This is a beautiful song by Jimi with some great guitar.
Jimi wrote this song and it was inspired by the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, a concert held for 3 days during 1967. It was 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 song was on Axis: Bold as Love released in 1967. The album peaked at #3 in the Billboard 100 in 1968.
The same day they recorded “Layla,” Eric Clapton and Duane Allman recorded this as a tribute to Jimi, who was one of their guitar heroes. Hendrix died 9 days later. Jimi never heard their version of his song, which was released in 1970 on the Derek and the Dominos album, Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs.
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.”
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.
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.
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
Take anything you want from me
Fly on, little wing