"Hey Joe" tells the story of a man who is on the run and planning to head to Mexico after shooting his wife. However, diverse credits and claims have led to confusion as to the song's true authorship and genesis. The earliest known commercial recording of the song is the late 1965 single by the Los Angeles garage band, The Leaves, who also had the first hit version of the song with a re-recording in 1966.
Currently the best-known version is The Jimi Hendrix Experience's 1966 recording, their debut single. The song title is sometimes given as "Hey Joe, Where You Gonna Go?" or similar variations.
Released in December 1966, Hendrix's version became a hit in the United Kingdom, entering the Top 10 of the UK Singles Chart in January 1967 and peaking at #6. The single was released in the United States on May 1, 1967 with the B-side "51st Anniversary" but failed to chart. "Hey Joe", as recorded by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, remains the best known version of the song and is listed as #198 on Rolling Stone magazine's The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In 2009 it was named the 22nd greatest hard rock song of all time by VH1. "Hey Joe" was the last song Jimi Hendrix performed at the Woodstock festival in 1969 and as such, it was also the final song of the whole festival. The song was performed after the crowd, comprising the 80,000 who hadn't yet left the festival, cheered for an encore.