Some songs don’t have an original, or it has become impossible to trace who wrote it or performed it first. You’d think this was just the case for any folk song pre-dating 1900, but it even happens for more recent classics. Take Hey Joe. Most people will say that the original (the one they know best) is by Jimi Hendrix, but this is not the case. Jimi Hendrix covered it and gave it his own spin as was usual in those days. But who did he cover it from?

Hey Joe was a song that emerged in the early sixties and become one of those songs every band covered. Even the WikiPedia article can’t seem to figure out who wrote the original. The earliest know recording of Hey Joe is by the Leaves from 1965. Jimi Hendrix recorded his version in 1966. Some say it was a traditional song. The first copyright on it was claimed by a traveling musician Billy Roberts. He however may have composed the song out of mix of different originals, including Baby, Please Don’t Go To Town from 1955 by (his girlfriend) Niella Miller.

After the success of the sixties versions, just about every body seems to have done a cover of the song:  Tim Rose (1969), Deep Purple, The Who (1989), Patti Smith (with a really awful solo), The Offspring (1991), Type-O-Negative (1992), Ice-T (1994, with his band Bodycount), Willy Deville, an all-star band, ZZ Top, Seal, Vai, Satriani, May and Walsh, and many many many many many more.  It makes you wonder how rich Billy Roberts actually got from the copyright, whether he did at all.

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