Mar 202014

An expanded version of this article appears in my new book ‘Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time’. Buy it at Amazon.

Brian Jones was in bad shape.

The Rolling Stone had staggered into London’s Olympic Studios, where Jimi Hendrix was trying to record a new Bob Dylan song, “All Along the Watchtower.” Though Jones could barely stand upright, he demanded to play on the track. There had already been many takes and the arrangement was just starting to come together, but Hendrix, ever accommodating to his friends, sat Jones down at a piano. Jones jumped right in, not letting inebriation limit his enthusiasm, and began producing off-beat clunks and clangs that caused Hendrix to stop the take in frustration after only 23 seconds.

What would become known as the greatest cover song ever recorded was quickly falling apart.

Where Hendrix first heard “All Along the Watchtower” is a matter of some debate. His publicist at the time, Michael Goldstein, says he played it for him at a Greenwich Village party before Dylan’s album John Wesley Harding was even released.

“I went to dinner with [Dylan’s manager] Albert Grossman in an awful Mexican restaurant around 46th Street,” he says. “He gave me this cassette and said, ‘Here’s a sample of Dylan’s latest songs.’ I had a party a week or so later and Jimi was there. I said, ‘How would anybody like to hear something from Dylan that you haven’t heard?’ and I played the tape. Jimi came up to me and said, ‘Hey Mike, can I take that home with me? I really want to listen to that again.’ I said, ‘Sure you can have it, what the hell do I care?'”

Hendrix’s girlfriend Kathy Etchingam, who he was living with in London at the time, says he first heard it like any other Dylan fan would have: he bought a copy of the record. “It was soon after he came back [from the States],” she recalls. “I remember him having the album when he came back along with a bottle of duty-free American whiskey. We played it over and over again. He just loved it.”

There are other stories as well. Dave Mason of Traffic has described a party he threw in London as Hendrix’s introduction to the song. And Michael Fairchild, in the Electric Ladyland reissue liner notes, points to a session Hendrix played on with Paul McCartney’s brother Mike McGear as a possible first exposure.

It may not really matter though, because there was no way Hendrix was not going to hear “Watchtower” sooner or later. Though it was certainly in vogue among musicians to namecheck Dylan, Hendrix was the type of superfan who carried a Dylan songbook in his travel bag, who once almost started a fight in a Harlem club after making the DJ play “Blowin’ in the Wind” (which, not surprisingly, cleared the dance floor), and who pestered Dylan’s guitarist Robbie Robertson with questions about how Bob wrote his brilliant songs (Robertson’s reply: “Usually on a typewriter”). He even dumped a girlfriend using lyrics from Dylan’s kiss-off song “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine”).

He had been covering Dylan songs himself as early as 1965, as a session player for Curtis Knight’s “Like a Rolling Stone”-ripoff “How Would You Feel,” and the actual “Like a Rolling Stone” became a staple of his early live shows. It was after hearing one such performance that Chas Chandler, bassist for the Animals (who had recently had their own hit with “House of the Rising Sun,” a song they had heard on a Dylan record), decided to sign him and become his manager.

He would record a few Dylan songs in his career – “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window,” “Drifter’s Escape,” “Tears of Rage” – and toyed around with others. A Rolling Stone interviewer in 1969 described him idly strumming along to “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” while answering questions. “It’s not a wonder to me that he recorded my songs,” Dylan himself wrote in 1988, “but rather that he recorded so few of them because they were all his.”

Though stories differ, he met Dylan at least once, but any interactions were by all accounts inconsequential. In that same Rolling Stone interview, Hendrix reported “I only met him once, about three years ago, back at the Kettle of Fish [a folk-rock era hangout] on MacDougal Street. That was before I went to England. I think both of us were pretty drunk at the time, so he probably doesn’t remember it.”

For his part, Dylan recalls another meeting, equally inauspicious. “First time I saw him, he was playing with John Hammond,” he wrote in the liner notes to career retrospective Biograph. “He was incredible then. I’d already been to England and beyond, and although he didn’t sing, I kinda had a feeling that he figured into things. The last time I saw him was a couple of months before he died. He was in that band with Buddy Miles. It was an eerie scene. He was slouched down in the back of a limousine. I was riding by on a bicycle. I remember saying something about that song ‘Wind Cried Mary,’ it was a long way from playing behind John Hammond. That was my favorite song of his – that and ‘Dolly Dagger’… I don’t know, it was strange, both of us were a little lost for words, he’d gone through like a fireball without knowing it, I’d done the same thing like being shot out of cannon.”

