Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Storied Story of Rock Standard "Hey Joe"

Posted by on Tue, Apr 8, 2014 at 2:07 PM

For years folks claimed the garage rock standard "Hey Joe" was written by folkie, convicted pothead (!) and member of Quicksilver Messenger Service Dino Valenti. Well, it wasn't. In fact, it was written by New York folkie Niela Miller. Miller first composed the song as “Baby, Please Don’t Go To Town” in the mid '50s. Later it was re-written, but never recorded, as "Hey Joe" by her one time boyfriend Billy Roberts. Dig the details via Fretboard Journal.

The story of “Hey Joe” begins with a song called “Baby, Please Don’t Go To Town,” which was composed by Niela Miller, a singer-songwriter who was part of the urban folk revival of the late 1950s and early 1960s. She lived in New York and achieved some modest success when Dave Van Ronk covered her song “Mean World Blues.” Sometime around 1955 she wrote “Baby, Please Don’t Go To Town,” a mournful song about the joys and perils a young woman faced in the city. Her boyfriend at the time, Billy Roberts, was also a singer and he took a liking to her song and wrote some new words for it. The new lyrics told the story of a man named Joe who murdered his lover. For decades, it was believed that no recordings existed of Niela Miller singing “Baby, Please Don’t Go To Town” until an acetate demo recorded in 1962 turned up.

And here is the acetate demo Miller recorded in 1962; the similarity is clear.

I'd reckon most punters know “Hey Joe” via the Experience's version, a version, or rather the arrangement, Hendrix nicked wholesale from Tim Rose. Rose, in his "Hey Joe" 45 credits only claimed his "arrangement," no song writer biz; the Experience version lists Hendrix as arranger and, on some copies, "Dino Valenti" as songwriter. As for Valenti getting all the writer credit for so long, I can only imagine it was assumed Valenti wrote the song as he was given the writer credit on the well heeled version of "Hey Joe" by the Leaves'. I'm glad to FINALLY have some closure on the hazy mystery of the who and how "Hey Joe" was written. See, everyone in the '60s turned in a version, so as there was no clear author, there was always confusion about WHO actually wrote the song.

 

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yelahneb 1
You might also enjoy checking out the history and various versions of "Train Kept A Rollin'".

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Train_Kep…'
Posted by yelahneb http://www.strangebutharmless.com on April 8, 2014 at 2:23 PM · Report this
seandr 2
Awesome post. Think Billy Roberts deserves half credit. Wonder if there's a recording of his version anywhere?
Posted by seandr on April 8, 2014 at 4:09 PM · Report this

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