Who invented rock and roll? Ask Chuck Berry, he’ll tell you. It was Chuck Berry. Or was it Bill Haley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard? Muddy Waters? Robert Johnson? Maybe even Lead Belly? You didn’t, but if you asked me, I’d say that rock and roll, like country blues, came not from one lone hero but a matrix of black and white artists in the South—some with big names, some without—trading, stealing, licks, spotlights, and hairdos. Country crooners, bluesmen, refugees from jazz and gospel. Maybe looking to cash in, maybe not. Did the teeny-bopper star system kill rock and roll’s outlaw heart? Or was it Buddy Holly’s plane crash? Big Payola? There’s a million theories in a million books, look it up.
Who resurrected rock and roll? The Beatles? The Stones? If you ask me, and you didn’t, it was one man, Jimi Hendrix. Anyone who ever cried into their beer over Don McLean’s maudlin eulogy had only to listen to more Hendrix. He had it—the swagger, the hair, the trading, stealing, licks: from the blues, mostly, but also from whatever caught his ear. And just as those valorized giants of the fifties did, Hendrix covered his competition. Today, we bring you Hendrix playing The Beatles. Above, see him, Noel Redding, and Mitch Mitchell do “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in 1967, mere days after the song’s release. As our editor Dan Colman wrote in a previous post, “The album came out on a Friday, and by Sunday night, Jimi Hendrix learned the songs and opened his own show with a cover of the title track.” And, might we say, he made it his very own. “Watch out for your ears, okay?” says Hendrix to the crowd. Indeed.
Just above, from ‘round that same time, hear Hendrix and Experience cover “Day Tripper,” one of many recordings made for BBC Radio, collected on the album BBC Sessions. Fuzzed-out, blistering, booming rock and roll of the purest grade. And below? Why it’s an extremely drunk Jim Morrison and a super loose Hendrix jamming out “Tomorrow Never Knows,” or something vaguely like it. Morrison’s vocal contributions come to nothing more than slurred moaning. (He’s very vocal in another cut from this session, called alternately “Morrison’s Lament” and “F.H.I.T.A”—an acronym you’ll get after a listen to Morrison’s obscene refrain.)
This raw take comes from a jam sometime in 1968 at New York’s The Scene club. Also playing were The Scene house band The McCoys, bassist Harvey Brooks, and Band of Gypsy’s drummer Buddy Miles. Johnny Winter may or may not have been there. Released on bootlegs called Bleeding Heart, Sky High, and Woke Up This Morning and Found Myself Dead, these sessions are a must-hear for Hendrix completists and lovers of deconstructed virtuoso blues-rock alike. After what Hendrix did for, and to, rock and roll, there really was nowhere to go but back to the skeletal bones of punk or into the outer limits of avant psych-noise and fusion. Don McLean should have written a song about that.