Jimi Hendrix wasn't just a great guitarist. He was a fine songwriter on his own and at times a better performer of other people's songs than the people who wrote them originally. I have no idea what his golf handicap might have been or if he ever played for a minor league baseball team, but I'll bet you he would be better at both than say, Ray Davies.
The ten covers listed below are a few highlights from his incredibly short but prolific career. The latest Hendrix release, Valleys Of Neptune, features several covers, including "Bleeding Heart," listed below, and a cover of Cream's "Sunshine Of Your Love."
10) "The Star Spangled Banner" (Francis Scott Key, John Stafford Smith): Seriously. Wouldn't you rather hear Jimi Hendrix emulating the "bombs bursting in air" with his guitar than listening to another caterwauling over-emoting singer attempting the same effect? I don't mean to sound un-American, but I'm kind of tired of this song. Can't we rotate and maybe use "America the Beautiful" for a year or two? Or "Born To Run"? I love broken heroes on a last chance power drive. One of them owes me money.
9) "Bleeding Heart" (Elmore James): There's a studio version on South Saturn Delta that's funky (and half-credited to Hendrix) and another version on the just-released Valleys Of Neptune that's also pretty quick, but live he slowed the tune down and wrenched out every last emotion imaginable. And usually the blues just bores me.
8) "Drifter's Escape" (Bob Dylan): Also found on South Saturn Delta (ah, these posthumous recordings!), this Dylan cover, like many of Hendrix's interpretations of other people's tunes, doesn't much resemble the song from John Wesley Harding, unless Dylan hits notes I'm not capable of hearing.
7) "Johnny B. Goode" (Chuck Berry): Just about every version I've ever heard of this performed by Hendrix sounds like a man trying to outrun the law and winning. Chuck Berry may play this song but Hendrix tramples it under and over foot.
6) "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (The Beatles): In many ways, Jimi Hendrix represents the ultimate psychedelic artist. But unlike those other psychedelic visionaries, Hendrix could replicate what he needed onstage and often did. So, the Beatles stopped touring? Hendrix would take the tunes to the people instead. Is there a tape anywhere of him performing "I Am The Walrus"? "Blue Jay Way"? "Flying"? Such potential.
5) "Gloria" (Van Morrison): I love the fact that everyone who performs this song adds their own story to it. The version where Hendrix has to get out of the girl's flat with the "groovy grass" because the cops are showing up is arguably the finest. I mean, who hasn't been there?
4) "Wild Thing" (The Troggs): Another tune that would become a rock n' roll classic, "Wild Thing" gets the Hendrix treatment where the chords sound like large boulders being smashed into one another until somebody gets hurt. I love when music damages the fabric of our society! It's so fun!
3) "Like A Rolling Stone" (Bob Dylan): Mitch Mitchell may or may not look like Bob Dylan's grandmother, but covering "Like A Rolling Stone" at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 is actually a pretty bold move. I mean, imagine a band today performing another band's hit from the previous year or two. "Hello, we're Animal Collective and we will now perform the last Grizzly Bear album for you." Gee, thanks.
2) "All Along The Watchtower" (Bob Dylan): Hendrix makes Dylan's version from John Wesley Harding sound like a demo tape waiting to be expanded upon. Heck, most people think this is Hendrix's tune. You might blame the radio for that one, since they won't play the Dylan version. Or when they do it's when everyone but me is asleep. And I don't listen to the radio anyhow.
1) "Hey Joe" (Billy Roberts, The Leaves): Where everyone else raced through this damn song--The Leaves, Love, Byrds--Hendrix decided to slow it down. Now it only sounds right played this way. If you hear the Body Count version, you might even wonder if they did anything to change it, except make it longer. Again, proving that after Hendrix, EVERYTHING got worse.