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. jimi hendrix 30.jpg 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.

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A year after Monterey, Hendrix returned to the Dylan songbook, recording a cover of Dylan’s enigmatic and apocalyptic tune “All Along The Watcher.” With its Biblical references, multiple characters and changes in tense, it’s hard to understand what the song is supposed to mean no matter who’s singing it. Despite all of that, the Hendrix version—which Hendrix obsessed over, recording and re-recording the guitar and bass until the last possible moment—was a revelation, not just to Hendrix fans but to Dylan fans as well and even to Dylan himself. "It overwhelmed me, really,” Dylan said about Hendrix’ cover of “All Along The Watchtower.” “He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn't think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day." [Quoted from Wikipedia.] How’s that for strange? Jimi redid Dylan’s song so well that when Dylan plays it now, it’s almost as though he’s covering Hendrix instead of the other way around. According to Wikipedia, in the booklet to Dylan’s Biograph collection, Dylan says: “I liked Jimi Hendrix's record of this [‘All Along The Watchtower’] and ever since he died I've been doing it that way... Strange how when I sing it, I always feel it's a tribute to him in some kind of way."
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I also want to throw in an early recording by the Wailers. They’re covering “Like A Rolling Stone,” supposedly, but the only thing that remains the same are the lyrics and melody of the chorus. The verses are much shorter, as is the song itself, and the words bear no resemblance to Dylan’s original lyrics. This version is taken from One Love – At Studio One, a collection of early Wailers sides. —Mtume ya Salaam

               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

This entry was posted on Monday, February 11th, 2008 at 1:01 am and is filed under Classic. 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.

3 Responses to “JIMI HENDRIX / “Like A Rolling Stone””

Nick van man Says:
April 18th, 2009 at 4:22 pm

Best song ever for rock artist like a rolling stone epitomises life

Matt James Says:
May 11th, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Jimi is still the legend he always was- the only music I will allow in my cab, even to this day!

Raz Klinghoffer Los Angeles MixEngineer Says:
April 6th, 2015 at 6:30 am

Thanks to my father who told me about this website, this web site is really amazing.

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