Tuesday, July 25, 2017

10 Best Guest Performances on Beatles Records

by Jim Beviglia, Culture Sonar: http://www.culturesonar.com/beatles-records-guest-performances/

They were known as the Fab Four, and it usually took only John, Paul, George and Ringo to create musical magic. But, every once in a while, The Beatles looked outside the core four for others to help them out. Occasionally they didn’t know how to play whatever instrument the song required. Other times it was a matter of improving band dynamics by bringing in an outside artist as a kind of special guest. Many of the names on this list may be obscure to all but the most hardcore Beatle fans, but all of their contributions were essential to some of the most memorable songs in the band’s esteemed catalog.

1. Andy White on “Love Me Do” (1962)
Even though Ringo Starr was already a band member, session drummer White handled the skins on the recording of the band’s first-ever single release as The Beatles. It’s not the most complicated song for drummers — and Starr played it just fine on the album version — but White, at the very least, didn’t get in the way of it becoming a Top 20 hit in Britain, assuring the band would get another shot in the studio. They would turn that shot into the smash hit “Please Please Me,” starting Beatlemania in earnest.
2. Johnnie Scott on “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” (1965)
John Lennon’s beautiful, bereft ballad from the Help! soundtrack received an integral instrumental assist from an unlikely source when Scott added a flute part at the song’s end. That little bit of the exotic took the song from being just a typical acoustic waltz with Dylanesque tendencies and transformed it into something a bit more mysterious and unique.
3. George Martin on “In My Life” (1965)
This classic ballad caused a stir in later years when both Lennon and McCartney claimed to have done the bulk of the writing. What can’t be denied is that the baroque piano solo played midway was a bit more involved than any of the group members could handle. Martin couldn’t quite do it either, but his idea to play the solo half-speed and then speed up the tape was just what the song ordered.
4. Alan Civil on “For No One” (1966)
One of McCartney’s most heartbreaking slow ones on Revolver gets a big boost from the French horn played by Civil in the instrumental break. Civil reportedly chafed at McCartney’s insistence on extra takes, but it paid off; his part captured the wounded dignity of the song’s hapless protagonist, who seems to be the last one to know that his love is imploding and there’s nothing he can do about it.
5. David Mason on “Penny Lane” (1967)
During the early sessions for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, McCartney was mesmerized by a high-pitched trumpet one night while watching a television performance of a Bach piece. He decided then and there that it would be just the thing to embellish this song detailing childhood memories of Liverpool, so Mason added the majestic flourish of the piccolo trumpet.
6. Anna Joshi, Amrit Gajjar, Buddhadev Kansara, Natwar Soni on “Within You Without You” (1967)
Harrison’s lone composition on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band brilliantly melded his fascination with Eastern music with his grasp of Western song structure. The Indian musicians listed above managed to create a hypnotic rhythmic foundation from which Harrison’s wending melody springs, creating an aural experience unlike anything most Beatle fans had encountered up to that point.
7. Eric Clapton on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (1968)
Harrison was apparently fed up by bickering between band members and brought in Clapton, already a legend on electric guitar, to do the weeping guitar bit in this brooding standout off The White Album. Clapton managed to deliver an anguished bit of guitar commentary on Harrison’s enigmatic lyrics and did so without pulling the song out of The Beatles’ comfort zone.
8. Chris Thomas on “Piggies” (1968)
Thomas was deputized as temporary band producer while George Martin took a brief vacation during the sessions for The White Album. He also stepped in to play the harpsichord on Harrison’s satire of greed and excess. The Victorian feel of the instrument is the perfect counterpoint to Harrison’s story of swine that turn on their own and need a “damn good whacking.”
9. Billy Preston on “Get Back” (1970)
Here was another situation where Harrison tried to make the other Beatles play nice by bringing in a respected musician from outside the group to defuse some of the tension. The group loved Preston’s work so much that he ended up playing keyboards all over the songs from the Let It Be sessions. Perhaps his most memorable and soulful turn comes on McCartney’s boogeying hit single.
10. Brian Jones on “You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)” (1970)
Jones had already passed away by the time this long-in-gestation, comic B-side was released in 1970. But his squawking saxophone solo is a fitting way to end this list. After all, his ability to play a variety of unusual instruments, including marimba, sitar and flute, meant that The Rolling Stones, The Beatles’ chief rivals for British Invasion supremacy, rarely needed guest musicians for the special flourishes in their songs.
– This is Jim Beviglia‘s first post for CultureSonar. Welcome!
PS. Some of the above names are in the mix in our post In Search of The Real Fifth Beatle. What do you think? Plus, you may also enjoy our posts The New “Sgt. Pepper” Box Set Is Truly Super-Deluxe and Ringo’s Replacement Gets a Big Screen Treatment.
Photo credit: Keystone/Stringer (courtesy Getty Images)

