Jimi Hendrix breakthrough hit Hey Joe 'written in Edinburgh cafe'
As the world remembers guitar great Jimi Hendrix today on the 50th anniversary of his untimely passing, we explore the extraordinary claim that one of the Seattle-born rock deity’s best-known hits began life in an Old Town howff.
Covered by hundreds of artists down the decades, the classic composition Hey Joe, which tells the story of a man who plans an escape to Mexico after shooting his partner for “messing around town”, came to global prominence following its release by the Jimi Hendrix Experience as their breakthrough single in December 1966.
But it turns out the song was originally the work of American folk musician Billy Roberts who co-penned it in Edinburgh ten years earlier with an aspiring Dunkeld-born songwriter, Len Partridge.
The story goes that Len became acquainted with the South Carolina native during his tour of the UK in 1957. The pair played regularly together at house parties and at a discreet coffee bar named Bunjies in Old Fishmarket Close, which was one of the very few folk joints in the Capital at the time.
Known for playing a twelve-string guitar, Len Partridge is regarded a leading figure in Scotland’s folk revival scene of the fifties and sixties and heavily influenced a whole host of later folk luminaries, such as Archie Fisher, Rab Noakes and the late Bert Jansch.
Speaking to the Evening News, Len, who now lives in Merchiston, recalled meeting Billy Roberts and how they collaborated on Hey Joe.
Despite never receiving royalties for the song, which to date has been recorded more than 1,800 times, he says he has no hard feelings whatsoever.
“I’d heard there was this American guy in Bunjies playing a twelve-string guitar,” recalls Len, 82.
“In Scotland at that time there were only about three twelve-string players - myself included - so I had to go and have a look.
“Billy had ideas about this song (Hey Joe), and we started playing it back and forward.
“I don’t even remember the bits that I added. The person who really ‘wrote’ it was Bill. I had something to do with it, yes, but it was his song.
“People often ask me, ‘do you have any idea how many artists have recorded it?’, and, yes, I do, but I really wasn’t in it for the money.
“We didn’t write songs, we made them up and discarded them after a few years. It was just for fun and nobody thought of copyrighting anything.
“The next time I heard Hey Joe was in 1967, and that was by Hendrix.”
Glasgow-based folk musician Rab Noakes says Len was a kind of “guru figure” among the 1960s Edinburgh folkies, whose impact can still be felt today.
And he adds that he has no absolutely no reason to doubt Len Partridge’s tale of events.
He said: “It sounds a little bit mythological, but Len Partridge was never known as somebody who would say something like that if it wasn’t true.”
Fellow folk star Archie Fisher says he became good friends with Len in the early ’60s and that Hey Joe, copyrighted by Billy Roberts in 1962, was well-established in his contemporary’s repertoire.
He said: “Hey Joe was one of Len’s standards.”