An assortment of British guitar players (Townsend, Beck, Richards, and Clapton among them) were forced to reevaluate their musical stature when a whirlwind named Jimi Hendrix arrived in the UK. Managed by Animals bassist Chas Chandler, Hendrix had humbled the British music community since his London debut in the fall of 1966. While Jimi played one evening, the Rolling Stones' Brian Jones warned a fellow club-goer to not go too near the stage because "it's wet from all the guitar players crying," a reference to the British ax-men who were clearly envisioning their status as a part of the country's music elite washing away.
Jimi had also caught the ear of one of the Beatles; Paul McCartney caught a performance at the Bag O'Nails and, as a British advisor (along with Andrew Loog Oldham) to the '67 Monterey Pop Festival, recommended that Hendrix, in addition to the Who, be added to the roster of performers for the three-day American concert in mid-June 1967. Hendrix was to play two "farewell England" concert at London's Saville Theatre on Sunday, 4 June.
On that evening, thirty minutes before showtime, Hendrix ran to the backstage dressing room, toting a copy of the Beatles' newest record, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and told his Experience bandmates that they would open their set with the title track. Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding were shocked but recovered enough to listen to the record several times in order to learn the tune.
Two big reasons for the drummer's and bassist's disbelief:
1. Sgt. Pepper had been released in England on 1 June 1967, a mere three days before. Incidentally, it had blocked the Experience's debut Are You Experienced? from reaching number one on the album charts.
2. The Saville Theatre was owned by one Brian Epstein. The Beatles' manager. And Paul McCartney and George Harrison were seated in Epstein's box that evening, enjoying opening act Procol Harum as they waited for the Experience's performance.
In other words, this Hendrix kid had balls. Big ole brass ones. But he and his band also had the talent to pull off the cover, making the song their own. McCartney proclaimed it "one of the greatest honors of my career" and the Jimi Hendrix Experience rode the wave of such acclaim all the way to California.
Watch out for your ears!