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You're Playing It Wrong: "All Along the Watchtower"

April 15, 2014
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This month, we initiate a series of Y.P.I.W. lessons that could aptly be retitled “I’m Hearing It Wrong!” You see, there are numerous classic rock songs whose intro riffs I’ve always heard “backwards,” and I figured some of you might be in the same boat. The idea is to decode, once and for all, some of the genre’s trickiest “Where’s one?” intro figures, beginning with Jimi Hendrix’s version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” (though Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll,” decoded in GP 7/13, also qualifies).
We’re using the three C#m, B, and A barre-chord shapes in Ex. 1a (tuned down one half-step for total authenticity) to play the song’s opening 12-string-acoustic rhythm figure, which I still struggle to hear correctly. Why? Because those three opening chords trick the ears into hearing the third one (C#m) as the downbeat (da-da Cha- cha-cha-cha), as shown in Ex. 1b.
 
In truth, the whole deal starts one eighth-note sooner on the and of beat three, exactly as depicted in Ex. 1c (da-dada Cha-cha-cha). This also puts the intro’s atmospheric vibra-slap hit, which falls on the and of beat three in the displaced Ex. 1b version, in its proper beat-three slot.
 
Play Ex. 1c as notated, and you’ll be in perfect sync with both the rhythm section and Hendrix’s opening four-bar solo (Ex. 2a).
 
 

But if you’re still hearing Ex. 1b’s displaced rhythm, the befuddlement will continue through the solo. Ex. 2b illustrates the way I heard the solo for decades (and, if I don’t concentrate, still do), with every note played an eighth-note late. The amazing thing is, it still works, but that’s the genius of Jimi!

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