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Hey Joe!

Gennaio 2008
Rendiamo anche noi omaggio a Jimi Hendrix, che trasformò Hey Joe, una canzone tradizionale, in uno dei più  grandi successi rock. Ma chi era Joe?

di Fergal Kavanagh

File audio:

Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix
Fergal Kavanagh
Fergal Kavanagh

Speaker: Chuck Rolando (Standard American accent)

Seattle’s most famous son is Jimi Hendrix, and one of his most recognisable recordings is his version of “Hey Joe.”  It was the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s first single in Britain, appearing on the 1967 album “Are You Experienced.” There is much speculation about who wrote the song: Hendrix’s original sleeve notes refer to it as “a blues arrangement of an old cowboy song that’s about 100 years old,” but subsequent releases credit it to Billy Roberts.
The name Joe was commonly used at the time to refer to a typical American male – they were often “an average Joe” or “a good Joe,” and a soldier was a “G.I. Joe.” The song “Hey Joe” uses a question-and-answer format to tell the story of a man’s reaction to his wife’s infidelity. The singer meets Joe and asks him, “Where (are) you going with that gun in your hand?” (Spoken English often incorrectly omits the auxiliary verb).
Joe replies that he is “going down to shoot my old lady” (slang for wife) because he “caught her messing around with another man.”
The next time he meets the betrayed husband, the singer tells him he heard he had “shot her to the ground” and is told, “I gave her the gun.” The man is now on the run from the police, and to the question “where you going to run to now?” replies that he is going south “down to Mexico way,” where he “can be free” and no-one is going to find him. He is aware that he faces being hanged if he is caught, and declares “ain’t no hangman… going to put a rope around me.” (Ain’t is commonly used in songs instead of “there isn’t,” so grammatically this should be “there isn’t any hangman”). The singer salutes Joe, telling him “You better run on down.” Of course he means “you’d,” or “you had better run on down!”
Jimi Hendrix made “Hey Joe” one of rock’s most popular songs – there are over 400 recorded versions of it from groups as diverse as The Byrds, Deep Purple and The Offspring, as well as Patti Smith, Nick Cave, Cher and Franco Battiato. In 2006 1,876 guitarists gathered in the main square of Wroclow, Poland to play the song together, setting the Guinness World Record for the biggest guitar ensemble ever. In spite of the song’s subsequent popularity, Hendrix’s version only reached number 6 in the British charts on its 1966 release.

(This recording features a brief excerpt from “Hey Joe” as performed by Jimi Hendrix in 1966).

Fergal Kavanagh, the author of this article, runs the website www.tuneintoenglish.com. The Students’ Area features activities for learning English through pop music.

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sleeve notes - note di copertina.

male - uomo.

he caught her messing around... man - l’ha scoperta con un altro.

on the run - in fuga.

he is aware... hanged - sa che rischia di essere impiccato.

rope - corda.

you’d better run on down - meglio che scappi.