Jimi and Bob Dylan: A Cosmic Friendship

Jimi Hendrix: The Man In the Music (Part 4)

Jim Hendrix and Bob Dylan: A Cosmic Friendship

Jimi Hendrix knew good lyrics when he heard them.  When Richie Havens gave Jimi the lyrics to All Along the Watchtower, an epic inter-racial music exchange took place, the likes of which never yet bested.  Jimi Hendrix the All Along the Watchtower poetry and filled it with energy and guitar genius, and meshed it with his psychedelic experience.   Hendrix was a poet himself, writing most of his songs, but the number on best selling single of his career was All Along the Watch Tower.

In the greatest tribute of all, 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.”

Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix were born within seventeen months of each other (March 24th, 1941;Nov. 27, 1942) respectively.  They did not come from towns renown for their music, Seattle, Washington and Hibbing, Minnesota.  Both were singer song writers, often photographed with their guitars slung over their shoulders like traveling minstrels.  Each had afros that were often the topic of the press, both music and fashion.  In fact, soon after Hendrix arrived in London some journalists referred to him as the black Dylan.

Other than that they were worlds apart.  If I were to draw some competitive comparison between them, I would say Jimi was a stone above Dylan, he could compose great lyrics, sing well, and manipulate the guitar to be one with him in telling the story.  He knew how to make a guitar sing, moan, and explode.

All Along the Watchtower stands as the great collaborative piece of rock and roll.  It is regarded the greatest all-time cover, 47th on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and the number one best selling single ever recorded by Hendrix.

He performed All Along the Watchtower exquisitely at Isle of Wright Music Festival.

Having started their careers miles apart, both migrated to New York’s thriving Greenwich Village club scene which provided them a hip venue and a springboard for both to international acclaim.

Hendrix told Rolling Stone magazine in 1969 that, “I love Dylan. 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.”

Though they were not close friends, Jimi was a huge fan of Dylan and covered at least four of his tunes, both live and in the studio. These tracks include “Like a Rolling Stone,” “All Along the Watchtower,” “Drifter’s Escape” and “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?”

Around Greenwich Village Richie Havens was referred to as the third point in the magic triangle that connects Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix.  Havens also covered many of Dylan’s songs, such as “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, “If Not For You”, and “Lay Lady Lay”.  Havens first witnessed Jimi play in at the Cafe Wha and was so impressed, he hipped him to the everyone he came in contact.  “He was a very shy person, quiet person,” Havens said,  “until he got on stage; then he grew two feet tall.”  Havens takes credit for handing Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower lyrics to Jimi.Though Dylan and Hendrix probably did not spend more than a couple of hours together in their entire lives, they admired and respected each other.Dylan said, “My songs are different and I don’t expect others to make attempts to sing them because you have to get somewhat inside and behind them and it’s hard enough for me to do it sometimes and then obviously you have to be in the right frame of mind.  But Jimi “sang them exactly the way they were intended to be sung and he played them the same way.  He did them the way I would’ve done them if I was him.”In a great tribute to Hendrix, Dylan said “now that years have gone by, I see that the message must have been his message through and through, not that I ever could articulate the message that well myself, but in hearing Jimi cover it, I realize he must’ve felt it pretty deeply inside and out and that somewhere back there his soul and my soul we’re on the same desert…It’s not a wonder to me that he recorded my songs but rather that he recorded so few of them because they were all his.”

Hendrix told Rolling Stone magazine on November 15, 1969, “I love Dylan. 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.”

Jimi felt that same cosmic oneness with Dylan.  He told Beat Instrumental in 1969 that, “Sometimes I do a Dylan song and it seems to fit me so right that I figure maybe I wrote it. Dylan didn’t always do it for me as a singer, not in the early days, but then I started listening to the lyrics. That sold me.”

Jimi’s take on Dylan’s Just Like a Rolling Stone blew people away.  It was part of his set at the 1967 Monterrey Pop Festival.  He performed it so well that it launched him into United States stardom.

Jimi did gain some notoriety from his time in Greenwich Village it did not project him into stardom.  But in the Cheetah Club on Broadway he met Linda Kieth, girlfriend of Keith Richards of the Rolling Stone.  She was so impressed by Hendrix’s talent that she recommended him to Chas Chandler, who was just about to step down from the The Animals and look for talent to manage and produce. Chandler liked the song “Hey Joe” and was convinced he could create a hit single with the right artist.  He took him to London and did just that.

In the next post I will look at Jimi Hendrix rise to stardom and his friendship with Eric Burdon of the Animals.

This article is an installment in the Jimi Hendrix Series on 60s Folks:

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2 comments

  1. The days of birth are wrong.
    From November of 1942 untill March 1941 are more than 1 year apart.
    Also, Dylan was born in May 24 of 1941 and Hendrix in November 27 of 1942.

  2. Thanks for pointing out that I inadvertently listed the birthdays in reverse order. I have corrected it. I stated in the article that they were born “more than sixteen months apart.”

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