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 (9)
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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.

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