#17: Hey Joe by the Enemys

City: Edmonton, AB
Radio Station: CJCA
Peak Month: September 1966
Peak Position in Edmonton: #3
Peak position in Vancouver ~ did not chart
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ did not chart
YouTube: “Hey Joe
Lyrics: “Hey Joe

The Enemys were a band formed in 1965. The founder was Cory Wells, born Emil Lewandowski in 1941 in Buffalo, NY. He played in a number of bands in Buffalo in his teens. He was raised in a troubled home by his abusive stepfather. As soon as he got out of high school, Lewandowski joined the United States Air Force. While in the Air Force, he formed a band of interracial musical performers, inspired by his boyhood love of a similar popular band called The Del-Vikings who were known for their 1957 hit “Come Go With Me”. When he returned from service in the USAF, Lewandowski joined a band in Buffalo called the Vibratos. He was encouraged to take the band to California, and on route they changed their name to the Enemys. His full stage name “Cory Wells” was suggested by The Enemys’ first manager, Gene Jacobs, who had a son named Cory.

The lineup for the Enemys had Cory Wells  as lead vocalist, Mike Lustan on guitar, Dave Treiger  on drums, and Cal Titus on bass guitar. Lustan and Treiger were original Vibratos bandmates with Wells, while Cal Titus joined his new bandmates in California. They released their first single, “Sinner Man”, on Valiant Records in 1965.

The Enemys began touring Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento and Las Vegas. They played at the Cinnamon Cinder on Ventura Boulevard, the Palomino Club in North Hollywood, Gazzarri’s and Ciro’s in West Hollywood, and other trendy clubs in LA in the mid-60s. Eventually, the Enemys became the house band at Whiskey-A-Go-Go on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. The Enemys switched labels and their debut MGM release was “Glitter And Gold”.

In the heart of the movie industry, the Enemys soon found themselves making cameo appearances on the TV shows The Beverly Hillbillies, and the detective show Burke’s Law. As well, they appeared in the counterculture movie Riot On Sunset Strip and the mystery film starring Paul Newman, Lauren Bacall and Shelley Winters titled Harper.

The Enemys third single release was “Hey Joe”. This was a song previously released on the pop market by California garage rock band, the Leaves, in November 1965. The Leaves initial release was a flop. The Leaves re-recorded the song again in 1966 and had a Top 40 hit which peaked at #31 on the Billboard Hot 100 in May ’66. The Leaves version of “Hey Joe” climbed to #1 in Oxnard, CA, Burbank, CA, and San Bernardino, CA, climbed to #2 hit in Los Angeles, and was a Top 5 hit in Fresno, CA, San Jose, CA, Bakersfield, CA, Escondido, CA, and Merced, CA. While the Leaves version was on the national pop charts in the USA, they appeared on American Bandstand in July 1966.

As “Hey Joe” was now a minor pop hit, the Enemys tried their luck with their own recording.

Hey Joe by the Enemys

Singer-songwriter Billy Roberts performed “Hey Joe” regularly in the late 1950s and early 1960s, without copyrighting it. Some other performers, including Pete Seeger, saw that it had been developed from Niela Miller’s song “Baby, Please Don’t Go to Town”. In 1962, Roberts registered “Hey Joe” as his composition at the Library of Congress, and made a demo tape recording. Niela Miller separately registered some of her songs, including “Baby, Please Don’t Go to Town”. Seeger offered to testify on her behalf so she could claim part of the credit for “Hey Joe”. But this was not pursued. Roberts also played the song when touring with his friend Dino Valenti. When Valenti moved to California in 1963 he began performing it himself, and copyrighted it in Los Angeles as his own composition.

The lyrics are written in two stanzas with a short repeated refrain. The first stanza has a bystander locate Joe walking with a gun in his hand and asks about his intentions. Joe answers with the main refrain that his girlfriend was “messing around with another man,” and he wishes to shoot her. In the second stanza, Joe is preparing to go on the run to Mexico in order to evade capture and avoid the police. In Mexico he figures he can “be free (and) there’s no one going to find me.”

