‘The Wind Cries Mary’ is a 1967 rock ballad released by the pioneering guitarist Jimi Hendrix. It is often considered one of the greatest songs of all time and has been covered by giants such as John Mayer, Sting and was even reworked by Gil Evans as ‘Mademoiselle Mabry’ for Miles Davies’ 1968 album Filles de Kilimanjaro.
The song is the sum of many disparate parts. According to Hendrix’s ex-girlfriend, Kathy Etchingham’s account, he wrote the lyrics after an argument with her, using “Mary” — Etchingham’s middle name — as the subject. Hendrix would later refute the claim, maintaining that the lyrics represent “more than one person”. Billy Cox, Hendrix’s long-time friend and latter-stage bassist, also claims that ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ was influenced by none other than Mr Superfly himself, and Hendrix’s peer, Curtis Mayfield.
Furthermore, Hendrix played different iterations of the song since 1966 and played earlier versions of it at shows in the summer of that year with his band Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. This was to become a pivotal season for Hendrix. During this time, the unknown Hendrix would meet ex-Animals bassist Chas Chandler after a show at Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village. Chandler convinced Hendrix to accompany him to London that September and start to make his name. It was here they would form the iconic Jimi Hendrix Experience, adding bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell to complete the classic lineup.
The trio would gain almost unparralleled overnight success. The Experience’s first single ‘Hey Joe‘ was a hit and they were instantly the talk of the twon. Subsequently, working for a follow-up, the final version of ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ was recorded on January 11th, 1967. It was tracked at the ubiquitous De Lane Lea Studios in Soho, London. Experience manager Chandler commented: “That was recorded at the tail end of the session for ‘Fire’. We had about twenty minutes or so left. I suggested we cut a demo of ‘The Wind Cries Mary’.
“Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding hadn’t heard it,” he continued, “so they were going about it without a rehearsal. They played it once through (and Hendrix then suggested overdubs). In all he put on four or five more overdubs, but the whole thing was done in twenty minutes. That was our third single.”
The single, backed by the equally legendary ‘Highway Chile’, was released in the UK in May 1967 and peaked at number six on the UK Singles Chart. Showing that releasing music at the time was perhaps a bit more fluid, in the United States, the song was released as the B-side to Hendrix’s opus ‘Purple Haze’ in June ’67. It was subsequently included on the band’s debut album, the mammoth Are You Experienced?, in August that year.
After releasing these first three singles: ‘Hey Joe’, ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘The Wind Cries Mary’, Hendrix’s career would properly take off. He achieved peak success headlining the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, and in 1968 his third and final studio album, Electric Ladyland, topped the US charts. Encapsulating the scale of his rapid success, Hendrix became the world’s highest-paid musician and headlined the classic Woodstock Festival in 1969.
Tragically, the world would lose one of its brightest lights the following year. On September 18th, 1970, the legendary axeman died accidentally of barbiturate-related asphyxia. However, he left behind an extensive back catalogue that would inspire generations to come.
The beautiful thing about ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ is that it represents a heartfelt contrast to the visceral singles ‘Hey Joe‘ and ‘Purple Haze’, showing Hendrix to have been the complete songwriter. Furthermore, the isolated guitar track shows just how technically gifted Hendrix was. His signature Fender Stratocaster tone is laid bare, and as if connected to his heart, it augments the honest nature of the lyrics.
On this isolated guitar track, Hendrix’s magnetism is sonically conveyed, making us wonder what would have followed if he’d have made it into the ’70s and beyond.
Listen to to the magnificent isolated guitar track below.