Monday, July 17, 2017

VIDEOS: Psychedelic Scenes of Pink Floyd’s Early Days with Syd Barrett, 1967

by Mike Springer, Open Culture: http://www.openculture.com/2013/09/psychedelic-scenes-of-pink-floyds-early-days-with-syd-barrett-1967.html

Roger Waters of Pink Floyd turns 70 years old today. Waters was the principal songwriter and dominant creative force during the band's famous 1970s period, when it released a string of popular and influential concept albums such as Dark Side of the MoonWish You Were Here and The Wall. But today we thought it would be interesting to take you all the way back to 1967, when Waters was 23 years old and the band was led by his childhood friend Syd Barrett.
The video above is from a May 14, 1967 broadcast of the BBC program The Look of the Week. Pink Floyd hadn't released an album yet. Only two nights earlier the band had staged its attention-getting "Games for May" concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. In the TV broadcast, Pink Floyd plays its early favorite "Astronomy Domine" before Waters and Barrett sit down for a rather tense interview with the classically trained musician and critic Hans Keller. It's amusing to watch Keller's face as he expresses his extreme irritation at the band's loud, strange music. "My verdict is that its a little bit of a regression to childhood," he says with a grimace. "But after all, why not?"
Waters and Barrett manage to hold their own during the interview. Barrett comes across as lucid and well-spoken, despite the fact that his heavy LSD use and mental instability would soon make him unable to function within the band. By December of 1967, Pink Floyd would add guitarist David Gilmour to the lineup to compensate for Barrett's erratic behavior. By March of 1968 -- only 10 months after the BBC broadcast -- Barrett would quit the group.
We'll close with an even earlier video of Pink Floyd onstage. Filmed on January 27, 1967 at the legendary UFO club in London, the clip is from the February 7, 1967 Granada TV documentary So Far Out It's Straight Down. It shows the band playing another major song from its psychedelic era, "Interstellar Overdrive."

Friday, July 14, 2017

VIDEOS: Miles Davis Opens for Neil Young and “That Sorry-Ass Cat” Steve Miller at The Fillmore East (1970)

by  , Open Culture: http://www.openculture.com/2015/05/miles-davis-opens-for-neil-young-and-the-steve-miller-band-1970.html