The lyrics have been interpreted in two different casts of opinion with the first cast claiming that the lyrics point to the flight of Joe to Mexico as his quest for freedom from oppression in avoiding the law. The other approach to the lyrics has been to read the “woman-done-me-wrong” song as “ugly and misogynist, with Joe’s air of unapologetic defiance,” being unjustifiable according to writer David Stubbs. In 2003 Stubbs wrote Jimi Hendrix: The Stories Behind Every Song, which includes discussion of Hendrix’ version of “Hey Joe”.

“Hey Joe” closely follows the storyline of “Little Sadie”, a song Billy Roberts knew from growing up in South Carolina. “Little Sadie” went by a number of song titles, including “Bad Lee Brown”. The latter had these lyrics:

Last night I was a-makin’ my rounds,
Met my old woman an’ I blowed her down.
I went on home to go to bed,
Put my old cannon right under my head.

Jury says murder in the first degree,
I says oh Lord, have mercy on me!
Old Judge White picks up his pen,
Says you’ll never kill no woman ag’in.

It tells the story of a man who is apprehended after shooting a woman, in some versions his wife or girlfriend. He is then sentenced by a judge. There were a number of traditional songs that followed this storyline dating back into the 19th century. These include “Cocaine Blues”, “Penitentiary Blues”, and “Transfusion Blues”. It would seem that in hindsight, Joe (Lee Brown or whoever the guy in the song was who shot his girlfriend) had anger management issues. Thankfully, shooting your girlfriend (or spouse) dead is not the solution most partners opt for when finding out there has been an affair.

“Hey Joe” climbed to #3 in Edmonton (AB) and the Top 40 in Grand Rapids (MI).

The Jimi Hendrix Experience recorded “Hey Joe” in December 1966. Hendrix had a Top Ten hit with “Hey Joe” in radio markets in the UK , peaking at #6 in January 1967. It also climbed to #8 in the Netherlands, #19 in Norway, #21 in West Germany and #40 in Australia. Hendrix’ “Hey Joe” would later see chart action in select radio markets in the USA in 1968, especially in Massachusetts, Washington and Kentucky. In 2011 Rolling Stone magazine ranked the Jimi Hendrix version of “Hey Joe” at #201 among the ‘500 Greatest Songs of All Time.’

French singer Johnny Hallyday covered the song in French in 1966. His version reached # 2 in Belgium.

Cher had a Top 20 hit with the song in San Bernardino in August 1967. Other recordings of “Hey Joe” include those by the Byrds, the Surfaris, the Standells, Love, Wilson Pickett, the Mothers of Invention, Patti Smyth and the Music Machine.

One last single was released by the Enemys titled “Mo-Jo Woman”. It was featured in The Enemys appearance on The Beverly Hillbillies. 

Cory Wells moved to Phoenix, Arizona, in 1967 where he formed The Cory Wells Blues Band. The bass player was future Three Dog Night bass player, Joe Schermetzler (stage name Joe Schermie). In 1968, Wells returned to Hollywood where he “couch-surfed,” as Danny Hutton convince him to form a group with three lead singers and a back-up band. In 1968 they formed Redwood after meeting Chuck Negron at a party in Hollywood. They released a single titled “Time to Get Alone”. Shortly after, they renamed themselves Three Dog Night.

Cory Wells was the lead singer on Three Dog Night’s “Eli’s Coming”, a #10 hit in the USA and #4 in Canada in the winter of 1969. He also sang lead vocals on the Three Dog Night cover of the Otis Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness”, which was a Top 20 hit in Canada in 1969. Wells sang the lead vocal for the bands’ 1970 number-one hit, “Mama Told Me (Not To Come)”. The single cracked the Top Ten in Australia, Canada, Ireland, and South Africa. It also peaked at #12 in West Germany, #13 in New Zealand, and #14 in the Netherlands.

