There aren’t many musicians and bands that come close to what The Beatles were doing during the 1960s. At the height of their success and songwriting capabilities, they had focused their energy on creating what many consider now their magnum opus, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. By the time the album hit the charts at the end of May of 1967, The Beatles had conquered the world by endless touring. They had just started redefining what it means to be a studio band and, setting the tone with Rubber Soul and then with Revolver, bands could be now taken seriously as studio technicians and lab scientists, concocting new innovative sounds via tape manipulation and breaking new grounds with songwriting and composition. It seemed as though The Beatles were always on the front lines, pioneering new aspects of the industry.
With that said, it still doesn’t mean to say that there wasn’t a place for touring or live concerts anymore. In fact, this was still the golden age for live performance. It begs the question, did they know that people years from then would be gawking back at the sheer brilliance of the rock ‘n’ roll music from the 1960s going into the ’70s? One reason for the brilliance of Sgt. Peppers was that it defined the ‘Summer of Love’ as the beating heart of the hippie counterculture that was raging at the time and live performance still played an integral part in this phenomenon.
One other musician who very much contributed to this summer of love sensation, and who we cannot help but think about when the words, “hippie movement” are uttered, is, of course, the one and only Jimi Hendrix. An American, who, as a black guitarist, would tragically but thankfully find more success in Britain, was brought over to the rainy island in September of 1966 by his manager Chas Chandler who was also the bass player for The Animals at the time. Hendrix would quickly establish himself as a sensational live performer through his relentless gigging at London clubs and from touring around the country.
He would release his first single, ‘Hey Joe’ in December of 1966 and then, later on, the dynamite hit ‘Purple Haze’ in March of 1967. Keith Richards’ girlfriend at the time, Linda Keith, would be responsible for expediting Hendrix’s career for two significant reasons. Much to Richards’ grievance, Linda gave Hendrix his white Fender Stratocaster, an instrument which would become Hendrix’s signature guitar. It was apparent that Linda Keith was either falling for Hendrix at the time or was just simply, as a blues aficionado herself, enamoured by his virtuosity and stage charisma. As Richards recalls in his autobiography, Life: “And then, so Linda says, she also picked up a copy of a demo I had of Tim Rose singing a song called ‘Hey Joe.’ And took that round to Roberta Goldstein’s, where Jimi was and played it to him. This is rock-and-roll history. So he got the song from me, apparently.” As Keef tells the story, the Stones’ leading bluesman would be responsible, by proxy, for jumpstarting Hendrix’s career.
Another clashing of worlds between rock legends took place on a fateful night at the Saville, on June 4th, 1967. Paul McCartney and George Harrison were in the audience as The Jimi Hendrix Experience headlined and played an electrifying set at the famous venue in London. Paul McCartney, who is a big admirer of Hendrix even to this day, still pays tribute by performing ‘Foxy Lady’. So naturally, it is no surprise that McCartney, with Ringo Starr, had already seen the Hendrix Experience play earlier in the year of ‘67 at the Bag O’ Nails Club.
Little did McCartney know, who was now attending the Saville show with Harrison, given that despite Sgt. Peppers only being released a few days prior, that Hendrix and his Experience group would kick the night off with his own rendition of the album’s opening self-titled track. Paul McCartney recalls the story: “Jimi was a sweetie, a very nice guy. I remember him opening at the Saville on a Sunday night, 4th June 1967. Brian Epstein used to rent it when it was usually dark on the Sunday. Jimi opened, the curtains flew back and he came walking forward, playing ‘Sgt. Pepper’, and it had only been released on Thursday so that was like the ultimate compliment.
“It’s still obviously a shining memory for me, because I admired him so much anyway, he was so accomplished. To think that that album had meant so much to him as to actually do it by the Sunday night, three days after the release. He must have been so into it, because normally it might take a day for rehearsal and then you might wonder whether you’d put it in, but he just opened with it. It’s a pretty major compliment in anyone’s book. I put that down as one of the great honours of my career. I mean, I’m sure he wouldn’t have thought of it as an honour, I’m sure he thought it was the other way round, but to me that was like a great boost.”
Below, watch Jimi Hendrix blow the audience out of the water with his rendition of ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. Right before he goes into it, he warns the audience: “Watch your ears.”