"Hey Joe" is an American popular song from the 1960s that has become a rock standard and as such has been performed in many musical styles by hundreds of different artists. "Hey Joe" tells the story of a man who is on the run and planning to head to Mexico after shooting his unfaithful wife. The song was registered for copyright in the U.S. in 1962 by Billy Roberts, however, diverse credits and claims have led to confusion about the song's authorship. The earliest known commercial recording of the song is the late-1965 single by the Los Angeles garage band The Leaves; the band then re-recorded the track and released it in 1966 as a follow-up single which became a hit. Currently, the best-known version is The Jimi Hendrix Experience's 1966 recording, their debut single. The song title is sometimes given as "Hey Joe, Where You Gonna Go?" or similar variations.
While claimed by the late Tim Rose to be a traditional song, or often erroneously attributed to the pen of American musician Dino Valenti (who also went by the names Chester or Chet Powers, and Jesse Farrow), "Hey Joe" was registered for copyright in the U.S. in 1962 by Billy Roberts. Scottish folk singer Len Partridge has claimed that he helped write the song with Roberts when they both performed in clubs in Edinburgh in 1956. Other sources (including singer Pat Craig) claim that Roberts assigned the rights to the song to his friend Valenti while Valenti was in jail, in order to give him some income upon release.
Roberts was a relatively obscure California-based folk singer, guitarist and harmonica player who performed on the West Coast coffeehouse circuit. He later recorded the country rock album Thoughts of California with the band Grits in San Francisco in 1975, produced by Hillel Resner.
Roberts possibly drew inspiration for "Hey Joe" from three earlier works: his girlfriend Niela Miller's 1955 song "Baby, Please Don’t Go To Town" (which uses a similar chord progression based on the circle of fifths); Carl Smith's 1953 US country hit "Hey Joe!" (written by Boudleaux Bryant), which shared the title and the "questioning" format; and the early 20th century traditional ballad "Little Sadie", which tells of a man on the run after he has shot his wife. The lyrics to "Little Sadie" often locate the events in Thomasville, North Carolina, and "down in" Jericho, South Carolina (a large rice plantation in the lowlands) Roberts was himself born in South Carolina.
Variations of "Little Sadie" have been recorded under various titles (including "Bad Lee Brown", "Penitentiary Blues", "Cocaine Blues", "Whiskey Blues") by many artists, including Clarence Ashley (1930), Johnny Cash (1960 & 1968), Slim Dusty (1961), and Bob Dylan (1970). Some versions change the southbound location from Jericho (South Carolina) to Mexico.
No documentary evidence has been provided to support the claim, by Tim Rose and others, that "Hey Joe" is a wholly traditional work. (See also the article "Morning Dew" regarding Rose and song copyrights.)
Rights to the song were administered from 1966 into the 2000s by the music publisher Third Story Music (now Third Palm Music); there the author is listed as Billy Roberts. File Hashes
HASH2: 430B0C6DD4C70FB1 (FLAC)