In early 1972, radio listeners heard Cory Wells lead vocals on “Never Been To Spain”, which was a Top 5 hit in Canada and the USA, and #12 for Three Dog Night in New Zealand. In the summer of 1973, Wells was again the lead vocalist for the Three Dog Night Top Ten single “Shambala”, about a mythical kingdom in the Himalayas. In the winter of 1973-74, Cory Wells sang lead on the Three Dog Night single “Let Me Serenade You”, which was a Top 20 hit in North America.

While Cory Wells was in the lineup for Three Dog Night, the band appeared in concert in Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto in 1970; Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg in 1971; in Ottawa in 1972; Winnipeg and Toronto in 1973; Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver in 1974; And in Calgary and Vancouver in 1975.

Unlike many other rock musicians of the day, Wells managed to abstain from alcohol and other drugs. Also, he didn’t squander his earnings on the lavish lifestyles of many other successful rock stars; rather, he chose to live a somewhat more moderate existence. After Three Dog Night broke up in 1976, Wells tried a solo career, recording the album Touch Me in 1978. Wells helped re-launch Three Dog Night in the early-1980s.

Cory Wells died in his sleep on October 20, 2015, at Brooks Memorial Hospital in Dunkirk, New York, at the age of 74. His family later confirmed he had a form of blood cancer known as multiple myeloma.

The Enemys,” Psychedelicized.com.
The Enemys and Annette Funicello, “Who Killed the Strangler?,” Burke’s Law, January 6, 1965.
The Enemys, “Hoedown-a-go-go,” The Beverly Hillbillies, November 24, 1965.
The Enemys, Harper, 1966.
The Enemys, “Jolene,” Riot On Sunset Strip, American International Pictures, 1967.
Jimi Hendrix Experience, “Hey Joe“, 1966.
David Stubbs, Jimi Hendrix: The Stories Behind Every Song, (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2003)
Jimi Hendrix, “Hey Joe” Song #201 in ‘500 Greatest Songs of All Time’, Rolling Stone, May 28, 2011.
Cory Wells, Vocalist with Three Dog Night, dies at 74,” Washington Post, October 22, 2015.
Three Dog Night – concert dates – Canada,” setlist.fm.
The Leaves, “Hey Joe“, American Bandstand, July 9, 1966.

Hey Joe by the Enemys
CJCA 930-AM, Edmonton (AB) Top Ten | September 25, 1966

2 responses to “Hey Joe by the Enemys”

  1. Judy says:

    Interesting…all those versions and none mentioned Tim Rose’s, which is the one I remember best, from late 1966/early 1967. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-eDz31rh-Ak

  2. Richard Skelly says:

    Article commenter Judy mentioned that Tim Rose released a version of ‘Hey Joe’ in 1966. In doing so, Rose also made a grab for royalties by crediting it as an adaptation of an original.

    Not sure how that claim held up, or if Billy Roberts sued. In any event, Tim Rose re-recorded the song almost thirty years later, retitling it ‘Blue Steel .44’ and, once again, claimed it as an adaptation of an original.

    Keith Richards then-girlfriend Linda Keith reportedly played Rose’s version of ‘Hey Joe’ to Jimi Hendrix’s producer/manager Chas Chandler. A former Animals bassist, Chandler presumably turned client Jimi onto the song.

    Tim Rose certainly had a lot of nerve. He also made an unwarranted co-composer claim for ‘Morning Dew’ on his 1967 version and succeeded for a long time in sharing partial royalties with the actual writer—Canadian expat Bonnie Dobson. Indeed, Rose was sometimes the only writer credited on other cover versions, though Dobson apparently got her share of monies, though no credit, after protesting.

    I believe that credit situation on ‘Morning Des’ has been corrected, thanks greatly to former Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant championing Bonnie’s claim.

    Tim Rose died in September 2002, aged 62.

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