Perhaps the best story – though one confirmed by neither party – was told by friend Deering Howe in Charles Cross’s biography Room Full of Mirrors. Cross writes:

One day that fall [Howe] was walking down Eighth Street in New York City with Jimi when they spied a figure on the other side of the road. “Hey, that’s Dylan,” Jimi said excitedly. “I’ve never met him before; let’s go talk to him.” Jimi darted into traffic, yelling “Hey, Bob” as he approached. Deering followed, though he felt uneasy about Jimi’s zeal. “I think Dylan was a little concerned at first, hearing someone shouting his name and racing across the street toward him,” Deering recalled. Once Dylan recognized Jimi, he relaxed. Hendrix’s introduction was modest enough to be comic. “Bob, uh, I’m a singer, you know, called, uh, Jimi Hendrix and…” Dylan said he knew who Jimi was and loved his covers of “All Along the Watchtower” and “Like a Rolling Stone.” “I don’t know if anyone has done my songs better,” Dylan said. Dylan hurried off, but left Jimi beaming. “Jimi was on cloud nine,” Deering said, “if only because Bob Dylan knew who he was. It seemed very clear to me that the two had never met before.”

Back in London, Hendrix and Etchingham spun John Wesley Harding over and over, and Hendrix knew which song he wanted to cover: “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine.” Then he had second thoughts. “He thought it was too personal,” Etchingham says. “It was Bob Dylan’s dream so he wasn’t going to take that, because he didn’t dream it himself.” (As John Perry notes in his book on Electric Ladyland, it also would have been an odd song for Hendrix to cover. The 3/4 waltz of “St. Augustine” was a time signature Hendrix never attempted in his career – the closest he came was “Manic Depression”‘s 6/8.)

After he got cold feet, someone, probably Etchingham (she admits she can’t remember for sure), nudged him towards “Watchtower.” “Sometimes I do a Dylan song and it seems to fit me so right that I figure maybe I wrote it,” he recalled later. “I felt like ‘Watchtower’ was something I’d written but could never get together. I often feel like that about Dylan.”

Unlike the later Electric Ladyland sessions in New York – which featured such a large crew of leeches and hangers-on that a frustrated Chas Chandler walked out for good – the January 21 recording of “All Along the Watchtower” was relatively calm. The song was so new that many people in the room had never even heard Dylan’s version. There was no rehearsal either; Hendrix just shouted out the chord changes as they went. “When he was doing his own arrangement, he did it very quietly, without being plugged into an amplifier, so nobody knew what he was doing because only he could hear it,” Etchingham recalls.

Following Hendrix’s lead were Dave Mason on 12-string guitar, Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell, and Experience bassist Noel Redding – briefly. After a row with Hendrix early on, Redding stormed off to the Red Lion pub across the street. “We were having a few problems with the band already, and I said I didn’t like the tune,” Redding said in a BBC documentary years later. “I prefer Dylan’s version.” Or as he put it another time: “I told Hendrix to fuck off.” Mason eventually took over bass duties for the London session, though Hendrix swapped in his own bass line later.

“Initially there was no bass,” Kramer told recording magazine Sound on Sound in 2005. “Jimi just played a six-string acoustic guitar while Traffic’s Dave Mason played 12-string and Mitch was on drums. That’s how Jimi wanted to cut it, and as a result the track had a marvelous, light feel thanks to the acoustic guitars that were driving it. Jimi not only loved the lyrics but also the chord sequences of ‘All Along The Watchtower,’ and he just gave them a terrific bed to do a nice solo.”

Outtakes of that day in the studio confirm Kramer’s memory, offering an unusual way to hear the song – no electric guitar and no vocals, just a gentle rhythm jam. Hendrix was particularly concerned about getting the dynamics right. “Dave, make it more distinctive between the loud part and the soft part, okay?” he instructs Mason at one point with what sounds like growing frustration (this is not the first time on the tape you can hear him bring the issue up).

Hendrix instructing the group on dynamics: [audio: Watchtower/Watchtower03.mp3]

“Watchtower” Take 11: [audio: Watchtower/Watchtower11.mp3]

Though uncredited on the final LP due to tension with Hendrix’s new manager, Chandler produced the track, while Hendrix’s trusted engineer Eddie Kramer oversaw the proceedings. With credits including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Kinks, Kramer was Hendrix’s right-hand man behind the boards. “Jimi really felt he had an ally in Eddie, because he would always listen to his ideas,” drummer Buddy Miles said in the reissue liner notes. “Nothing was more important to Jimi than his music and Eddie was always pushing him.”

Take 14 is the first with a drunk Brian Jones fumbling around on the piano, and in the 23 seconds they make it before Hendrix cuts it off, you can already hear this is a bad addition. “He was completely out of his brain,” Kramer recalled. “Poor Brian, he was a good mate of Jimi’s and we all loved him. Jimi could never say no to his mates, and Brian was so sweet. He came in and said ‘Oh, let me play,’ and he got on the piano…and we could just hear ‘clang, clang, clang, clang, clang…’ It was all bloody horrible and out of time, and Jimi said ‘Uh, I don’t think so.’ Brian was gone after two takes. He practically fell on the floor in the control room.”

