Why Jimi Hendrix Cut Off Rolling Stone Brian Jones at Sessions for ‘All Along the Watchtower’
Once Jimi Hendrix began to play around London, he quickly won over the top musicians on the British scene. The list included Eric Clapton as well as members of The Beatles and Rolling Stones. And Stones founder Brian Jones was among Hendrix’s biggest fans.
Jones was such a Hendrix booster, in fact, that he flew all the way to Northern California to introduce the Experience at 1967’s Monterey Pop Festival. That gig turned out to be the one that broke Hendrix in America, and he never forgot Jones’ favor.
Still, Hendrix’s friendship with Jones had its limits. When Jones stopped by the studio and began playing piano on “All Along the Watchtower,” Hendrix had to cut him off gently. Jones’ playing didn’t get near the finished product, which became Hendrix’s biggest U.S. hit.
Brian Jones recorded ‘horrendous’ piano for Jimi Hendrix’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’
By January ’68, Hendrix had abandoned the efficient recording style of his early works. While working on “All Along the Watchtower,” he laid down dozens of backing tracks. The process ran so long that bassist Noel Redding left the studio partway through the session.
Along the way, Hendrix had Dave Mason of Traffic helping out on 12-string guitar and, following Redding’s exit, bass. At some point, a worse-for-wear Jones began playing piano. Longtime Hendrix engineer Eddie Kramer recalled how that went in a 2013 interview with Bob Harris.
“All of a sudden you hear this horrendous, horrible piano playing,” Kramer said. “This clang clang, all out of time, wrong chords and everything. It’s Brian Jones, he’d fallen into the studio, drunk out of his brain. He was another mate, and Jimi loved his friends, you know.”
Though Hendrix had a hard time saying no to his friends, Jones’ playing was so poor that he made an exception. Kramer recalled Hendrix asking him for a hand with the wayward Rolling Stone.
Jones passed out while Hendrix completed the basic track
Though Hendrix liked to keep things loose, he was over 20 takes into the backing track for “All Along the Watchtower.” And he needed Jones out of the studio. Kramer recalled Hendrix looking at him and whispering, “Get him out, get him out!” So Kramer invited Jones into the control room.
“So Brian falls in a heap in front of the control desk and falls asleep,” Kramer told Harris. “And we got the take by, like, take 27, and that was it.” Well, that was it for the backing track. Hendrix was only getting warmed up, and he’d eventually record a bass part for the song, along with various other overdubs.
By the end of the recording of “All Along the Watchtower,” the recording process had dragged on for months and shifted to New York along the way. But Jones did get onto the record after all. He played the percussion sound you hear at the end of each bar in the song’s intro.