More about the song

Hey Joe – More About The Song (The Not-So-Average “Joe”)

There are good reasons to study the song “Hey Joe”. As Lester Bangs said, for a few years in the 1960’s everybody and his …brother not only recorded but claimed to have written” “Hey Joe”. Between 1966 and 1969 countless rockbands included the song in their repertoire because of it’s catchy, continuous cord progression, not to mention the machismo of its text. Dave Marsh suggests another reason to study “Hey Joe”: the song “probably fit[s] the academic definition of the folk process better than any rock and roll song.” Anyone who wants to see how a song can come to belong to everyone – and no one – as it travels from artist to artist.

To post – World War II Americans the name “Joe”seemed to represent everyman. A typical male was an “average Joe”; a decent fellow was “a good Joe”.
“Hey Joe”is a crime ballad with a question and answer format. It depicts a series of encouters between the singer and Joe: each verse consisted of a single couplet, like:

Hey Joe, where you going with that money in your hand?
Chasin’ my woman, she run off with another man.

The harmonic accompaniment to these words consists of the same four-measure major-chord progression under each line F-C-G-D-A

from: Sixties Rock
Garage , Psychedelic & Other Satisfactions
By Michael Hicks
(University of Illinois Press)

Hey Joe – Circle of Fifths by Guido Erfen

The famous F-C-G-D-A-Progression is a very simple application of the circle of fifths.
Young musicians in the 60ies (and of course earlier) were forced to play the popular songs in demand on dance events, etc. They hardly could effort to buy all the records themselves, nor young rock’n’roll and folk guitarists were bothering with sheet-music. So it became a popular “sport” to learn popular songs from the radio, also in order to train skills in learning songs quickly.
One of the most common strategies in finding out the harmonics on the spot is trying out the dominant and subdominant chords from the supposed basic key-harmony (tonic) of the track shrilling from the loudspeaker. Having the circle of fifth in mind is pretty much helpful here.
Considering a lot of teenage bandleaders applying the circle of fifth, it seems likely that the F-C-G-D-A-Progression had been discovered or -as some may claim- “written” pretty often. It’s an interesting question, if the true roots of “Hey Joe” lay in some popular book with “basic instructions for guitar beginners” or something similar.
Guido Erfen

About the change in lyrics of “Hey Joe” by Michael Dent

I recently read the notes to Love’s self-titled debut album and it mentions the Leaves getting a copy of the lyrics off of Johnny Echols of Love. Byran Maclean (of Love) was close friend of The Byrds and that was where he got the lyrics from. But since Echols suspected they were going to release it as a song before Love he changed the lyrics in the copy he gave them, and this modified copy is what the Leaves and others like Jimi Hendrix used. Hence the Leaves and Jimi sing “hey joe where you goin’ with that gun in your hand” as opposed to “hey joe where you goin’ with that money in your hand” which is what Love used and is in the copy of Billy Roberts lyric sheet on your site (why would you be going with a gun to buy a gun??). Love were going to release it as their single but because the Leaves got there first so they didn’t.

Who recorded first?

Michael Hicks states in his book: Sixties Rock Garage, Psychedelic & Other Satisfactions’: The first group to record “Hey Joe” was apparently the Surfaris, who were best known for their surf songs. including “Surfer Joe” (1962). They recorded “Hey Joe” in September 1965, but, perhaps out of loyalty to Crosby and the Byrds, did not include it on their November 1965 folk rock album, It Ain’t Me Babe.’
However I have no hard evidence of this. Fact is that the version of the Leaves was released first.

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2 Responses to More about the song

  1. Niela Miller says:

    Billy Roberts was my boyfriend in the late fifties. He and I met when he first arrived in town and we were both going in to an event at Gerde’s Folk City. He had no place to stay, so, naturally, I invited him to stay with me and one thing led to another. The important thing to know here is that I taught him all my songs among which was a song called Baby, Please Don’t Go to Town using the circle of fifths and the question-answer format .You can hear it on YouTube (misnamed as Baby Don’t Go Downtown) and on my album called Songs of Leaving (www.numerogroup.com). Imagine my surprise when several years later I heard Hey Joe by Billy Roberts! There was my tune, my chord progression, my question answer format.
    Pete Seeger who I knew back then, recognized it as a rip-off and offered to testify that he had heard my song long before it came out as this remodeled version. He dropped the bridge that is in my song and changed it enough so that the copyright did not protect me from his plagiarism.
    I never cared about the money but an acknowledgment from him would have been nice!
    Niela Miller

  2. tsubakuro says:

    I read an interesting note in the CD booklet for The Leaves… Are Happening compilation. It said that The Leaves were good friends of The Byrds and though they liked the song, they weren’t planning to record it. Then they heard some other band who wasn’t a friend of The Byrds (or Love) had eyes on it, and so since The Byrds already had some hits, The Leaves decided to record and release it before that outsider band could.

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