“Watchtower” Take 14 (with Brian Jones): [audio: Watchtower/Watchtower14.mp3]

Jones was eventually switched to percussion – that’s him playing the thwack you hear at the end of each bar in the intro, on an instrument called a vibraslap – and the session wound down after 27 takes. The song did not yet have vocals or most of the electric guitar parts, but the basic rhythm track was in the can, for Hendrix to tinker with and overdub later.

And overdub he did. Endlessly.

After a lengthy break for Hendrix to take on a slate of tour dates, the Electric Ladyland sessions had moved to New York’s Record Plant, where the majority of the album was cut (the only other songs with Olympic roots were “Crosstown Traffic” and “Burning of the Midnight Lamp”). Hendrix tinkered with “Watchtower” for months, upgrading the master tape from the original 4-track offered at the London studio to take advantage of the state-of-the-art 12-track machine at the Record Plant. When 16-track came in the picture, he upgraded again, adding more parts each time. What had started as an impromptu jam session with some friends became an obsessive endeavor.

“Hendrix would stop the tape, pick up his guitar or the bass, and go back out and start re-overdubbing stuff,” said Record Plant engineer Tony Bongiovi. “Recording these new ideas meant that he would have to erase something. In the weeks prior to the mixing, we had already recorded a number of overdubs, wiping track after track – and I don’t mean once or twice – he would overdub the bass and guitar parts all over, until he was satisfied. He would say, ‘I think I hear it a bit differently.'”

The sessions continued throughout the summer of 1968, six months after he had laid down the basic track in one day. At some point, he decided he could do a better bass track than Dave Mason had, and swapped it out. “Jimi was a fine bass player,” Mitch Mitchell said in the reissue liner notes, “one of the best, very Motown-style… Even being left-handed he had no problem picking up a right-handed bass – he just had that touch.”

During that time he also laid down the song’s most iconic moment: the guitar solo. And he didn’t just record one; he tried out many versions. Eddie Kramer has said by the end he had seven great guitar parts to choose from, not counting the countless others that got taped over.

Early mix that includes an unused solo (no vocals): [audio: Watchtower/WatchtowerMix2.mp3]

Hendrix divided the main solo into four discrete sections. The first he plays straight, flashing up and down the neck of the guitar for thrilling waterfalls of notes. Second comes the slide guitar, which was apparently so spur of the moment he didn’t have a slide with him. “I saw Jimi, frustrated, running around, trying to get a sound out that he had in his head, but not being able to do it,” his friend Velvert Turner said in the BBC documentary. “[He grabbed] beer bottles, soda bottles, knives, and everything trying to get the middle section where there’s a Hawaiian guitar sound.” He ended up using a cigarette lighter. Eddie Van Halen has called this section one of his favorite guitar solos ever.

After a yell of “Hey!”, the psychedelic wah-wah section begins. Hendrix was in fact one of the pioneers of the wah-wah, with Electric Ladyland marking one of the pedal’s first appearances on a major record (“Burning of the Midnight Lamp” features it even more heavily). For the last eight bars, Hendrix reins it back in for what might be thought of as the “rhythm solo,” mirroring and embellishing on the chords more directly before wrapping with a quick ascension.

Hendrix’s isolated guitar tracks (other instruments/vocals bleeding through a bit): [audio: Watchtower/WatchtowerGuitar.mp3]

Hendrix also recorded his vocals at the Record Plant. As always, he hated this part. Many friends and collaborators have detailed his terrible insecurity about his singing voice. “He’d always face the other way [when recording vocals],” Kramer said. “He hated to be looked at. He was very shy about his vocals.”

In fact, accordingly to his father Al Hendrix, a main reason the established guitar ace tried singing in the first place came from hearing Dylan, a sort of “if he can succeed sounding like that, why not me?” outlook. “I thought, you must admire that guy for having that much nerve to sing so out of key,” Jimi once said. He would in fact frequently defend Dylan’s voice in interviews, attacking those who accused him of sounding like a “broken-leg dog.”

After the endless overdubs and re-recordings of guitars, vocals, and bass, it came time to mix the record. By this point Chandler, who had produced the original London sessions, was long gone. His original mix had been relatively subdued, focusing heavily on the acoustic guitars and giving even the loud solos plenty of room to breathe.

Chas Chandler’s original mix (from 1997 compilation ‘South Saturn Delta’): [audio: Watchtower/WatchtowerChasMix.mp3]

The new version Hendrix mixed with Eddie Kramer went in the opposite direction. “It was a case of Jimi and I doing it together and just making it sound as commercial as we possibly could,” Kramer said. With 16 tracks at their disposable, they had plenty of room to add compression, reverb, chorusing, and other studio tricks to make the entire thing louder and more in-your-face. With many other tracks too long or too far out to ever take off, the goal for “Watchtower” was becoming clear: hit single.

It worked. Release as a single in the US on September 21, 1968, and backed with “Burning of the Midnight Lamp,” “All Along the Watchtower” became Hendrix’s first and only Top 40 single on the Billboard charts, climbing from #66 on its debut to a peak of #20 (it made #5 in the UK, where Hendrix had more of a track record). It in fact sold more than the group’s previous four singles combined – and that includes “Purple Haze” and “Foxy Lady.”

