It Is Up For Interpretation: Little Wing

In this series we examine how one piece of music can be so differently re-interpreted from artist to artist, as new parameters in musical approach, orientation and instrumentation are introduced and imposed.

Little Wing is a song written by guitarist and composer, Jimi Hendrix. The song first appeared on the album, Axis: Bold as Love and is ranked #366 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Songs of All time.

Little Wing, originally performed by Hendrix and has been interpreted by many artists including Cassandra Wilson and the late, great, Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Between each of the three aforementioned versions of Little Wing, there are many striking differences.

Stylistically, Hendrix’s version is equipped with an intro full of quintessential Hendrix-isms, before Mitch Mitchell rolls in with the drums and sets up the classic Hendrix vocal. Jimi’s vocals are classic Jimi, half spoken and half sung, as a story unfolds about an enchanting and mysterious she.

No Hendrix track could be complete without some groundbreaking guitar work and this is no exception. The solo that follows the verses and eventually fades out the song is possibly one of his most recognizable of all time.

Stevie Ray Vaughan‘s interpretation of Little Wing is aesthetically very similar to Jimi’s version, with the focus being on solo guitar work, in the context of the blue. SRV takes the instrumental aspect of the tune even further as he rips through instrumental chorus after chorus, constantly inventing new variations.

Executing the vocal of the song with the guitar, and not the voice is potentially the most drastic difference between the Hendrix and SRV versions. The SRV version is purely instrumental, although Vaughan does a fine job in emulating the feel of a vocalist as he explores the song’s melody.

Cassandra Wilson’s version of the song is quite a departure from both the Hendrix and the SRV adaptations.

The focus is more towards the ensemble, and highlights include the textures of the fretless bass and soprano saxophone, giving the music a texture that recalls the sounds and rhythmic feels of a more traditional African music.

Quite a bit slower tempo-wise, the choice allows Wilsons voice to be at the forefront of the piece, her swooping and soulful flourishes colouring her delayed phrasing and making for a very interesting rendition.