The Leaves and Their Enduring Classic Rock Hit “Hey Joe”

Introduction to The Leaves

Garage rock group The Leaves are remembered for their most successful version of “Hey Joe,” which was a hit during the mid-60s music era.  Like their peer and competitor the Byrds, the Leaves were also weaned by The Beatles’ music; both bands also hailed from Los Angeles.  Formed by bassist Jim Pons, they were initially billed as The Rockwells.  Their first issued single “Too Many People” was a regional hit.  Their follow-up single “Hey Joe” was actually rejected by the band members once but then redid many times. The third and final version became a hit on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, in 1966.  It was to become their only charting single, but in the passing years the song has transformed into a genuine rock standard.  The Leaves disbanded for good after a series of recordings that failed to hit the charts.

The Leaves’ formation and early life

Formed in San Fernando Valley, California in 1964, The Leaves were an American garage band who were first called as The Rockwells. They consisted of Jim Pons (bass, vocals, double bass), John Beck (vocals, tambourine, harmonica), Robert Lee Reiner (rhythm guitar), Bill Rinehart (lead guitar) and Jimmy Kern (drums). The Leaves’ founding members Pons and Reiner were quite fans of the The Beatles who inspired them to form their own band. The young band members were still students at Cal State Northridge in Los Angeles where they were also mates at a school fraternity. During that time, the band had started performing in parties playing surf rock and dance music.

The Leaves’ lone hit “Hey Joe”

In the summer of 1965, The Leaves released their first single for Mira Records “Too Many People” which became a local a hit in Los Angeles. It was followed by their sophomore single “Hey Joe.” However, they pulled the release of the first recording of the song and in early 1966, they cut another version. But still it was a failure.

Later in 1966, Rineheart later left the group and was replaced by Bob Arlin. With the new guitarist, the group again did another version “Hey Joe,” adding the fuzz tone guitar effect by Arlin. The third version of “Hey Joe” became their only huge hit. On May 21, 1966, the song made a dent on both charts of Billboard and Cash Box, peaking at #31 and #41 respectively. It also made to the Canadian RPM Magazine chart at #29. In the midst of their career, the band earned TV appearances on Shivaree, Shebang and American Bandstand. The song’s success was followed by an album release, also titled Hey Joe (1966)

The Leaves also made an appearance in the 1967 film Cool Ones. Also In 1967, their second album All the Good That’s Happening was published; it was also to be The Leaves’ last record. Later that year, The Leaves called it quits.

The legacy of “Hey Joe”

Through the years, “Hey Joe” or sometimes “Hey Joe, Where You Gonna Go?” has become a rock standard which has been released and redone by hundreds of artists of different genres. The most popular version of “Hey Joe” was done in 1966 by The Jimi Hendrix’s Experience who released it as their debut single. Among the other artists who did their own versions are Deep Purple, Spirit, ZZ Top, Robert Plant, Lenny Kravitz and The Byrds.

Career after The Leaves and their reunion

After The Leaves’ dissolution, most of the members went on their separate ways and pursued music careers; Pons became a member of The Turtles and played bass for Frank Zappa. Arlin went psychedelic and formed The Hook and The Robert savage Group.

In 1970, The Leaves reunited with the formation of Pons, Beck, Buddy Sklar (lead singer of The Hook and The David Spencer Group, Al Nichols (bassist of The Turtles) and Bob “Bullet” Bailey (drummer). They had been actively performing in Loa Angeles’ night spots. However, the group split in 1971.