It resonated particularly with troops in Vietnam. The army’s official radio broadcasts were tightly controlled, but GIs overseas had made a regular practice of setting up pirate radio stations in the field, and “Watchtower” began to get heavy airplay. One veteran recalled in Stephen Roby’s Black Gold, “I just spun the dials…lo and behold there’s Midnight Jack broadcasting: ‘Midnight Jack, man, I’m deep in the jungle… What can I play for you, man?’ He’s gone for about 30 seconds and I imagine he’s putting a reel-to-reel tape on and here comes Jimi Hendrix…”

Perhaps most importantly to him, Bob Dylan loved it too – though it’s not clear whether or not Hendrix ever knew, as all Dylan’s public comments occurred after Hendrix’s death. “It overwhelmed me, really,” Dylan told the Florida Sun-Sentinel in 1995. “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.”

The version of “Watchtower” Dylan played on 1974 live album ‘Before the Flood’: [audio: Watchtower/WatchtowerBeforetheFlood.mp3]

For his part, Hendrix seemed pleased that people liked the song but, true to form, didn’t say much. When asked if Hendrix ever commented on how he felt about the song’s success, Kathy Etchingham answers with a resounding no. “Jimi never sat down and talked about his music,” she says. “He just did it. He didn’t sit down and pick his music to pieces. He might have done it in his head privately, but he certainly didn’t do it [to others].”

Three months later, he had dropped “Watchtower” from his set lists and started ignoring or declining audience requests for him to play it. “We recorded that a year ago and, if you heard it, we are very glad,” he told a Frankfurt crowd. “But tonight, we’re trying to do a musical thing, OK? That’s a single, and we released it as a single, thank you very much for thinking about it, but I forgot the words. That’s what I’m trying to say.” His fans were clamoring for the song, his first real hit, but Hendrix had already moved on.

If you liked this story, 19 more like it appear in my new book ‘Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time’. Buy it at Amazon.

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  101 Responses to “The Story Behind Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower””

Comments (83) Pingbacks (18)
  1. THANK YOU – what a thorough, intelligent and well-written analysis and historical reporting of this masterpiece! Again, thank you!

  2. Thank you for this; great detail and those musical attachments!
    Please, more like this….

  3. Good one Ray. In fact, great! Merci…

  4. Thank you for your thoughtful and informative piece. It was genuinely creative of Hendrix to develop a mythically surreal piece into something apocalyptic. It now ranks alongside Like Rolling Stone as Dylan’s favourite show-closer – in Dylan’s version of Hendrix’s version. I do wonder if this Hendrix version encouraged Dylan to be as dramatically experimental in the reinterpretation of his own work as he became in later years – I have heard him deliver “Don’t Think Twice..” sometimes as gently accepting and at other times as a vicious put-down.
    Whatever the truth of whether Hendrix heard a pre-release cassette of Watchtower, I can tell you that he certainly heard it on the day the US album was imported into the UK for the first time as he was right behind me in One Stop Records in South Molton Street, London, where we could buy US albums weeks or months before the UK got around to it. Hendrix and I were both in line to be the first to get out hands on the new Dylan album. His hair was bigger than mine but I got my copy first.

  5. Thanks so much for that analysis and history lesson. By the end, I had tears in my eyes, thinking of Hendrix, gone too soon, striving for that sound in his head. The world was gypped by his passing.

  6. What a great read! Thank you for posting all of the versions, including Bob’s live version. I sit hear listening and reading and wonder what could have been…This was terrific. Thanks again.

  7. Thanks for the information and great tracks. Awesome stereo on the last two.

  8. You really make the reader feel like the fly on the wall in some really privileged circles. Thanks for a fantastic story about such an incredible song. Even now it gives the hair on my neck the stand at attention when Bob and the band play it live, many times in full Hendrix style.

  9. Younger people can idolize the one-hit wonders that are out there today, but this is one ‘musical monster’ who idolized another ‘musical monster’–both in their own ways– that created music that still stands today. The ‘Bieber’s’ and the GAGA’s…. yeah, can’t see them standing the test of time as much as the storys told by the likes of Bob & Jimi and some of the many others who used this method in their writings. ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ is a great ‘Dylan’ memory for so many, and Jimi’s ‘live’ version, where during singing, he assures someone in the crowd that, yeah, he missed a verse…. another GREAT copy– These two, though different in their own ways, so much the same. Thank you for this great article. Enjoyed it!!

  10. Beautifully compiled and written. Those studio out-takes and the Chandler mix were revelatory. Thanks so much for your piece!

