5 Must-Hear Songs with Jimi Hendrix Backing Other Artists

There isn’t a shortage of Jimi Hendrix posthumous releases, and it’s a daunting task keeping up with his sprawling catalog. During his brief career, Hendrix only released three studio albums, but it was enough to change music as profoundly as Elvis or The Beatles.

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In the few years of his professional career, Hendrix worked prolifically in the studio and left behind a never-ending heap of live recordings and studio outtakes.

In 2010, Experience Hendrix, the official family-owned company managing his legacy, released West Coast Seattle Boy. The anthology runs beyond four hours, and the most intriguing moments are the early recordings of Hendrix backing R&B artists like The Isley Brothers and Little Richard.

You can hear the young guitarist straining to hold back the musical fury he’d later unleash. On tracks where Hendrix stretches beyond a supportive role, the seeds of his future sound emerge and move the spotlight to the restless guitarist instead of the marquee name on the record sleeve.

Here are five must-hear early recordings of Jimi Hendrix backing other artists.

“I Don’t Know What You Got But It’s Got Me” by Little Richard

Under the name Maurice James, Hendrix began playing for Little Richard in 1965. Don Covay wrote “I Don’t Know What You’ve Got But It’s Got Me,” which became Little Richard’s final Top 20 R&B hit. Hendrix carries the band with a subdued R&B guitar part using an amplifier tremolo effect. Occasionally, he punctuates the ballad with the kind of rolling fills he’d later make famous on “The Wind Cries Mary.”

You not very very much to look at, but you know just where it’s at
You don’t have one thing at night still I can’t leave you behind
Baby, I don’t know what you got
Honey, I don’t know what you got, but it’s got me, I’m telling you, it’s got me

“Move Over and Let Me Dance” by The Isley Brothers

“Move Over and Let Me Dance” sounds like the blueprint for Hendrix’s punk-blues explosion, “Fire.” But it’s not only the psychedelic guitar work foreshadowed on this 1965 Isley Brothers jam. In “Fire,” Hendrix echoes the Isleys when he sings, Move over, Rover / And let Jimi take over. And when Isley announces, I won’t do you no harm, another Hendrix classic comes to mind: “Foxy Lady.”

Move over; let me dance
I need some room so I can really, really work out now
Ah, but if you don’t move over, then I can’t dance

“Have You Ever Been Disappointed” by The Isley Brothers

Hendrix was busy in New York recording rhythm tracks in 1965 for The Isley Brothers, Little Richard, and others. Here’s another R&B tremolo guitar part, but even when Hendrix plays a supportive role, you can hear him exploring. Near the four-minute mark, he digs in, increasing the song’s intensity against the rhythm section’s self-possession. Though he’s backing R&B legends, Hendrix sounds like he’s nearing the edge of bursting from anonymous restraint.

Into rich life, some rain has fallen
Sometimes I get that feeling
Too much has fallen
Sometimes I wonder, I really wonder
Was I born to suffer?

“Testify (Parts 1 & 2)” by The Isley Brothers

“Testify” is another song hinting at the cosmic blues of “Fire” or “Manic Depression.” Hendrix plays off Ronald Isley’s urgent sermon with wandering melodies and sped-up blues. But the rhythm section also foreshadows his work with Band of Gypsys, featuring bassist Billy Cox and drummer Buddy Miles. Following his work with the Experience, Hendrix explored psychedelic funk with the Band of Gypsys for a new kind of soul music.

You can’t knock it if you haven’t tried it
If you feel it, don’t you try to hide it
Everybody throw your hands up
Just in case you wanna shout

“Mercy, Mercy” by Don Covay

Don Covay’s 1964 hit features Hendrix playing a classic Curtis Mayfield R&B guitar part. Though he referenced Mayfield’s style, his own sound emerges with unorthodox lyrical fills as connective tissue between chords. It’s a sound Hendrix later perfected on “Little Wing.” The intro lick to “Mercy, Mercy” baffled Booker T. & the M.G.’s guitarist Steve Cropper, who once met Hendrix at Stax studio in Memphis. Cropper asked him about the lick, and Hendrix (who played left-handed) turned over Cropper’s right-handed guitar and played it for him.

Well, I went to see a gypsy
And had my fortune read
She said, “Don, your baby’s gonna leave you; her bag is packed up under the bed.”
And I cried, “Have mercy.”

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Photo by Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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