The Beatles were the first choice to headline Woodstock but the band declined the position, suggesting Jimi Hendrix replace them…
During the years leading up to 1969, The Beatles had given up on playing live after a problematic farewell tour of Asia and the USA. The band, led by McCartney and Lennon, and a newly inspired George Harrison, finished work on their seminal album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Beatlemania, despite the band’s insistence that it would no longer play live, was still very much in full swing. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band sold 250,000 copies in its first week on sale, cementing it as one of the fastest-selling records of all time. Critics and music lovers alike adored the album too, calling it a “cultural event” of significant importance.
That Time Jimi Hendrix Covered The Beatles
But for Paul McCartney, the highest praise would come from Jimi Hendrix. McCartney caught a Hendrix show in London in 1967 where Hendrix did a cover of the album’s title track. McCartney said this was the “highest honor of his career”. Hendrix allegedly spent a week working on his rendition of the track, knowing that McCartney and Harrison would be in attendance.
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 Sunday. Jimi opened, the curtains flew back and he came walking forward, playing ‘Sgt. Pepper’, and it had only been released on Thursday so that was like the ultimate compliment.Paul McCartney
By 1969, Hendrix had changed his opinion of The Beatles. He still respected them as songwriters and performers but when asked in an interview what he thought of the band at the time, he responded by saying they were very much part of “the establishment” – a comment likely born from his preference for their earlier work.
By contrast, McCartney only had nice things to say about Hendrix and, unbeknownst to Hendrix, it would be McCartney that would play an integral role in propelling the then relatively unknown guitarist from small, sweaty clubs to global fame. And the story of how this happened involves the organizers of Woodstock, the rock band The Mamas and Papas, and, of course, The Beatles’ staunch refusal to ever play live again.
The Beatles Were Supposed To Headline Woodstock
By 1969, the hippy culture had gone mainstream on both sides of the Atlantic. Free love, LSD, weed, and music were mainstream activities for youngsters. Despite Hendrix’s claim that The Beatles were part of the establishment, the band’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band became embedded in the new LSD-powered zeitgeist.
As plans were made for a massive outdoor music event in America, a festival in today’s parlance, the organizers of the event started thinking about potential bands to headline the event.
The Beatles, at this point, were still the biggest band in the world, so John Phillips, singer in The Mamas and Papas and co-organizer of Woodstock, flew out to London to ask Paul McCartney if The Beatles would headline Woodstock.
How Jimi Hendrix Got The Woodstock Gig
As the story goes, Paul was very much up for the idea. But he knew that George and John, weary from their last world tour, would never go for it, so he declined Phillips’ offer. Before Phillips left, though, McCartney suggested that he approach Jimi Hendrix about headlining the event. After all, Woodstock was an American festival, so what better way to conclude it than with an American band?
Hendrix, of course, accepted Phillips’ offer to headline Woodstock and the rest, as they say, is history. Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock performance is one of the most iconic and famous live shows of all time. It also served to propel Hendrix from a club-level musician to a world-famous performer, cementing him as one of the greatest guitarists of all time.
The only thing that makes this story even more interesting is that had The Beatles agreed to headline Woodstock, Hendrix might never have been exposed to the world as he was during this most iconic performance, and if had that happened he might never have progressed out of London’s club scene.
Lucky breaks come in all shapes and sizes, but to get one off of the back of the world’s biggest band gives an entirely new meaning to the phrase. From here, Hendrix quickly became a household name, a favorite of the counterculture, and one of the most iconic characters the music scene has ever produced.
And a large part of this was down to The Beatles. Crazy, right?