  11. A great piece about a great artist. Many thanks.

  12. Let me add to the thanks, and congratulations, for this wonderful piece!! C’est formidable!

    Such great fun to learn these details of the life of the song and the creation of its recording – by a true musical genius and, by all accounts, a gem of an human being,

  13. Very rich in real information! Thanks very much!!! i was particularly fascinated with the rhythm guitar track discussion… etc

  14. Brilliant intro to your website. Could waste a lifetime here. Thanks!

  15. Great work thankyou

  16. Thanks a lot a wonderful insight into a moment of Jimi hendrix s creative mind ,and how the whole thing was developing in the studio ,to make which All Along the Watchtower a Real Classic and period piece a moment in time ,never forgotten. and to be brought back to life.
    never Dies. Music and Lyrics .A Classic without a doubt .
    the structure the whole song How Hendrix percieved it .
    thank you
    M Pini

  17. Thanks! very insightful piece.

  18. Incredibly well written piece thank you

  19. Great great article about a great great GREAT song. Thank you.

  20. SOS, folks, I am looking for renditions of “a merman I should turn to be”, preferably the Laurie Anderson cover, for a friend of mine, I have a cassette somewhere but would like to get a link to a friend of the song. This should be the instance that gets me to learn to make videos so I can ‘give blood’ back to other youtube viewers…

  21. From the first time i heard this song long after Jimi’s passing :( 1980 to now i get goose bumps when I hear it …I can truly say its had an impact on my life…..K.Rj B.

  22. What!? No trolls? How sweet is that… a shining tribute to the value of your reporting. Kudos

  23. Thank you so much.

  24. Great article, much enjoyed

  25. Thanks for flying me into a wonderful time dimension and immersing me into this golden metallic liquid funk, which when absorbed by the skin, remains in the soul eternally. I so enjoyed traveling through your magical pop-up sonic report. You jam !!!

  26. Bravo, Ray Padgett!

  27. Outstanding!
    Really well done investigation and background of this iconic masterpiece.

  28. Good piece. “I dreamed I saw st. Augustine” is not in waltz time, though.

  29. Thank you, informative, entertaining.

  30. The Title Track “Electric Ladyland” also had Olympia ties.

  31. Astounding writing on an astounding song, no less now than then. Beyond words.

    Listening to the Dylan ’74 version, though, I’m reminded not so much of Hendrix as of the finale of “Stairway to Heaven” (based on a similar progression). Are there historical interactions among the three pieces? If there are, it would be very interesting to see them teased out.

  32. Thanks for writing this.

  33. I recently visited my son in London September 2014. I discovered that my son was collecting old vinyl albums because he bought an old record player. My son took me to Notting Hill. On my plight thru the vendors I discovered a shop that was selling old vintage vinyl. There was an album called Hendrix essentials including All Along The Watchtower. I bought it for my son as he being born long after the 60’s may appreciate it. We listened. Low and below the watchtower was the Tower of London to me… the princesses were all those who came and went in the tower and the two riders who were approaching were me and my gal on a train that stopped in my son’s nieghborhood for my visit. I say now how life imitates art. I say to Jimi Hendrix gone but never forgotten as we will always Love you.

  34. Let me join the crowd thanking you. Great research, spun into a fascinating tale. It was so informative to read and hear the chronology of the tune. I enjoyed hearing the early solo, a lot of cats would have said, “Nailed it!” and gone on to the mix, but Hendrix refined it, distilled and augmented it and it became one of rock’s classics. His bass part reveals what a master of orchestration he was, it all weaves together beautifully and your revelations about the man and his production work has enlightened us, thrilled us and given us a flashback of the joy and wonderment that was that time in history.

  35. Thank you so much for this in depth article. And the musical clips! Well done. Dylan toured with Paul Simon once and reading the blogs from Dylan fans I learned that he was very frustrated with many of the crowds because they were filled with Simon fans and wouldn’t respond to him. I saw the Salt Lake City concert when it was Paul’s turn to open. At the end of his set he said he was proud to introduce Dylan and the two of them stood close together playing chords. After a while I realized Simon was teaching Dylan the chord changes to Sounds of Silence! When he had it down they strummed it together then took a round finger picking! What a treat. Then Dylan leaned in and croaked, “Hello darkness my old friend….” Goose bumps! Simon had a done a colorful rock show with his multi ethnic band. Dylan came out with a simple stage, some large boxes with dry ice smoke waifing and a drummer and two guitarists. The three of them tuned sideways to the crowd and wailed heavy metal versions. Amazingly loud hard rock I’ve seen Dylan several times and never heard him shout, “Makes love just like a woman, but she breaks like a little girl!” at the top of his lungs like a punk rocker with the guitars sounding like 747s landing on stage. His version of All Along The Watchtower was WAY heavier than Jimi Hendrix’s version, screaming guitars, pounding drums. I read in the blogs that Dylan by this time on the tour was angry and he sure played that way.

  36. Thank you for a very well written and informative article. I was fortunate to see Jimi live in 1968 and after all the shows I’ve been to since, it’s still to this day the pinnacle. I spent many years as a professional musician – drummer and also guitarist – and I studied all of his music.
    I’m not wanting to be picky but I’d like to point out – Re: “The 3/4 waltz of “St. Augustine” was a time signature Hendrix never attempted in his career – the closest he came was “Manic Depression”‘s 6/8.)”
    In fact Manic Depression is in 3/4 time. The count is established by the pulse which repeats in 3 – there is a duple ‘feel’ that some mistakenly interpret as 6/8. As well, the sheet music is notated as 3/4.
    Again, thank you so much for your article.

  37. On the contrary Maestro Jimi, every reason to get excited. Now I have the genesis of unarguably one of the greatest contributions to 20th c music…in all genres imo. I was in a small pub in Soho @ nineteen sixty seven and there was a man, with a bandanna scarf around his head with very bloodshot unforgettable eyes sitting on a chair with his head close to the jukebox listening intently to a new song…either “Like a Rolling Stone” or “Whiter Shade of Pale”/I’m nearly 80 now so a bit cloudy) there were very few customers and around midnight but being alone I chatted with the barman…who said the man over there was a very important musician from America. It was years later before I ever saw a photo of Hendrix and I am convinced it was him…..there was no video, MTV etc. All I had was a radio at the time…worked in London for 4 yrs. It could very well have been Hendrix. Thanx for the historical gem here.

  38. An excellent article, thank you. This goes to show just how much work was really involved by so many in creating a splendid piece of music. I thought some of the original bass work by Noel in Chas’s mix was lovely, but clearly overall the mix isn’t as commercial as the final version.

    Also, yes I think Manic Depression is indeed in 3/4 time.

  39. Great article. I loved having access to the audio clips. Thank you for posting this.

  40. Nice historical tidbit.
    Now I know why I lost my hearing–nothing like standing next to eight foot speakers listening to Jimmy!
    Gotta feel the music!
    Still do, only it’s called tinnitus.

  41. I was one of the first in the crowd to request All Along the Watchtower at the Jahrhunderthalle near Frankfurt that wonderful night in January of ’69. That concert spoiled all future concert experiences for me. No one before or since could possibly compete with the stage presence of Jimi Hendrix. With the possible exception of the Spice Girls with no clothes in the song Naked.

  42. Marvelous article! So much great research and material presented – making me quite reluctant to make an issue of these little tidbits. But I guess I’m going to anyway… First as for 3/4 time – yes, Manic Depression is in 3/4 time (which with its triplet feel makes its equivalent time signature 9/8, not the 6/8 that it would be with a duple feel). But also there’s “One Rainy Wish” from “Axis” and that’s very much in 3/4 as well (except for it’s bridge section being in 4/4). Next on to the wah-wah pedal – it’s very dramatic premiere wasn’t on Electric Ladyland, but again on Axis. And right from the top of the album – where “Up From The Skies” prominent wah-wah was just one of many WTF moments on that album. (I believe the wah-wah shows up later in “Little Miss Lover” as well).
    But minor quibbles aside – again, great piece. Thanks so much.

  43. I have always been enthralled by Jimi’s music and free style and I enjoyed the little glimpse of history surrounding him with Dylan,Dave Mason and even John Hammond who I did work with in stage lighting and sound.

  44. What are you guys talking about? White people can’t hear Jimmy!

  45. Great trivia….always nice to experience music, artist trivia that i hav never heard before….thk’s for share’n.

  46. He ripped off the Alan Bown Set version

  47. What a great piece, Mr Padgett. The sound files are also so informative. They make it. I’d love to see many more. Thank you.


  49. What a great insight to such a classic tune. Makes it even more enjoyable to listen to now…

  50. This is gold! I’m embarking on Hendrix tribute project and to find the full rhythm guitar parts separate to all the other instruments is such a huge win. It gives us maximum opportunity to do this amazing recording justice (or at least try our very best)

  51. I will echo some of the comments when I say that IMHO Jimi was far beyond anything that went before or anything that has come since…this wonderful article, with the perfection that the sound bits add, was like a blissfully delicious meal. Thank you so very much for your lovely work. There are so many wonderful musicians that we readers would love to have you give this treatment to….maybe you could take a look at some who are rarely covered…? e.g. Perhaps some in depth work on Kate Bush?

  52. Rock on Jimi…

  53. Jimi did not need to follow anyone!

  54. Thank God for the talent He gave Jimi, and thank Jimi for making the most of it. And thank you for the journey into the womb of awesome covers. Many of us fantasize about being music stars, but I’ll bet the artists don’t live their music like we do. Jimi’s songs have taken me to bliss for 48 years, and they never disappoint. But Jimi, the artist, tired of them rather quickly as he pushed on to the next song. Ironically (or perhaps not), great music seems to be a case of being better to receive, than give.

  55. Awesome Ray …..great insight ….thanks for taking the time…. you rock on too K.S. ….Jimi Jimi Jimi! Lived so fast and died so young !

