JIMI HENDRIX / “Like A Rolling Stone”
Bob Dylan’s 1965 recording of “Like A Rolling Stone” has been called the best song of his illustrious career. Rolling Stone magazine even called it the greatest recording of all time, period. As for me, I find it difficult to even listen to it all the way through. It’s not the song itself. I agree with everyone else - by any measure, “Like A Rolling Stone” is a great song. There’s so much to like about it: the unusual length of each line coupled with all of the internal rhyming; the powerful, memorable hook of the chorus; and, of course, the complex yet entrancing lyrics (which are ostensibly written about a young lady of Dylan’s acquaintance but may very well be about Dylan himself as he dealt with the fallout following his move from acoustic folkie to electric rock star). The problem is, Dylan plain can’t sing. photo copyright by Chris Walter In 1967, when Jimi Hendrix performed at the Monterey Pop Festival, it was his first time back in the U.S. since defecting to the U.K. several years earlier. He left as a promising but unknown session and back-up guitar player, he was coming back a star. The playlist that day included several of Jimi’s original numbers (“Purple Haze,” “Wind Cries Mary,” etc.), some blues covers (“Rock Me Baby,” “Killing Floor”) and a cover of Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone.” Hendrix loved Dylan’s work. He would later record a blistering cover of Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” for his Electric Ladyland LP and he was also known to perform other Dylan songs such as “Drifter’s Escape” and “Could You Please Crawl Out Your Window.” In addition to the covers, the surreal imagery and tangled metaphors of Hendrix’ own lyric-writing sometimes seems to take a page out of the Bob Dylan songbook. The truth of it is, Jimi can barely sing himself. He can at least hold note though – something Dylan proved over and over that he couldn’t do – and that’s one of the reasons I love Hendrix’ cover of “Like A Rolling Stone” even while I can barely stand the original. I also like the roaring power of Hendrix’ guitar, the way he adds heft to the hook. Hendrix pauses and sometimes shifts the tempo in the same places Dylan rushes straight through. On the negative side, Hendrix skips an entire stanza of the song (“Yes, I know I missed a verse, don’t worry”), probably due to nervousness. Plus the sound mix isn’t the best. But hey, it was 1967. The sound engineer was probably high on acid and we’re probably lucky the recording sounds as good as it does. "Like A Rolling Stone" is available on Live at Monterey.
Keep On Rolling I wish Jimi had covered many more Dylan songs. He didn’t. That’s me just being greedy to hear more of Jimi’s magical ability to create platinum and uranium out of gold. Jimi Hendrix. So anyway, the feature is “Like A Rolling Stone” and as is my usual wont I have a favorite Jimi version: Live at Winterland +3 (which unfortunately is out of print). It’s in the jukebox and discussed a little more in the Covers section. Apropos of my personal inclinations: Obama, keep on rolling! —Kalamu ya Salaam
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