Jimi Hendrix was the definition of an icon. Totally unique, existing in an artistic world of his own creation, what he did for music, paying particular attention to guitar playing, was nothing short of incredible. This fact is made even more dazzling when you note that his mainstream music career lasted less than five years.
He brought a visceral, amped-up style of playing to the forefront of pop culture, totally blowing his peers out of the water, making the likes of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who all rethink their style. Hendrix was a wake-up call. He made each band’s respective axe-men feel as if they’d been usurped by this psychedelic breath of fresh air that had seemingly swept out of nowhere from across the Atlantic.
Without Hendrix, it is safe to say, any of the subsequent guitar heroes that followed in his wake would not have existed. We could say goodbye to Sonic Youth, Johnny Marr, Kurt Cobain and even Metallica. He set the six-string handbook on fire via a barrage of wah, fuzz and unimitable technique. Then he bathed his guitar in flames too.
For an artist that was so iconoclastic, it can come as no surprise that he was a dense character and one that had an eclectic taste in everything. With a well-read and inquiring mind, the artistic inspiration behind Hendrix’s work was varied. In terms of music, he loved everyone from James Brown to Joan Baez to The Bee Gees.
The record collection in Hendrix’s recreated flat on London’s Brook Street in Mayfair provides an extensive and somewhat surprising portal into the late icon’s mind. Featuring some of the biggest artists of the late ’60s and more niche ones, it shows that Hendrix was an artist who had one eye on music’s beating heart, and another on its peripheries. However, for those with a keen eye, or those that are well versed in rock history, you would heed that in the collection, there sat another record that Hendrix placed on a pedestal. This is the equally as inimitable Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the iconic 1967 album by Liverpool’s favourite sons, The Beatles.
The iconic tale goes that Hendrix was so enamoured with the record, which he thought was by far The Beatles’ best, that only three days after it was released, he opened his show at London’s Saville Theatre with a raucous redux of the album’s title track. With members of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and The Yardbirds in the audience, everyone was blown away, not only by his technical ability but by just how brave of a decision it was to take on a track that was still fresh, never mind pulling it off in such a triumphant manner.
Retrospectively, ex-Beatle Paul McCartney described it as one of the highlights of his life. He said that witnessing Hendrix cover his song was “one of the greatest honours of my career.” McCartney also once declared of his mutually admiring luminary, “He was very self-effacing about his music, but when he picked up that guitar, he was just a monster.”
McCartney shouldn’t be so surprised, Sgt. Pepper is a masterpiece. The Beatles are the only artist from that era that can claim to have been more pioneering and influential than Hendrix, so it’s understandable he loved the band and the album. Sgt. Pepper was the studio outing where The Beatles perfected their experimental trajectory that had been started with 1965’s Rubber Soul.
It’s a shame Hendrix didn’t live past 1970, as surely collaboration with McCartney would have occurred, given his penchant for teaming up with other musicians. Now that would have been something truly special. However, rock ‘n’ roll being well, rock ‘n’ roll, this will never come to fruition.
Luckily though, some very grainy footage from the iconic show exists. We get to witness Hendrix and the band do their thing with the iconic Beatles track, and it almost doesn’t seem real. It offers up a natural image of the highly mythologised guitar hero, showing him to truly be the master of cool that his contemporaries said he was.
Watch it below.