Jimi Hendrix Plays “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” for The Beatles, Just Three Days After the Album’s Release (1967)

There are many ways to cel­e­brate a new album from a band you admire. You can have a lis­ten­ing par­ty alone. You can have a lis­ten­ing par­ty with friends. You can learn the title track in a cou­ple days and play it onstage while the band you admire sits in the audi­ence. That last one might be overkill. Unless you’re Jimi Hen­drix. Hen­drix was so excit­ed after the UK release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lone­ly Hearts Club Band in 1967 that he opened a set at London’s Sav­ille The­ater with his own, Hen­drix-ified ren­di­tion of the album’s McCart­ney-penned title song. In the audi­ence: McCart­ney and George Har­ri­son.

It’s a loose, good-natured trib­ute that, as you might imag­ine, made quite an impres­sion on the Bea­t­les in atten­dance. “It’s still obvi­ous­ly a shin­ing mem­o­ry for me,” McCart­ney recalled many years lat­er, “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.

McCart­ney fre­quent­ly rem­i­nisces about that night. See him do so in the clip above from an August, 2010 con­cert. Mac­ca gush­es over Hendrix’s solo, then tells the audi­ence how Jimi—having thrown his gui­tar out of tune dur­ing the solo with his wham­my bar dive-bombing—asked Eric Clap­ton to come onstage and retune for him.

Clap­ton, who McCart­ney says was actu­al­ly in the audi­ence, demurred. It’s a sto­ry he con­tin­ues to tell–in fact, as recent­ly as this week­end at Old­chel­la.

One lin­ger­ing ques­tion is whether or not Hen­drix knew there were Bea­t­les present that night. NME and the BBC both say he did not. In a recre­ation of the moment, above, from the 2013 fic­tion­al­ized biopic Jimi: All is by My Side, Hen­drix (played by André Ben­jamin) knows. Not only that, but he decides to open with “Sgt. Pepper’s” right before the gig, with no rehearsal, over the stren­u­ous objec­tions of Noel Red­ding, who thinks the Bea­t­les might be insult­ed. It’s high­ly doubt­ful things went down that way at all. (The scene takes oth­er licenses—note the Fly­ing V instead of the white Stra­to­cast­er Hen­drix actu­al­ly played). But it makes for some inter­est­ing back­stage dra­ma in the film.

In any case, I’d guess that Hendrix—“the coolest guy in the world,” as Ben­jamin called him—would have pulled off the cov­er with panache, whether he knew McCart­ney was watch­ing or not. There may be lit­tle left to say about Hen­drix’s bril­liant gui­tar the­atrics, com­plete­ly inno­v­a­tive play­ing style, onstage swag­ger, and pow­er­ful song­writ­ing. But his “Sgt. Pepper’s” cov­er is an exam­ple of one of his less-dis­cussed, but high­ly admirable qual­i­ties: his gen­uine­ly awe­some rock and roll col­le­gial­i­ty.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Jimi Hen­drix Opens for The Mon­kees on a 1967 Tour; Then After 8 Shows, Flips Off the Crowd and Quits

Jimi Hen­drix Plays the Delta Blues on a 12-String Acoustic Gui­tar in 1968, and Jams with His Blues Idols, Bud­dy Guy & B.B. King

Jimi Hen­drix Wreaks Hav­oc on the Lulu Show, Gets Banned From BBC (1969)

Jimi Hendrix’s Final Inter­view on Sep­tem­ber 11, 1970: Lis­ten to the Com­plete Audio

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (10)
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  • John Dante says:

    Love it! Almost a punk ver­sion, but with great gui­tar licks

  • Daniel J says:

    At 14 yrs of age, we only heard about that event via “grapevine.”
    Nonethe­less, his music was cir­cling the plan­et, but more so than oth­er spec­tac­u­lar bands of the day.
    By degrees, espe­cial­ly since incep­tion of inter­net (so old, so quick — lol), Jim­i’s bril­liance is exem­pli­fied and can be appre­ci­at­ed more than ever.
    When he left us I was sev­en­teen (remem­ber like yes­ter­day), the rush felt upon lis­ten­ing to his musi­cal cre­ations caus­es me to imag­ine pos­si­bil­i­ties that could have been.
    Excel­lent music now, lots of it influ­enced by “The Expe­ri­ence.”
    Thank you

  • Mads says:

    Fun­ny though it does not look like jimi uses the wham­my bar at all dur­ing the song so I guess Paul mix the events of the events of the evening.

  • rechill says:

    They half-assed play­ing this song and did­n’t even play any of the parts that would been impres­sive. I guess to non-musi­cians this seems like a mag­i­cal event but it’s real­ly not much of any­thing at all. At this point, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing the mis­takes in the eas­i­est parts of this song, I do believe that they per­formed this with­out rehearsal.

  • Timmer says:

    I can see where some­one would say hen­drix just ‘half-assed’ the song but was­n’t that his his genius. Tell me you could play a ver­sion of a song- same time it comes out on record, make it sound great and have it look like its a throw-away. His abil­i­ty to play pret­ty much any song as if the song was less than pol­ished, a throw-away effort– reflect­ed his true great­ness. Stop look­ing too hard at things- mak­ing some­thing look and sound effort­less is tru­ly a great skill !!!!!!!!!!!

  • Steve Ardire says:

    The best cov­er ever of Sgt. Pepper’s Lone­ly Hearts Club Band

  • Bo Jansson says:

    This clip is not from the occa­tion McCart­ney men­sions… that could explain it.

  • Hugh McManners says:

    Bands at that time were always play­ing oth­er peo­ple’s songs. Hen­drix had played cov­ers gigs for years, and Sgt Pep­per’s although

  • Hugh McManners says:

    a great rock song, isn’t dif­fi­cult. Also, Hen­drix cer­tain­ly did play a Fly­ing Vee — and oth­er gui­tars apart from Strats.

  • don daymont says:

    I was also 17 and just bought Elec­tric Lady­land an 2 months before. He was already a musi­cal hero to me and was pret­ty dev­as­tat­ed. Still lis­ten to his music a lot.

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