If I recall correctly, I first heard Tim Rose’s version of ‘Hey Joe’ on the radio. The DJ intimated that Rose had written the song which impressed me greatly because, like everyone else at the time, I was in awe of Jimi Hendrix’s interpretation. Although he did not, in fact, write the song, Hendrix had, indeed, heard Tim Rose’s 1966 version, admired it and then later recorded the track that became his first hit and made him an international super-star.
I went in search of the album from which Rose’s ‘Hey Joe’ had been plucked for airplay assuming that if he was that talented, he probably could produce a pretty decent album. It took some effort to find the album because Mr. Rose, an American, was in no way a household name in the U.K and, I have now learned, not that well-known in his home country. As you can see from the album cover, Tim Rose was rather out of step with the zeitgeist of the 60’s: the short slicked-back hair and the cigar were not the usual props of pop stars of that era. I hesitated to buy an album by someone who looked to me like a throw-back to the 50’s. However, it was the album’s liner notes did the trick: whoever wrote them went into hyper-drive. They were worth the price of the album all by themselves. Here’s a sample: “He (Rose) is a man, and he is his own man. His songs are about his loneliness in a world of neuters. The world seems less a place crowded with enemies than a void filled with faceless, gutless, sexless nonentities. […] He must be swallowed whole – progressively detailed analyses or appraisals serve only to uncover the further depths of this man’s masculinity, to further reveal what is immediately apparent.” Irresistible!
The music is hard to pigeon-hole. It’s Barry-McGuire-meets-Joan-Baez (despite all that hairy-chested masculinity). Rose has a gravelly voice and the kind of earnest delivery favored by the afore-mentioned artists. He can certainly rock but he also has a mellow side that tends towards bathos in some of the songs as evidenced by titles such as: ‘Eat, Drink and be Merry’, or ‘Fare Thee Well’. Other than his take on ‘Hey Joe’ – which, by the way, really stands the test of time – the best known tracks on the album are: ‘Come Away Melinda’ which is a post-nuclear-apocalyptic ditty of the type popular at the time; and, ‘Morning Dew’, recorded by many others afterwards, for which he got some of the song writing credit.
‘Tim Rose’ is one of those albums that you either dislike instantly or you find strangely compelling. I fall into the latter category perhaps because of the peculiar arrangements of the songs. Nearly all of them have a one-way trajectory. That is to say, they start off slow and simmering and work themselves up into a boil. They do not, like most pop songs, have a beginning, a chorus and a reversion. They just keep becoming more intense which is quite a trick considering that nearly all of them last less than three minutes: Rose gives these songs his all. It’s difficult not to admire the effort and, for whatever reason, the melodies tend to stick with you – the kind you find yourself turning over in your mind when you really should be thinking about something more important.
Commercial success and fame eluded Rose throughout his career although he was well respected by industry insiders: he was hired as the opening act to such luminaries as The Doors, Stevie Wonder, and the Grateful Dead. At one point in time, the Columbia record label even weighed whether to promote Rose or Bob Dylan. They made the right choice. Eventually, Rose dropped out of the music business, went to college and became a Wall Street stockbroker. He lost money in the crash of 1987, got divorced and tried to restart his musical career. There was apparently an offer from George Harrison to produce an album but that fell through. Rose did manage to record some new material in the 90’s but sales were very limited. He died in 2002.
‘Tim Rose’ can probably only be found in specialist second-hand stores, but if you can find it, it’s worth the $1 you’ll likely be asked to pay for it.