Song of the Day: Little Wing by Jimi Hendrix

two different lights by agnes-cecile

Little Wing” is a song written by Jimi Hendrix. It was first recorded by The Jimi Hendrix Experience on their 1967 album Axis: Bold as Love. It is ranked #366 onRolling Stone magazine’s list of “the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.

Lyrics:

Well she’s walking through the clouds
With a circus mind
That’s running wild
Butterflies and zebras and moonbeams
And fairly tales

That’s all she ever thinks about

Riding the wind

When I’m sad she comes to me
With a thousand smiles
She gives to me free

It’s alright, she says
It’s alright
Take anything you want from me
Anything

Fly on, little wing

……

Hendrix spoke to a Swedish journalist about the song in January 1968, saying “Well, that was one song on there we did a lot of sound on, you know. We put the guitar through the Leslie speaker of an organ, and it sounds like jelly bread, you know….It’s based on a very, very simple American Indian style, you know, very simple. I got the idea like, when we was in Monterey, and I just happened to…just looking at everything around. So I figured that I take everything I see around and put it maybe in the form of a girl maybe, something like that, you know, and call it ‘Little Wing’, in other words, just fly away. Everybody really flying and they’s really in a nice mood, like the police and everybody was really great out there. So I just took all these things an put them in one very, very small little matchbox, you know, into a girl and then do it. It was very simple, you know. That’s one of the very few ones I like.”

When asked by a London reporter in 1967 what his favorite track off the Axis: Bold as Love album was, Hendrix listed “Little Wing” and “You Got Me Floating” as his favorites.

Author Rotimi Ogunjobi states that “‘Little Wing’ is the name of Hendrix’s guardian angel (like ‘Waterfall’, that is mentioned in the song ‘May This Be Love’ on the debut album).”

Author Harry Shapiro examined the song, saying musically it is “structured to lay a gossamer touch across the whole song from the arresting opening statement and the haunting glockenspiel to the use of a Leslie speaker cabinet for the guitar. The speaker baffle rotates, creating a Doppler effect of rising and falling waves of sound. Jimi plays the song almost like a pianist with the thumb fretting the bass notes like the pianist’s left hand, while the fingers of the fretting hand correspond to the right. The song fades on a magical solo after only two minutes and twenty-five seconds. Even live, ‘Little Wing’ was hardly any longer – he said what he wanted to say and stopped.”

While on the initial studio track Hendrix played his guitar through a Leslie speaker, which was normally used with Hammond organs, the simultaneous use of a distortion effect gave the guitar a unique sound. During live shows and on later recordings, Hendrix “used the ‘Univibe’ effect pedal to get a simulated Leslie sound, instead of using a real speaker.”

Due to the heavy use of studio recording techniques in creating the Axis: Bold as Love album, only “Spanish Castle Magic” and “Little Wing” were performed regularly at concerts.

  • This song was inspired by the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, a concert held during 3 days of the “Summer of Love” (1967) featuring The Who, The Byrds, Janis Joplin, and many others. Attended by about 200,000 music fans, it happened 2 years before Woodstock. Jimi wrote about the atmosphere at the festival as if it was a girl. He described the feeling as “Everybody really flying and in a nice mood.” He named it “Little Wing” because he thought it could just fly away.
  • The guitar on the song is played in a very unique style. Jimi frets the roots of chords with his thumb, and then elaborates on them. It often involves shifts of quartile to tertian harmony and vice versa. In theory it is quite similar to the Jazz style of chord melody. The song is particularly revered among guitar players. Tom Morello wrote in this 2011 tribute to Hendrix in Rolling Stone: “It’s just this gorgeous song that, as a guitar player, you can study your whole life and not get down, never get inside it the way that he does. He seamlessly weaves chords and single-note runs together and uses chord voicings that don’t appear in any music books.” (thanks, Ken – Tigard, OR)
  • The percussion instrument that sounds like a xylophone is a glockenspiel, an instrument popular in marching bands containing steel bars that are stuck with hammers to produce notes.
  • Jimi ran his guitar through a Leslie speaker to create an unusual sound. The Leslie speaker was designed for organs and contains a rotating paddle that distorts the sound.
  • In 1963 Jimi recorded a song that may have been a precursor to this. The song “Fox,” which was one of his first recordings was played with sax player Lonnie Youngblood and sounded very similar to this.
  • This is one of the songs that had to be remixed just before the album was released when one of the master tapes went missing. No one ever found out what happened to the original tape but its been speculated that Jimi either accidentally left the tape in a taxi or purposely disposed of the tape because he wasn’t satisfied with its sound.
  • This song, along with “Spanish Castle Magic,” are the only songs Hendrix ever performed in concert from his Axis: Bold as Love album. He played this live only 8 times. (thanks, Bertrand – Paris, France)
  • Hendrix has described this as being one of the few he likes from this album. He said “Little Wing” is “like one of those beautiful girls that come around sometimes.” Hendrix enjoyed writing slow songs because it was easier to put emotion into them.

