One of my favorite Jimi Hendrix songs, and if you're a Jimi fan you know that's a tough choice, but one of the all time favorites of mine is Little Wing. It's also one of his shorter tunes.
I've been loving that tune since I was a single digit aged kid, back in 1967 and 1968. My next door neighbor and classmate Brad had a very cool high school aged sister with a substantial music collection.
Although my elementary music favs also included the Monkess (still a fan) and the Banana Splits, I liked lots of rock. CCR. The Stones. Like lots of others, I really liked the Beatles.
Back then, my parents had quite an album collection as well. They had lots of great Elvis, some really good big band stuff, Sinatra, Gene Krupa and even a little known gem by guitarist Al Caiola wherein Al interprets the Theme to the Magnificent Seven on electric guitar and created a masterpiece. There was lots of stuff I didn't care for, as my parents were fond of show music and organ duos. I actually did find a show where Miles Davis played in their stacks later in life, but the fact he was on the record was not known to them, or for that matter, who he was.
Then, I got myself an acoustic guitar, no doubt japanese, from one of those green stamp deals. I was able to learn some chords and was really ready to learn to play multiple instruments and especially drums.
So then this momentous event occurred. A friend of my dad's, grateful for a favor done by my dad for him, decided to gift my dad with his fairly state of the art stereo and extensive 8-track and album collection. He was moving out to California and there was no room for it. My father hesitated, but as a fan of rock and roll already at age 9, I chimed in and my dad easily changed his mind.
So before I was even 10 I got a great collection of music from back in the early 60's to basically stuff that was recently released and a very nice stereo to play it on. In those days, and now as well, I'd rather have a nice stereo going then a tv. Even in the 1960's when it was unheard of for a kid to have a color tv in his bedroom, I'd have taken a stereo over a tv any day. And now I had one. And all this accelerated my desire to play the drum set and my parents soon had me taking lessons.
But one of the songs that I became entranced with in those days was Little Wing by Hendrix. A short song, although back then many of the early Hendrix hits were radio friendly and thus short tunes. Nonetheless, a moving and compelling song. It's always had a calming effect on me personally, and for more than forty years now I've enjoyed listening to it.
During the 1970's, I heard other folks do their versions of the song. But it wasn't until I discovered the Gil Evan's Orchestra version of Little Wing (and many other Hendrix tunes) from the mid-70's that I really, really made that one of my favorite songs of all time.
As a band member from 6th grade through graduation, playing in rock bands on the side and orchestral, marching and stage bands at school, I was well acquainted towards the use of horns in rock and roll and jazz. One song the stage band played from pretty much junior high into high school was Chicago's "25 or 6 to 4" which I've always loved playing and hearing.
Sting, like me, is a big Gil Evans fan in general, and specifically I think he's enamored with Gil's version of Little Wing. So enamored that in the 80's Sting did a concert with Gil, which exists on CD, and of course their arrangement of Little Wing rocked.
On Gil's Little Wing version, which appears on the album after Gil Evan's Orchestra plays the music of Jimi Hendrix, an album called "There comes a Time", THE LATE MR. TONY WILLIAMS plays drums on that version. Drummer Bruce Ditmas handles drum set duties on most other Hendrix covers, but the Williams version has some great drumming.
This is actually a song where I can emulate more or less exactly the drum part the late, great Tony Williams plays. He was a far more talented man than I on the skins, and far more conversant in many more genres of music than I on skins. But, since this was a more simple rock tune, and he was obvious playing for the song, it's a part I've just loved, particularly the hi-hat work and his drum fills.
I've written about why I love Gil's treatment of Little Wing as well as all other Hendrix tunes. There's many reasons. Gil's Fender Rhodes playing. The whampum-stompum horn section, which comes in so powerfully at times.
Ryo Kawasaki handles the electric guitar duties, and although his solos are fantastic, his interludes where he does heavy rhythm guitar work are just magical. Really grooving. Likewise, the sax solo by David Sanborn (Yeah, that Sanborn) and the trumpet solo by Hannibal Lokumbe are so deep. Hannibal's rendition of the vocals in a single stanza at the end of the tune haunt yet embrace.
In the background, percussion by Susan Evans and Bruce Ditmas add all kinds of colors. There's synth and keyboard work going on by others and since the song stretches out for nearly 3 times the original version, there's room for some very cool interpretations of Hendrix and his Little Wing.
The Evans Orchestra mix isn't traditional. The two electric bass guitars on Little Wing are more in the mix and louder than Ryo's quietly blazing guitar work. The drums are fairly prominent but keys and percussion create a canvas to paint on. The horns, at times soulful and soothing and at times powerful and moving, make me sing along with the lyrics that they are interpreting.
Tons of folks have covered this tune, including several bands I've been in. One of those bands I was in had a great guitarist who really had a great version of this classic. Years ago, I made a CD from my favorite versions of Little Wing by famous artists and by the several bands I'd been in. I still enjoy listing to that compilation of Little Wing. Of course, the first song on the disc is the real "thang": Hendrix.
Certainly, there's other stellar ones that deserve mention, like Stevie Ray Vaughn. Just truly soulful, especially if you ever saw it live. I omit others not because they're not stellar, but because memory fails at this hour. Maybe some will comment with other great versions.
I urge readers to go to youtube and listen to some of the different versions available by the above artists as well as those I've omitted. I'm sure there are numerous great versions I've failed to mention.
It's also worth researching what the song means. There's lots of info around about what Hendrix said in some interviews about it. But to me, that's inconsequential compared to the artistry of the music and the tune itself. The lyrics move me, and I have a certain story envisioned when I hear them. It moves me.