The story, the many stories, of Miles Davis as an opening act for several rock bands in the 1970s make for fascinating reading. Before he blew the Grateful Dead’s minds as their opening act at the Fillmore West in April 1970 (hear both bands’ sets here), Davis and his all-star Quintet---billed as an "Extra Added Attraction"---did a couple nights at the Fillmore East, opening for Neil Young and Crazy Horse and The Steve Miller Band in March of 1970. The combination of Young and Davis actually seems to have been rather unremarkable, but there is a lot to say about where the two artists were individually.
Nate Chinen in at Length describes their meeting as a “minimum orbit intersection distance”—the “closest point of contact between the paths of two orbiting systems.” Both artists were “in the thrall of reinvention,” Young moving away from the smoothness of CSNY and into free-form anti-virtuosity with Crazy Horse; Davis toward virtuosity turned back into the blues. Miles, suggested jazz writer Greg Tate, was “bored fiddling with quantum mechanics and just wanted to play the blues again.” The story of Davis and Young at the Fillmore East is best told by listening to the music both were making at the time. Hear "Cinnamon Girl" below and the rest of Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s incredible set here. The band had just released their beautifully ragged Everybody Knows this is Nowhere.
When it comes to the meeting of Davis and Steve Miller, the story gets juicier, and much more Miles: the difficult performer, not the impossibly cool musician. (It sometimes seems like the word “difficult” was invented to describe Miles Davis.) The trumpeter's well-earned egotism lends his legacy a kind of rakish charm, but I don’t relish the positions of those record company executives and promoters who had to wrangle him, though many of them were less than charming individuals themselves. Columbia Records’ Clive Davis, who does not have a reputation as a pushover, sounds alarmed in his recollection of Miles’ reaction after he forced the trumpeter to play the Fillmore dates to market psychedelic jazz-funk masterpiece Bitches Brew to white audiences.
According to John Glatt, Davis remembers that Miles “went nuts. He told me he had no interest in playing for ‘those fu*king long-haired kids.’” Particularly offended by The Steve Miller Band, Davis refused to arrive on time to open for an artist he deemed “a sorry-ass cat,” forcing Miller to go on before him. “Steve Miller didn’t have his shit going for him,” remembers Davis in his expletive-filled autobiography, “so I’m pissed because I got to open for this non-playing motherfu*ker just because he had one or two sorry-ass records out. So I would come late and he would have to go on first and then when we got there, we smoked the motherfu*king place, and everybody dug it.” There is no doubt Davis and Quintet smoked. Hear them do “Directions” above from an Early Show on March 6, 1970.
“Directions,” from unreleased tapes, is as raw as they come, “the intensity,” writes music blog Willard’s Wormholes, “of a band that sounds like they were playing at the The Fillmore to prove something to somebody… and did.” The next night’s performances were released in 2001 as It’s About That Time. Hear the title track above from March 7th. As for The Steve Miller Blues Band? We have audio of their performance from that night as well. Hear it below. It's inherently an unfair comparison between the two bands, not least because of the vast difference in audio quality. But as for whether or not they sound like “sorry-ass cats"... well, you decide.
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Monday, July 3, 2017

ALBUM REVIEW: "Freewheelin' by Bob Dylan

Getty Images
If there is one principle true for all great art, it is that repeat visits reward with new insights. This is as true for great pop records as it is for great paintings, great books and great films. Case in point: Bob Dylan’s sophomore album Freewheelin’. I just re-listened to this LP for the umpteenth time (which means that I’ve heard this recording I don’t know how many times over the past four decades) and it never fails to offer something new. In Dylan’s expansive catalog, I’m hard-pressed to name another record better than this one. And I’ve tried them all.
Freewheelin’ was the follow-up to Dylan’s eponymous 1962 debut — an album that sold so poorly that Dylan was nicknamed “Hammond’s Folly” by execs at Columbia Records. But whereas his debut showcased Dylan in full Woody Guthrie mode (and still making wild claims about a mythical childhood in the Southwest or raised by wolves in the Black Hills of the Dakotas), Freewheelin’ is where Bob Dylan actually finds his voice. It’s here that he puts the finishing touches on his persona by adding touches of James Dean and Marlon Brando to Guthrie 2.0 and Ramblin’ Jack.
And regarding the LP’s most famous song… Just as some “true” Beatles fans identify themselves by denigrating Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Dylan elitists tend to dismiss “Blowin’ in the Wind.” In truth, “Blowin’ in the Wind” rates among the greatest American songs of the 20th Century. I imagine it gets the short shrift now because it’s joined the ranks of anthems like “Amazing Grace” and “We Shall Overcome,” yet on an album of major and minor masterpieces, “Blowin’ in the Wind” really does remain the jewel in the crown.
But the rest of the album has many high points: “Girl of the North Country” has near-perfect lyrics; “Down the Highway” is classic country blues; and “Bob Dylan’s Blues” plays the essential role of releasing some air from the profundity balloon. As for “A Hard Rain…,” yes, it’s based on an old Scottish ballad, but it stands there, with one foot in the 17th Century and the other in the 20th. It encompasses Kerouac, Ginsberg, and the Beats and who knows how many other references and when it first was released people were absolutely dumbfounded by it, just like they must have reacted to hearing Charlie Parker for the first time, or Bill Monroe.
“A Hard Rain” is actually the big bang of the singer-songwriter movement; a tune that set the standard for folk authenticity and made writing and singing original material a requirement for artistic legitimacy. Not that Freewheelin’ ends there but you’ll have to sort out for yourself the rankings of unforgettable “Don’t Think Twice,” the satiric “Talkin’ WWIII,” and the revelatory “Corrina, Corrina.”
And then there’s the album’s amazing cover: a simple photo of Bob and his girlfriend walking down a winter street in the Village, which somehow manages to encompass the vague and uncertain concept of “freewheelin'” that gave the LP its name. To be freewheelin’ seems to have something to do with your relationship to the future. If the defining characteristic of what is now called “THE SIXTIES” was an ability to imagine a future as something other than the simple extension of the present then the sixties start here, in those boots, those jeans, that jacket and this amazing album.
– Stan Denski
Photo credit:  Keystone Features (courtesy Getty Images)

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

VIDEO: What Miles Davis Taught Herbie Hancock: In Music, as in Life, There Are No Mistakes, Just Chances to Improvise

by Ted Mills, Open Culture: http://www.openculture.com/2016/04/what-miles-davis-taught-herbie-hancock-about-mistakes-and-improvising.html

One of my favorite Brian Eno quotes, or rather one that became an Oblique Strategy, is “Honor Your Mistake as a Hidden Intention.” (Or to be pedantic, the original version was “Honor Thy Error...”).
As a teenager growing up and trying to make art (at that time music and comics) there was no advice more freeing. It was the opposite of what I thought I knew: mistakes were shameful, the sign of an amateur or of the lack of practice. But the more art I made, the more I referenced Eno’s idea, and the more I read and listened, the more I realized it wasn’t just Eno. The Beatles left in an alarm clock meant for the musicians on “A Day in the Life” and the sound of empty booze bottles vibrating on a speaker was left in at the end of “Long Long Long” (along with tons more). The Beastie Boys left in a jumping needle intended for a smooth scratch on “The Sounds of Science.” Radiohead left in Jonny Greenwood’s warm-up chord that became essential to “Creep.” (There’s a whole Reddit thread devoted to these mistakes if you choose to go down the rabbit hole.)
But those examples relate to the recording process of rock music. What about jazz? Surely there’s “wrong” notes when it comes to playing, especially if you’re not the soloist.
In this very short video based around an interview with pianist Herbie Hancock, the master improvisor Miles Davis honored Hancock’s mistake as a hidden intention by playing along with it. It’s both a surprising look into the arcane world of jazz improvisation and a revealing anecdote of Davis, usually known as a difficult collaborator.
“It taught me a very big lesson not only about music,” says Hancock, “but about life.”
h/t Jason W-R

Monday, June 19, 2017

Classic Album Series #19: The Rolling Stones – "Let It Bleed"

Released six months after the death of founding member Brian Jones, Let It Bleed saw The Rolling Stones evolve musically and set the foundation for their next four albums with replacement guitarist Mick Taylor. He only features on two of the songs on Let It Bleed but their sound over the next six years would change drastically compared to what came before and it all started with this legendary album.
Gimme Shelter is the opening song and it can be considered one of the greatest songs of all time without question. Everything about this song is perfect from the delicate opening riff to the roaring backing vocals from Merry Clayton who absolutely nails it. The way the song builds and builds is absolutely exquisite and the song remains to this day their greatest ever album opener. 

A cover of the Robert Johnson song Love In Vain comes next which has echoes of their previous album Beggars Banquet due to the acoustic nature. A lot of artists were covering Robert Johnson songs during this particular period in music history, especially blues/rock bands. It doesn’t quite beat the excellence of Cream’s Crossroads cover but it’s certainly one of the best from this period.

Jagger on lead vocals is excellent as always and Richards delivers a gorgeous slide guitar solo. Mick Taylor makes his first appearance on a Rolling Stones album on the next song, Country Honk, where he plays slide guitar. The band released an electric rock version of the song earlier in 1969 called Honky Tonk Women which is an incredible song, but this country version is how the song was originally written according to Keith Richards.

