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Jimi wrote this in 1967 for Are You Experienced?; it was inspired by his girlfriend at the time, Kathy Mary Etchingham. He'd gotten into an argument with her about her cooking. She got very angry and started throwing pots and pans and finally stormed out to stay at a friend's home for a day or so. When she came back, Jimi had written "The Wind Cries Mary" for her.
Kathy Mary recalled, "We'd had a row over food. Jimi didn't like lumpy mashed potato. There were thrown plates and I ran off. When I came back the next day, he'd written that song about me. It's incredibly flattering." (Source Q magazine February 2013)
Jimi wrote the song quietly in his apartment and didn't show it to anybody. After recording "Fire" (which was about his sexual relationship with Kathy), he had 20 minutes to spare in the recording studio, so he showed it to the band. They managed to record it in the 20 minute period they had. The band later recorded several more takes of the song, but they all seemed very sterile and they decided to go with the original recording.
This was the third single from Are You Experienced?. (thanks, Brett - Edmonton, Canada, for above 2)
A lot of people assumed this was about marijuana, which is also known as "Mary Jane."
This song begins with a distinctive and recognizable introduction, in which three chromatically ascending 'five' chords are played in second inversion. A 'five' chord consists of two notes (first or "root," and fifth) instead of three (root, third and fifth). The missing middle note gives the chord a more 'open' or 'bare' sound. A second inversion "flips" the notes in the chord, so that the fifth, not the root, is the lowest sounding note. This makes it more difficult for the listener to immediately identify what key the song is being played in. In addition, a syncopated rhythm makes it difficult for the listener to identify the "down beats" of the song. This combination of musical elements creates a unique and disorienting experience when the song is heard for the first time.
Jamie Cullum covered this song, replacing the guitar part with a Jazzy piano. Other artists to record the song include John Mayer, Popa Chubby and Robyn Hitchcock. (thanks, Tonyz - Mandelieu)
According to the book Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy
, Hendrix wrote this as a very long song, but broke it down to fit the short-song convention and make it radio friendly. Hendrix was concerned that listeners wouldn't understand the song in its shortened form.
Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum
Dave explains how the video appropriated the meaning of "Runaway Train," and what he thought of getting parodied by Weird Al.