It would be a shame to leave our run-in with Jimi Hendrix at Barack Obama’s apparent appropriation of Hendrix’s “Stone Free” in Milwaukee on Monday. Let’s pause for a moment and add some music to our day with Hendrix’s “Little Wing.”
“Little Wing” is an inventive ballad showing a side of Hendrix that he mostly kept under wraps. One of his biographers says the song is about Hendrix’s mother, who died when he was 10. “When I’m said, she comes to me,” Hendrix sings, “with a thousand smiles she gives to me free.” Whoever he had in mind, if anyone in particular, he poured a lot of feeling into the song.
The song first appeared on Hendrix’s Axis: Bold As Love in late 1967 (UK) and early 1968 (USA). In 1970, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman et al. recorded a memorable cover of the song on Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, where it fit right in with Clapton’s exploration of his tribulations. Stevie Ray Vaughan also performed a fiery instrumental cover of it.
Clapton obviously loves the song. You can find him performing it on many concert videos. He included it on the setlist for his tour with Steve Winwood last year. Winwood himself had recorded with Hendrix back in the day (on the cut that closed out side one of Electric Ladyland, if I recall correctly), and Winwood took a turn on the vocals as well.
In the high quality video below Clapton performs the song with Sheryl Crow at one of Clapton’s Crossroads benefit concerts, I think. David Sanborn contributes a high octane performance on sax.