“Sit down or I swear I’ll shoot! Sit down because what you’re about to see will make you give thanks to God.” That’s what the English singer Neil Landon said to the audience gathered at the Sgt. Peppers disco in Mallorca on 15 July 1968. There weren’t very many of them and almost all were British, with a few exceptions like some members of a Spanish group called Los Bravos. After that opening threat came the sounds of one of the best-known song beginnings in the history of rock: Hey Joe.
There’s more myth than reality about the only concert Jimi Hendrix gave in Spain: it’s been said that all the natives attended, that it was free, that it was monumental and historic, that a mysterious recording of it remains… Some of the people who saw him at the time in Mallorca, who heard him play or drank with him at the bar, didn’t know then that he was one of the best guitarists in history.
Ángel Mendoza Parra was one of the Mallorcans at Sgt. Peppers that night. He recognises that he saw Hendrix purely by chance: he had only gone to the disco “to stay up late and maybe dance” and says they let him in free. “He was playing and I came out of there saying to myself ‘I’ve seen a musician and can’t believe how he played.’ I was stunned, it was as if the guitar was talking, but I didn’t know who he was and I don’t think he was very well known around here. He was doing strange things with the guitar pointed upwards and it looked like he was going to fall down,” he adds.
Miquel Aguiló Pallicer wasn’t so lucky. He still recalls with sadness the reason he missed Jimi Hendrix almost half a century ago: “I couldn’t go because it cost 500 pesetas, which was exactly what I earned in a month. Nobody got in for free. Maybe what happened is that Jimi didn’t earn what he did at other concerts because the owner of the disco was the manager of The Animals and wanted to promote the place.” The people who did attend the concert, as well as the journalists who reported the event, applied adjectives far removed from the mythic, magic image that even today envelopes the event: ‘pathetic’, ‘frightful’, ‘unbearable’, ‘dreadful’. The reviewers in Diario de Mallorca even described it as “martyrdom for delicate eardrums.”
While playing Purple Haze, Hendrix jammed the headstock of his Stratocaster guitar into the ceiling of the disco he was inaugurating that night. The place was spectacular in comparison to others of the period. It had room for a thousand people, it released smoke and confetti, there were coloured lights… But the ceiling was apparently low enough so that he could put a hole in it without any problem. The image of Hendrix burning his guitar at the Monterrey Pop Festival had been widely seen, and it was too tempting to say that he left his mark in Mallorca too. But he also suffered small daily accidents and the ceiling was too close by and weak.
Hendrix had arrived on the island the day before, but the musicians in his band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, had already been there a week, playing in jam sessions with Los Bravos. The day after the concert they were supposed to perform in Madrid, but there was such an uproar in Mallorca that the engagement was cancelled.
After the cancellation in Madrid, Hendrix and his musicians had some holidays on the island. The music journalist Tomeu Canyelles wrote that they “went to the kart races on S’Arenal and the bullfights starring El Cordobés. They could be seen every day eating dinner in the El Terreno neighbourhood, or strolling around the Plaza Gomila.”
One night Hendrix came back to Sgt. Peppers to watch Z-66, the Mallorcan band of the moment. He told the public relations officer he wanted to join them, and went on stage. Without his Stratocaster, he grabbed a Les Paul guitar and played several blues songs with Lorenzo Santamaría’s band. “His concert had been an outrage, he put a whole in the plaster ceiling with his guitar, and the next night, when we were working, he showed up and started playing blues. We repeated another day. I didn’t even dare sing, I was so scared.” That’s how Santamaría described it in 2012, in an interview with El Periódico.
The short film Niño Vudú, by Toni Bestard, continued to create a mythic aura around Jimi Hendrix’s visit to Mallorca. There are still people who say there’s a recording of the concert at Sgt. Peppers, that it was stolen, that it disappeared, that nobody has seen it. Lorenzo Santamaría is sure such a recording exists and that it must be somewhere. Then the myth was born… and continues to grow.