Weekly Playlist #3: 10 Artists Brave (or Foolish) Enough to Cover a Jimi Hendrix Song
Jimi Hendrix was a master of covering other people’s songs and making them sound like his own. Not only are some of his most famous recordings cover versions – Hey Joe, All Along the Watchtower – if you have a look at any of The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s setlists it’s rare that you will find one without a few covers thrown in there.
Other bands covering Hendrix, however, that’s another thing entirely. Many have tried but few have succeeded. We’ve gone and listened to all the Hendrix covers we could find and chosen 10 of the best (or at least the most interesting).
Better than the original or blasphemy? Let us know what you think.
1. Stevie Ray Vaughan – Little Wing
The flagship Hendrix cover – Stevie Ray Vaughan’s extended instrumental rendition of Little Wing is arguably every bit as expressive as the original. Whilst SRV lends the track a torrid, bluesy edge, much of Hendrix’s melodic prowess is still present. The renowned affinity between these two guitarists certainly gives the recording extra weight. There is a real sense of two musical styles toying with one another but in an entirely complimentary way. As Vaughan stated in a 1985 interview, “I try to take care of his music and it takes care of me”.
2. Derek & The Dominos – Little Wing
A markedly different approach to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s. Although structurally more adherent to the original, this rendition represents a departure from the melodic, bluesy tone of Hendrix’s original. In fact, Bobby Whitlock’s brilliantly husky vocal evokes a distinctly Country Rock feel. Recorded just weeks before Hendrix’s death in September 1970, Eric Clapton makes no attempt to mimic Hendrix’s iconic lead parts. On the contrary, he dances around them, seemingly avoiding direct simulation at all costs! Having quite literally occupied the same space and time, perhaps it is unsurprising to hear this titan of 60s rock and roll respectfully abstain from imitating his iconic rival. Regardless, Derek & The Dominoes offer another spectacular cover of what is possibly Hendrix’s most versatile song.
3. Rod Stewart – Angel
Rod Stewart’s tactful arrangement of Angel is a treat. Beautifully textured, with a tender, xylophone-dusted intro leading into a punchy Classic Rock groove. Ronnie Wood, Rickie Waller, Ronnie Lane et al. delicately maintain much of the original feel whilst adding characteristic exuberance. In attempting to recreate Angel, the band knowingly undertake an intensely emotive tune. A tribute to Hendrix’s mother, Lucille, this track is a touching example of Jimi’s fascination with the Divine Feminine. Having shared a flat with the guitarist in the late 60s, Ronnie Wood may well have been aware of the impact Lucille’s death had upon Hendrix. As a result, the tastefulness of this rendition comes as no surprise.
4. Rotary Connection – The Burning of the Midnight Lamp
Featuring on Rotary Connection’s fourth album Songs, this is the only cover on this list that was released while Hendrix was still alive. We don’t know what Hendrix made of it, or if he even ever heard it, but we do know that Hendrix had Muddy Waters’ 1968 album Electric Mud in his record collection when he lived at Brook Street. What’s the link? Members of Rotary Connection were enlisted by Marshall Chess of legendary blues label Chess Records to be Muddy Waters’ backing band for that album.
Listen out for Rotary Connection vocalist Minnie Riperton using her famed five-octave vocal range to great effect on this track.
5. Idris Muhammad – Power of Soul
The New Orleans drummer Idris Muhammad, dubbed the ‘king of groove’, repaid Jimi’s love of jazz with this 1974 cover of Power of Soul. Idris Muhammad called this cover his “classic record”, he said in his autobiography that “the Jimi Hendrix tune had so much fire that the record was called Power of Soul – it was that powerful”. Idris Muhammad also has a direct link with Jimi as he recorded records at Jimi’s Electric Lady Studios in New York. Of all the tracks on this list, we reckon Jimi would “dig” this one the most.
6. DEVO – R U Experienced
Subversive new wave heroes DEVO’s synth-heavy version of Hendrix’s Are You Experienced? was the lead single from their 1984 album Shout. DEVO certainly take the song in a wild new direction, far removed from Hendrix’s psychedelic original. As always with DEVO it’s up to the listener to work out whether its satire, homage or something in between.
Interestingly the connection to Hendrix goes deeper than just this cover. DEVO were originally made up of three Kent State University students who formed the band in response to the infamous government shootings there on May 4, 1970 – also the subject of Neil Young’s blistering Ohio. Jimi Hendrix performed to students at the University of Oklahoma just 4 days after the shooting and dedicated his ‘protest song’ Machine Gun to Kent State at the concert.
7. Pretenders – Room Full of Mirrors
The Pretenders brought this offbeat, rarely-heard Hendrix track back to life in 1986. Jimi Hendrix was a big part of Pretenders frontwoman Chrissie Hynde’s teenage years. She said “Hendrix just sort of transcended everything. I guess the short version is that he was psychedelic and had a sort of cosmic consciousness. I like that”. This cover manages to pair the song with some very mid-1980s musical trends without losing the core of Jimi’s original. This recording was also an important event for the band as it was during the recording of this that Chrissie Hynde decided that drummer Martin Chambers’ playing was not good enough anymore, and promptly fired him, leaving Hynde the only original band member left.
8. The Cure – Purple Haze
In a league of its own when in comes to Hendrix covers. In fact, perhaps it is more accurately described as a tribute than a cover. Built upon a looped dominant seventh sharp ninth chord (aka The Hendrix Chord) and a heavily repeated bass line, The Cure’s electronic adaptation of Purple Haze is undeniably hypnotic. Robert Smith’s vocals surface around a minute in, strangled by a combination of delay and reverse reverb. Lyrics aside, the only notable remnant of the original track is an accelerated edit of Hendrix’s iconic intro riff. Given Purple Haze’s legendary affiliation with ‘euphoria’, it is perhaps fitting that The Cure offer an otherworldly window into their own trip through this rearrangement.
9. Angelique Kidjo – Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
For any musician it would be a challenge to cover a well-known song by a legendary musician like Hendrix, but that is exactly what Angelique Kidjo does with this version of Voodoo Child (Slight Return). She said of the cover, “from the moment I decided I would cover it, the song was always in my head. Since I couldn’t very well ask any musician to compete with Hendrix’s virtuosity, I had to find something to sing in place of the guitar riff”. Be sure to check out her live version with Buddy Guy and Vernon Reid of Living Colour.
10. Nai Palm – Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)
Australian singer Nai Palm – also the singer in critically-acclaimed “future soul quartet” Hiatus Kaiyote – recorded this beautiful reimagining of Hendrix’s song for her debut solo album in 2017. She said of Hendrix: ‘I feel like he is the poster child for rock & roll and guitar shredding, but he was so much more than that as an artist. His writing ability and his harmonic understanding. His songwriting is really soulful. I wanted to celebrate the writing instead of necessarily the chops, which is something I feel is overlooked in the music industry because it’s like, ‘Oh, if you can shred, then it doesn’t matter about the writing,’ whereas I think if a song can hold its own, then that is what stands the test of time.’
Amen to that.
On a side note, Nai Palm paid a visit to the Hendrix Flat when she was touring in the UK and even performed this song for us in Jimi’s bedroom. We’ll get round to releasing the footage of that one of these days.
Listen to all of these and a few more in our full playlist below: