Jimi Hendrix’s “Dolly Dagger” is not only great for Halloween, but is also a song that reveals a complicated relationship in Hendrix’s personal life.
This week, we’ve been looking at songs that can be added to improve any Halloween playlists out there. So far, we’ve looked at a mix of classic and contemporary songs. On Monday, we listened to The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil”, and yesterday, we listened to MGMT’s chaotic “Flash Delirium”. We’re headed back to the classics today, with a spooky love/hate song from one of the best guitarists to have ever lived.
But before we get into the song itself, let’s first take a look at the album it first appeared on, as well as some context behind its creation.
“Dolly Dagger” was first released in 1971 on the second posthumous album released by Hendrix’s record company, “Rainbow Bridge”. The album is mostly comprised of recordings from Hendrix after the breakup of the Jimi Hendrix Experience between the years of 1969 and 1970. Other notable songs that made the album were a studio recorded and multi-layered version of “Star Spangled Banner”, and a live recording of “Hear My Train a Comin'”.
“Rainbow Bridge” was used to fulfill Hendrix’s manager’s obligation to produce a soundtrack album for Reprise Records. The album was meant for a film of the same name, however, the songs in it were mostly used as incidental music in the film, rather than a proper soundtrack album.
The Double A-side single, “Dolly Dagger” / Star Spangled Banner” was released as a follow up to the album. The single peaked at 74 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was the last single by Hendrix to ever appear on the charts.
“Dolly Dagger” is considered by biographers to be a song written about Hendrix’s girlfriend, Devon Wilson. There’s a good deal of controversy surrounding Hendrix’s death, as well as Wilson’s suicide in 1971. In James Lough’s book, “This Ain’t No Holiday Inn: Down and Out at the Chelsea Hotel“, he includes a passage in which Wilson blames herself for Hendrix’s death, claiming that she “gave him his final dose of heroin”.
When it comes to the inspiration behind “Dolly Dagger”, Hendrix’s relationship with Wilson included moments that made their way right into the song.
“Her relationship with Hendrix was a continual power struggle, a brutal dynamic they both seemed to enjoy, or at least felt compelled to act out. On the one hand, she assumed the role of his guardian and protector, but then she would sleep with other men to make him jealous. Once, at a party where Mick Jagger cut his finger, Wilson elbowed her way in to suck the blood off as Hendrix watched.” (Lough, p. 36)
This incident with Jagger is reflected in the line, ” She drinks the blood from a jagged edge”. Additionally, there’s the obvious connection between Dagger and Jagger.
Without this background, the lyrics to “Dolly Dagger” fit into the Halloween theme seamlessly.
“Been ridin’ broomsticks since she was fifteen
Blow out all the other witches on the scene
She got a bull whip just as long as your life
Her tongue can even scratch the soul out of the devil’s wife”
In reality, these lines read more like thinly disguised jabs at an old flame. Jimi got burned, and this was how he got his revenge. By immortalizing Devon Wilson as Dolly Dagger.
I first heard “Dolly Dagger” on a Jimi Hendrix compilation album I got when I was around ten years old, “Experience Hendrix: The Best Of Jimi Hendrix”. Initially, I just thought it was a cool song about a witch or vampire woman. But over the years, I became more and more interested in diving into the lyrics behind my favorite songs. And after learning about the history and mystery surrounding both Hendrix and Wilson’s deaths, I think it’s safe to say that the truth turned out to be darker than my imagination.
There’s a lot to like about “Dolly Dagger”. It’s got a great hook, phenomenal guitar playing, and meaningful lyrics. And as the last Hendrix single to make the Billboard Hot 100, it’s got some history behind it as well. Add this song to your Halloween playlist and you can share the story behind “Dolly Dagger’.
I hope you enjoyed listening to and learning a little bit about Jimi Hendrix’s “Dolly Dagger”. We’ll be back tomorrow with another song to round off your Halloween playlist.