  1. Gimme Shelter
  2. Love In Vain
  3. Country Honk
  4. Live With Me
  5. Let It Bleed
  6. Midnight Rambler
  7. You Got The Silver
  8. Monkey Man
  9. You Can’t Always Get What You Want
The fourth song is Live With Me, the second and final song on the album to feature Mick Taylor who plays rhythm guitar. This song is definitely more in the Gimme Shelter template that the two previous acoustic tracks, and that’s extremely welcome. Richards lays down some catchy riffs and Wyman on bass shows why he was and is one of the most respected bassists of all time. It’s a great track with Bobby Keys supplying a gorgeous sax solo. 
The title track, Let It Bleed, follows which takes the same acoustic route as two of the previous four songs. It’s a nice song but it’s probably my least favourite on the whole album. 
Midnight Rambler injects the album with another dose of electric blues. This song is my second favorite on the album after Gimme Shelter, but it’s a close one. The song really gives another good indication of where the band would go musically on the next few albums, with thick guitar sounds, wailing harp, driving bass alongside Jagger’s flourishing front man performances all front and centre. It’s superb, especially when you bare in mind that Taylor doesn’t even feature on this song. It does feature Brian Jones on congas though, although his influence on their songs at this point was minimal to none.
Keith Richards sings I Got The Silver, the first time he’d take lead vocals on a Rolling Stones song without help from Jagger. The slide guitar playing on this song is very good, one of the highlights from the whole album without a doubt. And Richards taking lead vocals adds another dimension to the album, something that would continue on future albums the band would release. 
Monkey Man is the second to last song which has a chord progression to die for. The bass and piano intro adds to the overall flavour, before guitar and then drums come in to complete the mixture. This probably isn’t one of the songs that immediately stands out when you think of Let It Bleed but in my opinion it’s definitely one of the best. 
The final song is You Can’t Always Get What You Want which at times you almost forget is on the album, as it’s definitely more well known as a standalone single. But it’s a great song nevertheless and acts as a fantastic album closer. Let It Bleed would be the last album the Rolling Stones released in the 1960’s, and their songs wouldn’t sound this innocent ever again. The addition of a choir adds that innocent feel to the song. The 60’s were ending and the 70’s were about to begin. It’s a great song to listen to when you have that in mind. A perfect ending not only to the album, but to the decade.
Let It Bleed is an excellent album. Even though Mick Taylor only features on two of the nine songs, the new direction the band takes is obvious to hear. Brian Jones was such a huge presence in the band during his tenure so his absence was obviously going to cause the band to go in another direction. That direction included stinging riffs, electric blues solo guitar, wailing harmonica and Jagger stepping up and demanding the attention of everyone in the audiences. It all started with this album.

Monday, June 12, 2017

VIDEOS: Muddy Waters and Friends on the Blues and Gospel Train, 1964

One of the most unique and intimate concerts from the British blues revival of the 1960s was the "Blues and Gospel Train," filmed in a suburb of Manchester, England. In 2011 we posted an excerpt featuring Muddy Waters singing "You Can't Lose What You Ain't Never Had." Today we're pleased to bring the whole show--or at least most of it.
The "Blues and Gospel Train" was staged on May 7, 1964 by Granada TV. Fans who were lucky enough to get tickets--some 200 of them--were instructed to meet at Manchester's Central Station at 7:30 that evening for a short train ride to the abandoned Wilbraham Road Station in Whalley Range.

When the train pulled in at Wilbraham Road, the audience poured out and found seats on the platform, making their way past Muddy Waters, who was singing "Blow Wind Blow." The opposite platform, decorated to look like an old railway station in the American South, served as a stage for a lineup of now-legendary blues artists including Waters, Sister Rosetta SharpeSonny Terry & Brownie McGheeCousin JoeOtis Spann and Reverend Gary Davis.
The complete concert is available on DVD as part of American Folk -Blues Festival: The British Tours 1963-1966. The version above is not of the greatest quality, but it's still interesting to watch. Rev. Gary Davis's contribution appears to have been cut, but much of the show is intact. The taping was interrupted by a heavy downpour. Fittingly, Sister Rosetta Tharpe begins her set with a performance of "Didn't It Rain." Here's the full list of performances, in order of appearance:
  1. Muddy Waters: "Blow Wind Blow"
  2. Cousin Joe: "Chicken a la Blues"
  3. Cousin Joe: "Railroad Porter Blues"
  4. Sister Rosetta Tharpe: "Didn't It Rain"
  5. Sister Rosetta Tharpe: "Trouble in Mind"
  6. Muddy Waters: "You Can't Lose What You Ain't Never Had"
  7. Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee: "Talking Harmonica Blues"
  8. Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee: "Rambler's Blues" medley
  9. Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee: "Walk On"
  10. Sister Rosetta Tharpe: "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands"
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Monday, June 5, 2017

