Why Jimi Hendrix Could Never Get ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ Down on Record
Even before he lit his guitar on fire at the Monterey Pop Festival, Jimi Hendrix had already given the crowd a performance for the ages. After kicking off with his rocking version of “Killing Floor,” Hendrix and the Experience tore through “Foxey Lady” and other classic tracks, including a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.”
The song had been Dylan’s highest-charting song to date following its ’65 release. But in Hendrix’s hands it became something different. Chas Chandler, the former Animals bassist who became Hendrix’s first manager, recalled seeing Hendrix perform it the night Chandler “discovered” him.
“The first time I saw Hendrix, at the Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village, the first thing he did was ‘Hey Joe,'” Chandler recalled in Hendrix: Setting the Reocrd Straight (1992). “And the second was ‘Like a Rolling Stone.'”
Though Chandler was a Dylan fan, he hadn’t taken to the original version. But once he heard Hendrix play it, he saw it in a completely different light. Unfortunately, Hendrix and Chandler could never get it down on record in the studio.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience tried to record ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ in the studio on several occasions
These days, everyone knows what Hendrix could do working with a Dylan composition. His version of “All Along the Watchtower” completely blew Dylan away, and it had a similar impact on most music fans upon its ’68 release.
But the crowd at Monterey couldn’t have been prepared for the Experience’s take on “Like a Rolling Stone” at the ’67 festival. Fortunately, the film and sound crew who made Monterey Pop got a solid recording of the performance.
For Chandler, the track was a signature part of Hendrix’s body of work. And he felt that from the start. “For the first time, hearing Jimi sing ‘Like a Rolling Stone,’ I understood what the lyrics were trying to say,” Chandler said in Setting the Record Straight.
Naturally, Chandler wanted it on record so audiences everywhere could hear his interpretation in a controlled environment. “We both wanted to record it but we were never successful,” Chandler said. “I tried over and over to get it.”
Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell had trouble with the timing of ‘Like a Rolling Stone’
What could the Experience do in concert that it couldn’t replicate in the studio? In a word, it boiled down to Mitch Mitchell’s drum part. “For some reason, Mitch could never get the time right,” Chandler recalled in Setting the Record Straight. “It used to drive [the band] nuts.”
Going by the reports of Hendrix’s early sessions, you can see where the problem might lie. Prior to recording a track, he might only run through the chord changes a few times with bassist Noel Redding to make sure he had it down.
He would operate the same way when it came to setting a tempo for Mitchell’s drum parts. When they tried to record it, Mitchell was always either going too fast or dragging behind. Fortunately, Hendrix fans have the Monterey performance and other live versions of “Like a Rolling Stone” to savor.