Covers

“Little Wing” has been covered by numerous artists:

  • Steve Lukather and Steve Morse covered it for the Ernie Ball Guitar Center Session.
  • G3: Live in Denver, a live DVD of G3, the touring band in which Joe Satriani and Steve Vai invite another player to come tour with them. In 2003, Yngwie Malmsteen was the chosen one.
  • Eric Clapton has recorded the song on many occasions, including:
    • with Derek and the Dominos on the 1970 album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, with Pete Townshend and Ronnie Wood on the 1973 live album Eric Clapton’s Rainbow Concert and on the live recording Live At The Fillmore
    • on tour with Steve Winwood in 2008, on the CD/DVD Live from Madison Square Garden
  • Gil Evans on the 1975 album There Comes a Time.
  • Sting on the 1987 album …Nothing Like the Sun.
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan, in a Grammy-winning instrumental version on 1991’s The Sky Is Crying and a live cover with another song, “Third Stone from the Sun” on the compilation cover album, Power of Soul: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix.
  • Skid Row on the album B-Side Ourselves (1992).
  • Toto on the live VHS/DVD Live (1992).
  • Pappo on the album Blues Local (in Spanish) (1992).
  • Concrete Blonde on the 1994 album, Still in Hollywood.
  • The Corrs on the album Talk on Corners (1997).
  • Snowy White on the album Little Wing (titled Melting in the United State) (1998).
  • Nigel Kennedy, the English violinist and violist, on the album, The Kennedy Experience (1999).
  • Ottmar Liebert and Luna Negra XL on the album Little Wing (2001).
  • Popa Chubby on the live/studio album Electric Chubbyland: Popa Chubby Plays Jimi Hendrix (2006).
  • Def Leppard on the Deluxe Edition of Adrenalize (2009).
  • Santana (led by Carlos Santana) featuring Joe Cocker on the album Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time (2010).
  • Josh Charles on the 2010 album Trippin’ The Keys: Music Of Jimi Hendrix.
  • Corinne Bailey Rae on her album The Sea (2010).
  • Tuck & Patti medleyed “Castles Made of Sand” / “Little Wing” on their 1989 album Love Warriors.
  • The Gun Club on the album Ahmed’s Wild Dream (1993).
  • Monte Montgomery on the album “Monte Montgomery”.

Jimi Hendrix

Birth name Johnny Allen Hendrix
Born November 27, 1942
Seattle, Washington, US
Died September 18, 1970 (aged 27)
Kensington, London, England
Genres Psychedelic rock, hard rock,blues rock
Occupations Musician, singer, songwriter
Instruments Guitar, vocals
Years active 1963–1970
Labels Vee-Jay, RSVP, Track, Barclay,Polydor, Reprise, Capitol, MCA
Associated acts The Isley Brothers, Little Richard,the Blue Flame, Curtis Knight and the Squires, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Band of Gypsys
Website http://www.jimihendrix.com
Notable instruments
Fender Stratocaster
Gibson Flying V

image by agnes-cecile

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