Sunday, June 4, 2017

Sgt Pepper at the Saville Theater

It was 50 years ago today that Jimi Hendrix decided to play.....

I am sure that we have all heard the story about when Jimi Hendrix played "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" at the Saville Theater in 1967.   Paul McCartney was in the audience and he was so impressed that Jimi had learned the song so quickly and was willing to perform it in concert.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience on June 4, 1967

Paul says this in "Many Years from Now"  

It would be one of his first gigs in London. Jimi was a sweetie, a very nice guy. I remember him opening at the Saville on a Sunday night, 4 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 the 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.

Paul has told this story at just about every concert since 2010.  He adds to the story something about how Jimi  used the whammy bar on the song and his guitar got totally out of tune and he asked for help tuning it and Eric Clapton came and helped him out.

Let's take a little closer look at this classic story.....

1.  Was this really one of Jimi's first gigs in London?

No.    Jimi had been in London in January of 1967.     As a matter of fact, Paul had seen him at least twice during that time.    Once he and Ringo saw Jimi perform at the Bag o' Nails (January 11).   And on January 29, 1967 all of the Beatles and Mal and Cyn saw Jimi open for the The Who at the Saville Theater.

Many people claim this photo was from June 1967, but Paul has a mustache, which he had shaved off by June. 

So while it is true that June 4, 1967 was ONE of Jimi's first London performances, it wasn't the first time Paul had seen him perform.   Many assume that it was.

2.  Jimi had no idea that the Beatles would be there that night

No one really knows the answer to this one.    However, as Paul explains Brian Epstein would rent out the Saville on Sunday nights.   He had been doing this for several months.     Jimi would have known that Epstein owned the theater and that the members of the Beatles came to shows there frequently.    So while he wouldn't know for for certain if one or more of the Beatles would show up, he knew there was a chance.

So who did attend the show that night?  According to eye witness, Lizzie Bravo, who was there, Paul McCartney, Jane Asher, George Harrison, Pattie Boyd and Cynthia Lennon were at the concert.

Paul and Jane arrive for the concert 

3.  Did Jimi first hear "Sgt. Pepper" on a Friday and then perform it on a Sunday?

It makes for a great story.   Sgt. Pepper was released on June 1 and on the 4th Jimi Hendrix had memorized the entire song and worked it out well enough to perform it in front of an audience.   Sgt. Pepper was supposed to be released in the UK on June 1st.    However----for reasons that I am not 100% sure about, the release date was pushed up to May 26, 1967 and some fans even were able to purchase it on May 25.      Hendrix had been in London since October of 1966.   So he would have been able to get a copy of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club band anytime after May 26.   While learning the song in 8 days is still impressive, it isn't  the "3 days" that everyone always claims unless someone knows that June 1 was the date Jimi first heard the song.

Jimi shopping on Carnaby Street in June of 1967 

I am not even going to touch the whole "Eric Clapton tune my guitar" thing because Paul is the only person that has ever told that story.  


  1. Peter Asher just told a story about him, John, Paul and Dingo sitting in the royalbix at Brian's theater watching Hendrix play. He talked about it on Sirius. And he backed up Paul's story about SPLHCB being released a couple days prior to the show and the Hendrix Experience playing it at that show.

    1. Peter Asher and Mick Jagger were there on the 4th. I was at that concert and saw them. But... on the 4th of June it was Paul, Jane, George, Pattie and Cynthia. No John and Ringo. But Jimi played at the Saville at least one more time, because I saw him there twice.

  2. Great blog. We are detectives.

  3. Not to diminish the brilliance of the composers or Jimi Hendrix but, SPLHCB is not that hard if you are just playing the root chords and sort of knocking it out like I have heard Hendrix playing it on bootlegs. Speaking as a musician myself, I think it could have a been spur of the moment decision or even something they through together at soundcheck prior to the show.

  4. I recently learned of an interview with one of Jimi`s band member who said Jimi put on the record on his small record player in the dressing room and told the band that they are gonna do this song - so maybe it is even more of a feat - they learnt it right before-hand the show! Sorry, don`t remember where I picked that one up.

  5. As for the 'Eric Clapton, can you tune my guitar..'comment. I don't think it was literal. I liken this commment to John's '..the rest of you rattle your jewelry'. It was a direct shot at the Royalty in the audience.

  6. Jimi's Splhcb has only 3 chords.No middle eight.Just a jam in the middle of the song.Very easy to learn by a musician like Jimi.

  7. Absolutely true. The Experience version was only a vamp on three chords. Everyone can learn it in minutes. It was an impromptu tribute

  8. Thank you for this! I always thought the Paul and Jane pic was from the recordings of 'All You Need is Love' video, since she's wearing the same dress!

  9. Three days is plenty to learn Sgt. Pepper, especially if everyone in the world is playing it, as we know it was. It was ubiquitous. Plus, Jimi would skip the break and play "Strangers In The Night" or something else.

    But the "three days" is just Paul's assumption. He could have heard the album even before May 28; he was "in the biz" after all. Elvis Costello talks about getting Dick James publishing acetates of Beatle songs before they were released (his father was "in the biz") so, given Hendrix's connections to the entire British rock scene by June of '67, I wouldn't be surprised if perhaps he had already heard it.

    Jimi played the song alot throughout his career, so the fact that he didn't know McCartney was in the audience doesn't mean much (to me). "Pepper" was the song of the moment for the whole world (remember Paul getting telegrams saying "Long Live Sgt. Pepper!")...I think Jimi would have celebrated this breakthrough album either way. (he certainly employed lots of Pepper trickery on "Electric Ladyland!")

    Great to hash this out! The photos are amazing.....and of course, thanks to Lizzie Bravo for providing eyewitness accounts!

  10. And finally, of course, is the lack of production funds that is required to rent a theater space, to create a gorgeous stage and to market the show in popular media like television.Hamilton