LEE MOSES / “Hey Joe”
“Hey Joe” is the ultimate cover song. A lot of people identify the song with Jimi Hendrix. Although Jimi undoubtedly popularized the song including giving it that magnificent bass riff, Jimi didn’t write the song. According to the authoritive “Second Hand Songs” website:
Although William Roberts copyrighted this song in 1962, there are great doubts whether he actually wrote it. It is assumed the actual author was Dino Valenti (also known as Chester Powers or Jesse Oris Farrow). Halleck Miller, William Roberts’ ex-girlfriend, also claims it is based on a song of hers titled “Baby Please Don't Go To Town.”The song’s origins are so deeply enshrouded in mystery that I believe it probably originated as blues lyrics passed around from singer to singer until William Roberts filed a copyright, but regardless of origins (and maybe even because of its mysterious origins deep in Americana folklore), “Hey Joe” is an enduring classic of its genre.
To compound the mystery, I’ve selected a little known, albeit truly soulful cover of this ultimate cover song. Just like we don’t know much about the origins of “Hey Joe,” in a similar way, we don’t know much about Lee Moses. When I went online to get some background on my man there was very little info out there. Most of what I learned about the man, as well as the photo used here, comes from In Dangerous Rhythm, a UK-based soul music website.
On his hard-to-find (in fact, damn near impossible to find) Time and Place album, Lee Moses does an interesting twist on "Hey Joe." Lee makes the song not simply into an eyewitness account, he makes it into a man talking to his best friend. Lee is obviously paying homage to Jimi Hendrix. Lee’s talk-singing style is akin to Hendrix’ famous mumble, and although Lee would never be mistaken for Hendrix as a guitarist, Lee exudes a Hendrix attitude. The difference between the two is that Lee Moses does the soul thing to the max, whereas Jimi is, well, Jimi simply IS the godhead of rock guitar.
Which brings us to Jimi’s version, which is not the famous single Jimi recorded but rather a live version that smokes from the opening notes to the distinctive closing power guitar chords. This is from Voodoo Chile – The Jimi Hendrix Collection. I downloaded this version, so I don’t have the notes, can’t tell you when and where it was recorded or even who is playing with Jimi. I do know I really like the arrangement and the drum breaks are impressive.
But there’s more, we also offer two distinctively different jazz versions of this blues song. Vijay Iyer is an Indian-American (Indian from India) modern jazz pianist. This version of “Hey Joe” is taken from Blood Sutra. Although Iyer renames his interpretation “Because of Guns (Hey Joe Redux)” and despite the fact there is no guitar in the band (it’s a classic jazz combo of piano, bass, drums and saxophone), this version nails the Jimi Hendrix spirit of the song. It’s amazing, especially Iyer’s ability to power out the signature bass riff with his left hand while soloing with his right. Once Rudresh Mahanthappa bursts in on alto saxophone, we’re all the way into Jimi. After a brief sax solo, the song segues into a unison sax-piano melody lines, and then steps up another notch with dual sax and piano solos, all the while maintaining that menacing, brooding sound so characteristic of the song. Underpinning the whole song is heavy percussion work from drummer Tyshawn Sorey. Stephan Crump is on acoustic bass. I really, really like Iyer's Monk-like percussive approach to the piano, his daring and original harmonics, and his rhythm syncopations. Who would have thought a jazz combo could do such a hip rock version of "Hey Joe."
We close with Martin, Mediski and Wood doing a live version, available on their collection Note Bleu. They play it against the grain and do the song as a blues ballad with a rim-shot backbeat. Again this is obviously in the Jimi Hendrix bag, but with its own flavor. The surprisingly gentle and reflective piano work is what makes it work. And that’s four versions of a classic cover song, “Hey Joe.”
—Kalamu ya Salaam
The Medeski Martin & Wood is excellent. Of all of these versions, it's the one I like best. (Of course my all-time favorite version would be the 'original' Hendrix version from Are You Experienced, although the live version here isn't bad at all.) The slow blues feel of the MM&W cover really gets to the heart of the melody. Those big, obvious chord changes could sink this version, but the piano improvisation carries it. Great cover.
The other jazz cover ("Because Of Guns") is pretty good too. I like the wide, choppy feel of the pianist's playing a lot. The only thing I don't like is that really heavy 4/4 feel they use for the groove. That's cool four soul or rock, but I like something a little more swinging and fluid for jazz. That's just me.
I like the Lee Moses version too. Lee has that Albert King / Solomon Burke / Bobby Bland sound. Vocals that sound all fat and sloppy and approximate but so, so soulful. The groove is right in the pocket too. And you gotta like all of that wha-wha action on the guitar. Good stuff, Baba.
—Mtume ya Salaam
This entry was posted on Sunday, December 3rd, 2006 at 12:55 am and is filed under Cover. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
2 Responses to “LEE MOSES / “Hey Joe””
Leave a Reply
| top |