VIDEO: Jerry Garcia Talks About the Birth of the Grateful Dead and Playing Kesey’s Acid Tests in New Animated Video

by Josh Jones, Open Culture: http://www.openculture.com/2013/11/jerry-garcia-talks-about-the-birth-of-the-grateful-dead.html

Before the Grateful Dead recorded their classic eponymous country psych album, before they were the Grateful Dead, they were the Warlocks, “playing the divorcees bars up and down the peninsula,” Jerry Garcia tells us above. Their booking agent “used to book strippers and dog acts and magicians and everybody else.” Their first few gigs “sounded like hell,” says Garcia, “very awful.” In this Blank-on-Blank-animated 1988 interview with former Capital-EMI record executive Joe Smith, Garcia gets into the origin of their name (a story involving the East Coast Warlocks, who might have sued. What he doesn’t mention is that the Velvet Underground—inventors of East Coast psych—also played at that time as the Warlocks.)
Smith was with Warner Bros. when the Dead were signed in 1967. His relationship with the band then was frustrated, and he went so far as to call the recording of their second album “the most unreasonable project with which we have ever involved ourselves.” But this conversation is a funny, cordial exchange between two very affable people with surprisingly good memories of the time (Smith also once said the Dead “could have put me in the hospital for the rest of my life”). Jerry tells the story of their invitation to Merry Prankster and psychedelic genius Ken Kesey’s acid test parties in La Honda, California. It’s more or less the history of the West Coast acid rock scene and its apotheosis at Haight-Ashbury, so kind of essential watching, I’d say, but at less than six minutes, you can afford to be the judge.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Road Goes on Forever: RIP Gregg Allman

by Tom Caswell: 
I’m filled with great sadness as I write this knowing that one of my musical heroes, Gregg Allman, has passed away. The Allman Brothers Band are one of my favourite bands of all time and the world has certainly lost a visionary.
Gregg’s work with The Allman Brothers Banda band formed by his older brother Duane in 1969, is exceptional on every level. And it certainly wouldn’t be out of the question to call him one of the greatest singers of all time. When you listen back to live recordings of the Allman Brothers from 1970/1971 it’s hard to imagine that experienced, raw and steady voice is coming from a 24 year old. But it is, it was. His talent put him ahead of the pack as a singer and as a songwriter he was excellent as well.
Gregg leaves behind a wealth of material that includes twelve studio albums with The Allman Brothers, six studio albums as a solo artist, and numerous live albums. Some of his most well known songs include Dreams, Melissa, Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’, Queen Of Hearts, Wasted Words, Come And Go Blues and Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More to name just a few. Even though The Allman Brothers Band would go through numerous lineup changes over the years, starting in 1971 after Duane’s death, Gregg’s influence remained and lasted throughout every incarnation of the band right up until their last show in 2014.
One of Gregg’s finest songs is Midnight Rider which was released on the second Allman Brothers studio album Idlewild South in 1970. I don’t think there any any words to describe how great this song, it’s best just to listen to it.
When you look back at certain decades there are always a number of musicians or bands that stand out over the rest, the poster bands for the decade. The 60’s include The Beatles, Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The 70’s include Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones and The Allman Brothers Band. Gregg Allman was at the forefront of the success the band acquired with his songwriting, singing and hammond organ playing being a major part of some of the best music ever recorded and played.
I end my post with one of my all time favourite performances by anyone, ever. An acoustic version of Come And Go Blues which Gregg performed on the TV show Flo & Eddie. The first time I heard this I was blown away and every time I listen to it I get goosebumps. The world has lost a music legend.
RIP Gregg Allman. 8th December 1947 – 27th May 2017.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

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