Jimi Hendrix

Essay by amismoses73College, UndergraduateA+, April 2009

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Johnny Allen Hendrix may have been the most influential and skilled guitarist ever. He revolutionized the electric guitar, being the first to reach its full potential. “All Along the Watchtower,” Hendrix’s best selling single, was a song originally written by Bob Dylan. Many believe this song was a defining point in Hendrix’s career showing another element in his ability to jam. Some songs just past through the history books and will never be remembered, but this song was one that could not be forgotten, described as “an enduring work in rock’s historical canon” (Zak 600).

A Seattle native, born with the name Johnny Allen Hendrix, later had his name changed to James Marshall Hendrix by his father. Hendrix was a self-taught musician. He spent many hours with his father’s collection of recorded southern-blues artists, learning everything from Robert Johnson to B.B. King. Bob Dylan wrote “All Along the Watchtower” with a slow and subtle approach to the song, performing it with a harmonica.

Hendrix covered the song and transformed it into something special for all to hear, easily considered one of the best covers in the history of Rock n’ Roll. It was such a great cover of Dylan’s original version that “Dylan acknowledged Hendrix’s masterstroke: Playing his own future versions of “All Along the Watchtower,” including The fact that Bob Dylan adopted playing habits from one of his original songs from another artist shows how truly remarkable this cover was. Hendrix lived a short life to the age of twenty-seven, with an even shorter career of four years (Stone 23). It is shocking to see what all he accomplished in such small amount of time, and the statements he made with songs such as this one.

During both versions of the song, Hendrix’s and Dylan’s, there is two main characters involved, a joker and a thief. “Internal Dialogue” of the artist is what some think is the point of the song while others think since it was involved in psychedelic rock that it did not contain much meaning (Zac 624). Although, Hendrix was also said to have “situated himself firmly in the center of the song.” (Zak 632). The song beginsThere must be some kind of wayOut of hereSaid the joker to the thiefThere’s too much confusionI can’t get no reliefThe lyrics state that there is too much confusion and that he can’t get any relief, unclearly corresponding to the confusion about the Vietnam War. Arousing the thought of questions such as, should the troops have been there, were we accomplishing what we originally intended to when we set out, and were we making any meaningful progress.

Outside in the cold distanceA wild cat did growlTwo riders were approachingAnd the wind began to howlHendrix was also believed by some to cover the song to reiterate the point of comparing these two riders in the lyrics to our two leaders, being the president and the vice-president. Once again coming back to the point of the Vietnam War and if we were making the right decisions. Hendrix had strong beliefs about the war as one could easily see. Hendrix had been discharged from the army after faking homosexuality, and possibly an ankle injury (Whiteley 42). Was covering this song and faking injuries his way of getting his message across about his beliefs on Vietnam? Many think so. Although all this ties in together very well, most of the believers of these theories were Vietnam survivors.

Rolling Stones forty-eighth greatest song ever, “All Along the Watchtower” is a recording that will not ever be overlooked. To have the ability to cover a song and rework it in such a way that the original performer feels like he is playing a tribute to that artist is a talent that will never be matched. Jimi Hendrix was considered to have an extremely strong opinion on the Vietnam War, obviously in disgust, and he expressed it by covering this song. Although pre-existent, Hendrix is the one the man who made “All Along the Watchtower” a song known to all, a song especially meaningful to that day and age, and a song the will forever be involved in the discussion of the greatest songs in the history of rock n’ roll.

Works citedAll Along the Watchtower. Feb. 15, 2008. Rolling Stone 21 July. 2004: 23-25.

Sheila Whiteley Popular Music, Vol. 9, No. 1. (Jan., 1990), pp. 37-60.

Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0261-1430%28199001%299%3A1%3C37%3APRAPCI%3E2.0.CO%3B2-LZak, Albin J. “Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix: Juxtapoistion and Transformation ‘All Along the Watchtower’,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 57:3 (Fall 2004) p. 599-644