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All Along the Watchtower – Bob Dylan v. Jimi Hendrix

All Along the Watchtower is the song you here in pretty much every montage about the sixties. Most of us immediately think of Jimi Hendrix wailing on his guitar when the song is brought up. I, for the longest time, even believed that Jimi Hendrix had written the song. I was dead wrong. And if you believe that Hendrix wrote Watchtower you are as dead wrong as I was. It’s lyrics appear to have their roots in Isaiah 21: 5-9 turned into basically an epic poem by master songwriter/storyteller Bob Dylan.

Bob Dylan recorded All Along the Watchtower in November of 1967 and Hendrix began recording his cover less than three months later releasing it about nine months after Dylan released the original version of All Along the Watchtower. The rest is history.

Before we go any further here is a *short* list of some notable artists and groups who have also covered All Along the Watchtower:

Bear McCreary/Battlestar Galactica, Bobby Womack, Brewer and Shipley, Bryan Ferry, Calvin Russell, Chris de Burgh, Dave Mason, Dave Matthews Band, Dionysis Savvopoulos, Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam, Eric Clapton, Giant Sand, Grateful Dead, Indigo Girls, Jackson Browne, Jeff Healey, John Mellencamp, Josh Charles, June Tabor, Lisa Gerrard, Michael Hedges, Mountain, Neil Young, Paul Weller, Phil Lesh and Friends, Phish, Richie Havens, Sal Valentino, Spirit, Taj Mahal, The Allman Brothers Band, The Dream Syndicate, The Killers, The Persuasions, TSOL, Turtle Island String Quartet, U2, Van Morrison, Widespread Panic, XTC plus everyone ever who may have thought it nice to pay tribute to either Bob Dylan or Jimi Hendrix.

Without also listing the countless movie scenes etc. that All Along the Watchtower has graced with it’s presence, it is pretty easy to say that it is a very prolific song.

I personally enjoy Dylan’s voice and harmonica, some people though, are averse to “Dylan voice” and also the harmonica. While I appreciate both, one of the major reasons Hendrix’s version of Watchtower blew up and Dylan’s didn’t might have been Dylan’s excessive use of both “Dylan voice” and also the harmonica. Another reason could be that the album on which the song appeared, John Wesley Harding was released in 1967: the same year that saw the debut of the Grateful Dead, the supergroup Cream, Hendrix’s rise in America, Pink Floyd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn, the Beatles’ Srgt. Pepper’s Lonley Hearts Club Band, and tons of other rockin’ psychedelic tunes which can often eclipse a low-key (although awesome) roots-country album by an artist who really prefered to stay on the down low.

Those who are curious about taking their appreciation of “Dylan voice” to the next level can check out his “Nashville” voice here at Selective Listening, though, I warn you in the same way the people at Chinese restaraunts warn you about how spicy your food is about to be… we know that’s what you ordered, but you don’t understand this is really freakin’ spicy… You are sure?…*sigh*…alright have it your way… click here

Hang on for a second though- Bob Dylan is a folk hero and song writing legend. He deserves as much respect for writing the song as I feel Jimi Hendrix does for enhancing it.

It’s like Bob made an awesome kid who would eventually go on to achieve great things. Jimi Hendrix just adopted him, took away his goofy harmonica and taught him how to play a mean electric guitar. Seriously, Jimi Hendrix’s guitar solo in his cover of All Along the Watchtower is regarded by many to be one of the greatest guitar solos ever. From about 1:42 – 2:49 Hendrix executes a guitar solo, as artistic and beautiful and expressive as any piece of art laying around in any art museum ever.

Dylan even admitted to being overwhelmed by Hendrix’s talent and musical abilities and even went so far as to say:

“I liked Jimi Hendrix’s record of this and ever since he died I’ve been doing it that way… Strange how when I sing it, I always feel it’s a tribute to him in some kind of way.”

Jimi Hendrix’s cover of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower was so unbelievably amazing, that now when Bob Dylan plays his own song, he plays Hendrix’s version as a tribute to Hendrix. Tell me that doesn’t sound like some kind of weird Chuck-Norris-type joke. At the end of the day though, it simply is Bob Dylan’s respect and admiration for Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower that makes this cover so great, perhaps even the greatest cover song of all time.

 

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Epic-sounding Collabrations You’ve Probably Never Heard of #2 – Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash

 Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash: 1969 was quite the year: the Woodstock music festival in the summer was the crown jewel of 60’s rock and roll. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, Joe Cocker, CCR, CSN and myriad more all on the same stage. The Beatles were making great music while simultaneously breaking up, rock n’ roll was remerging from the psychedelic haze, regaining its roots and shooting off into many directions. Bob Dylan, on the other hand, was happily unheard from. Dylan had reached the pinnacle of his new electric style and fame with 1966’s Blonde on Blonde, but the momentum seemed to stop, or at the very least take a 90 degree turn. His 1967 John Wesley Harding introduced a striped down sound, and clearer voice, and shades of country music. He had retreated from the public eye and was holed up with The Band in a house in NY, working diligently on their albums and his own work (hence, The Basement Tapes). After 1 year with no new records, Bob began recording Nashville Skyline, debuting a new (and never revisited) voice and an unapologetic country style. Dylan began recording in Nashville (where he had recorded Blonde on Blonde) and frequently hung out with Johnny Cash, with whom he shared a mutual admiration. Dylan fans will remember the duet of “Girl from North Country” on the album.

What many don’t know is that the duet wasn’t just the one song. Although they just were jamming for the heck of it with no intentions of a release, a bootleg of “The Nashville Sessions” exists on record and CD which contains the two sharing  the traditional “You are my Sunshine”, Jimmie Rodger’s “T for Texas”, Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and “Wanted Man”, Carl Perkins’ version of Blind Lemon’s “Matchbox”, Elvis’ version of Arthur Cudrup’s “That’s Alright, Mama” and Dylan’s “One Two many Mornings”, and many more Cash, Dylan, and traditional tunes.

  Those who have heard Dylan’s new “Nashville” voice might cringe at the though of Dylan taking the harmony on “Ring of Fire”, but those who have actually listened to NS and recognize the quality of the musicianship and lyricism would expect something different. I myself, although a huge fan of NS,  had my reservations before giving this a listen. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It is a simply wonderful album, with a real relaxed feel that works its way within and without the songs to take them to that much more of a higher level. Although I respect personal property and opinions, it is a real shame that these recording were not made commercially available.


 

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