  56. Upon first hearing “Watchtower” in the late 1960’s I was already aware of Jimi especially the song “Fire”. Truly extraordinary sound. “Watchtower” was quite fascinating in that the acoustic guitars are right there with the electric. Dave Mason’s contribution was pure genius. I understand that Jimi has his own copyright to the song due to his version being so unique and is probably the only instance of two copyrights for one song.
    The highlight of my life (of which I am in my 61st year) was seeing Jimi in concert. At the end of his performance we all managed to get to the stage. I went around behind the stage and came out on the right side. It was the right side as Jimi was only a few feet away from me and was playing “Voodoo Child slight return”, I stood next a large cast iron tweeter horn that sat on the ground and angled up to my left ear. Every high frequency sound from Jimi’s Strat pierced my brain and large cabinets carried Noel’s bass so well each note thumped in my chest. This was outdoors and was to be the final performance of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. June 29, 1969 Denver, Colorado. I was interviewed by Phil Carson years later about this show. The story first appeared in Univibes magazine then in Experience Hendrix May 1999. It is reprinted on my web site and a google search will easily locate it. Guitarist Wayne De Harpe Ceballos performed that night with his band Aum and has a great story about that day but I am not allowed to repeat it, Wayne is writing his book but he better hurry up, time grows short.
    Thank you for this great article. There will never be another like Jimi Hendrix, the best players cannot even come close to Jimi’s style and sound though many try and a few are good but not good enough.

    • Bob, I too, saw Hendrix that night at the Denver Pop Festival at the then Bears Stadium.
      At the end, when they let us onto the field, I was just in front of Jimi, no more than 10-12 feet away. I also remember some idiot breaking off one of the decorated 2×4’s, trying to capture some memorabilia. I’m also 61 :-)

  57. Great piece, one correction. Hendrix always got first shot at new devices at Sam Ashe music, when the Wah-Wah pedal came out he got one and recorded with it before it was officially for sale. He used it on Axis, the album that came out a year before this one. So the pedal was in use by the time of Watchtower. The exciting part of the pedal making it’s debut on Axis is that Jimi mastered it immediately and was able to solo on it for his first song on the album, Up From The Skies, in a way few can cover. (Up from the Skies might be his least covered song) It’s as though he’s been playing with it for his whole life and it couldn’t have been more than a few weeks!

  58. Brilliant article. Thank you.

  59. Brilliant and thank you. This track from Jimi possess me to this day. This, for me, was confirmation that he will never die.

  60. Brilliant thanks! My number one desert island disk and great to get such a comprehensive history and audiology of its creation.

  61. Great article, thank you, on the best ever cover version of any song. The fact that, to this day, Dylan continues to use (with acknowledgement) Jimi’s arrangement is proof enough.

    On the uncertainty of when Jimi first got the album, the quote from Kathy Etchingam implies he brought it back from a trip to the US. I think this is unlikely as Jimi was behind me in the queue at One Stop Records in South Molton Street, London, when everyone was in line to buy the just-arrived copy of the US release. So, in my one and only claim to fame, I got my copy about 20 seconds before he got his.

    History note: One Stop Records was the top place to go to buy imported US albums in the days when the UK release date was some time after US release – those of us anxious to get new stuff as soon as we could were prepared to pay the 40% premium and get in line to buy it as soon as the managers of the shop had cleared customs at London Heathrow and driven the boxes of new goodies to their shop. Fifty years ago, we had to make a bit of an effort to get our music.

  62. Thank You so much for the time invested in sharing these words and audio, we lost a legend.. RIP

  63. Man what a find for an old fan and player. The raw tracks were a stunning! From 4 scratch tracks,up to 16 he built the first haunting rock Opus that fascinates today as it did when I was 16. Thanks so much~!!

  64. I clearly remember being the first to introduce Jimi to Dylan. They probably won’t remember either.

  65. I am one of only ten people that can say this: I was in a band that opened for the Jimi
    Hendrix Experience, March of 1968, in Lewiston, Maine. It was his one and only time in Maine. My college band and one other local band were the opening acts at the
    Lewiston Armory. Soft Machine is listed as an opener if you search the show but they
    were not there. I think they were off the tour by then. We met the guys beforehand, they
    were very nice, and Jimi was very quiet. We were crazy nervous but somehow got
    through 35 minutes then got to watch his show from the wings and also right in front. I
    can tell you it was life changing, even though he had equipment problems and probably
    didn’t have his best night. The show was less than an hour, very loud (ya think?), but
    electrifying. He did all the tricks except for burning the guitar; the crowd was just blown
    away, as were we. None of us will ever forget it, nor will the people who attended. Jimi
    Hendrix was huge for me as a guitar player, also as a performer. Not that I could ever be
    that amazing, but you know I mean. It was his uncanny musical ability and creative use
    of the electric guitar, he just was, well … Jimi Hendrix. I have an odd connection to
    Watchtower, so it’s always meant a lot to me. Here it is: I had a final exam in a cultural
    history class (boring!) my Senior Year and it was a one question thing. Basically, tell
    me everything you know about this course. I had nothing, nothing. In the end I just
    wrote out the lyrics to All Along The Watchtower and passed in my blue book. I took a
    shot that the professor would give me a break, or I’d flunk out, one semester short of
    graduation. He passed me – a D minus. He gave me points for a “creative approach to
    learning nothing for three months.” There was a lot of red ink on that book, but I passed.
    Thank you, Jimi. Thank you, Bob. Thank you, GOD! And thank you, Ray Padgett, for a
    wonderful look behind the scenes of the greatest version song of all time.

  66. Awesome!

  67. Dave Mason wrote “All Along the Watchtower”

  68. I have Hendrix and Bob Dylan on my Ipod

  69. Dave Mason did Not write “All Along the Watchtower”! I worked for Dave Mason’s production company for 10 years. Went All through his catalog, NO Watchtower!

  70. Here is what you can read in Wikipedia about All Along The Watchtower :

    “In the booklet accompanying his Biograph album, Dylan said: “I liked Jimi Hendrix’s record of this 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.”

  71. I lived just around the corner to the Troubadour club in Earl’s Court and saw Bob Dylan there in the sixties and I also saw Jimi Hendrix experience at the Marquee Club. Now 67 and not wishing to be like my Dad who hated my music in his time, I do though despair and shake my head at the absolute dross and total non musicality of bland stuff that this generation is living through. What does really make me smile is that over the years Bob and Jimi are still venerated and can’t belive the very positive 71 comments on here are all by old farts like me now. To any old fart like me now, this story should interest you, later in life I became a Maths teacher in 1980 in four very tough schools and would tangle an incentive to behave and work hard by offering for the last 10 minutes to play some music of their choice but the last one would be a choice of mine, likewise after leaving teaching I was a private tutor and in the same way did the say thing but would put on headphones on then instead. My choice would always their first time was to put on Purple Haze or Along the Watchtower and I would love their expressions as I wacked the volume up to Level ’11’. I would also play Led Zeppelin, imagine a bunch of Year 7 kids in unison and banging the desks to the Who as well. Was was great especially for class of kids they were asking for m my music and not theirs and the now on often meeting the kids I tutored privately now in their 20s either thank me for getting them into our music of that time and what other group could I recommend. Really I wish it was not so, and that they should have their own music and growing up with it meaning so much to them but at the same time it is a glowing compilment ad proof our music back in the 60s and 70s was very very special and I doubt we wll ever see again.

    • That’s a great story. My first knowledge of Hendrix was literally seeing the writing on the wall around 1975, someone had painted “Hendrix lives” on one of the walls of my secondary school. It intrigued me. We moved to Ottawa in ’76 and they had some great music shows on the TV. It was a revelation to someone who’d only known music through Top of the Pops and radio hits. I saw Hendrix play “wild thing” and also the Credence Clearwater revival. My tastes though were still the earlier ’60s stuff (Beatles, Shondelles, Lovin’ Spoonful-[I loved John Sebastian’s singing on “Welcome back Cotter”]) as well as the glam rock/pop of my era. Couple of years later we were back in the UK. I decided that I wanted to hear more of that Hendrix chap, walked into a record store and asked them to play me some (i wasn’t sure it would be my thing). After just the opening bars of “Purple Haze” , I said I’ll take it, and buying an L.P. Was an expensive undertaking for a 15 year old. Just from that opening you could gauge that the rest was going to be impressive. I was nearly the only kid in school into Hendrix. I fell in with a crowd who were into late 60s music, certainly one of the most progressive and inventive times in music. I think you did a great job introducing a new generation to older music as even in the mid 70s the more exciting or raw stuff never got airplay. I’ve been trying to play like Hendrix ever since! What goes around comes around, a couple of years ago my great niece said “you like Hendrix don’t you?” And asked me to play her some. It wasn’t quite for her but i think it opened up her mind a bit to listen to older music. Both her and her brother knew where to come to listen to some Kate Bush after hearing it via “stranger things”. Great music endures and transcends time, people just need to hear it.

  72. Adobe has retired flash making it difficult to listen to your flash clips.

  73. A great article, thanks for putting this together. It was great to hear how the creative process works. I’d love to hear the clips if you can use a different format. I get a little concerned that in this digital world important or interesting historical information is just lost, and future generations will only be aware of the now.

  74. 8 years ago I downloaded the audio samples included here which are not available now. I have them in one recording (I think in order also) and you can go and download it (it is a wav file) at

  75. Here we are on Jimi’s 53rd anniversary, I’ve just listened to his version of Watchtower on Irish radio and having played it endlessly on the jukebox in the local pub when it was first released (yes, I am that old) I’m surprised that nobody has ever made the connection between the 1967 Alan Bown version and the Hendrix version which was released in 1968. Alan Bown have never been given credit for their arrangement and the niggling doubt that Hendrix was merely copying their treatment of Dylan’s song still lingers. Check out their version on YouTube and you’ll see what I mean.

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