[Cover Me]: Jimi Hendrix, Bat For Lashes & Baby Huey

Jimi Hendrix – ‘Killing Floor’ (Originally by Howlin’ Wolf)

Let’s kick off the weekend and this week’s Cover Me by rippin’ it up with some Jimi. Originally recorded and released in 1964 on Chess Records, ‘Killin’ Floor’ became a standard of the Chicago electric blues sound. Driven by a drum beat that chugs along steadily like a locomotive and punctuated by Hubert Sumlin’s spiky guitar part, the song is a classic tale of bad lovin’ delivered in Howlin’ Wolf’s trademark growl. Although the song rumbles on at a fair pace already, three years later Hendrix decided to take things up a few notches for his rendition (as was his way with all of his covers). What ensues on this opening number from the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival is a high-octane blues explosion, with Noel Fielding’s bass keeping things moving along smoothly in the background while Mitch Mitchell dishes out cascades of crashing cymbals and pounding drums and Hendrix does his thing. The blistering guitar pyrotechnics (which would become literal guitar pyrotechnics later in the concert) on the audio recording alone is enough to blow you out of your seat, but when you watch this performance it really drives home what a showman Hendrix was. Flamboyant and devastating; Hendrix was more than a spectacular musician, he was a force of nature.

Bat For Lashes – ‘I’m On Fire’ (Originally by Bruce Springsteen)

The centrepiece on Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The USA already burned with feverish longing, but in the hands of Natasha Khan it becomes a thing of smouldering grandeur. Khan changes the gender of the protagonist and in many ways this rendition feels like a female answer to Springsteen’s man who wakes up “with a freight train running through the middle of my head”. Where the muted guitar and cool organ of the original bely barely restrained passion, the wistful violin and shimmering marxophone here reflect a slow-burning desire. Where Springsteen’s croon is raw and soulful, Khan’s siren call is poised with grace and drama. Listened to side by side, it is almost as if the protagonists of each version is reaching out for the other.

Baby Huey – ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ (Originally by Sam Cooke)

And now to bring it on home with a Sam Cooke song. I first heard this version on the Huey After Midnight show on BBC Radio 2 and it floored me. ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ is one of the most powerful songs in history, resonating with the endurance and dignity of the human spirit, and Baby Huey puts his heart and soul into his rendition. He begins slow and masterful, echoing Cooke’s own graceful introduction, but as the song builds he yelps and wails in anguish, giving life to the endured pains and injustices the song addresses. Amongst plaintive horns things simmers down around the six minute mark and Baby Huey opens up and rhapsodises about the hard times and loss of innocence in his Indiana hometown. “There are three types of people in this world, that’s how I know a change is gonna come,” he claims, “There’s white people, there’s black people, and then there’s my people”. It is an all-embracing statement in line with the original song’s message, and it is a shame Baby Huey could not see how people would receive it for he died at the age of twenty-six from a drug-related heart attack before his only record’s release. Nevertheless, the record, produced by Curtis Mayfield, and this song stand as testament to the man. It is an epic nine and a half minute trip with tinges of gospel and psychedelia, which winds its way much like the course of the river in the song and when Baby Huey claims “I feel a change coming”, you believe him.

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