild Thing” at the Monterey Pop Festival, they remember what he did during the song. That was when he doused his guitar with lighter fluid and set it ablaze. It was a visual spectacle that blew minds. But even without that visual, it still sounds great on album. The Experience gave the song a lot of extra muscle and swagger.
More than a wild cover, Hendrix’s rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” marks an iconic moment in American history. The cover itself was an act of protest; even though it was done instrumentally, you could hear Hendrix’s rage about the Vietnam War and the civil rights struggle in every note. Hendrix wasn’t just *any* hippie anti-war protester, by the way: he was a former paratrooper (he received an honorable discharge). He may have known people who were still in Vietnam. His cover seemed to challenge the original, forcing a beloved standard to be reshaped. His version seemed to challenge America to do the same.
Hendrix wasn’t the first artist to record this classic, written by folk singer Billy Roberts. The Leaves, the Standells, the Surfaris, Love, Tim Rose, and the Byrds all did the song before Jimi. That is pretty stunning as Roberts only registered it with a publishing company in 1962. The Leaves recorded the first known version in 1965. The following year, Hendrix recorded his version, which was released as his first single in the U.K. in December. And that, of course, is the definitive version, and what kicked off Hendrix’s ascension to rock stardom.