Jimi Hendrix was one of the greatest rhythm guitar players ever.
Now sure he came out onstage and did circus stunts like playing guitar solos with his teeth and behind his back. But too often his rhythm playing gets overlooked.
The truth is, Hendrix changed the game in this area as well.
He combined the influences of players like Curtis Mayfield and Cornell Dupree and had some of the most beautiful and inventive rhythm guitar playing you’ll ever hear.
Today I want to share an example of this with you in this Wind Cries Mary guitar lesson.
So grab your guitar and let’s get started!
"The Wind Cries Mary" is a blues rock ballad written by Jimi Hendrix. He wrote the song as a reconciliatory love song for his girlfriend in London, Kathy Etchingham. The song was originally titled "Katherine" before Hendrix changed it to "The Wind Cries Mary."
This groovy song was recorded at Studio One in London in July 1967. It was produced by Chas Chandler and engineered by Eddie Kramer. "The Wind Cries Mary" was released on the Jimi Hendrix Experience album Are You Experienced.
"The Wind Cries Mary" has been ranked number 379 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It’s also been covered by a variety of artists, including Richie Sambora, Sting, and Jamie Cullum (an artist I personally have had the pleasure of working with who does a great version).
Here are some other credits and accolades that "The Wind Cries Mary" has received:
Jimi Hendrix tuned his guitar down for the majority of songs he recorded. However, in “The Wind Cries Mary” he did not. “The Wind Cries Mary” is played in standard tuning and is tuned E-A-D-G-B-E from the lowest to the highest strings.
Standard tuning is the most common tuning for the guitar.
The intro to “The Wind Cries Mary” begins with these amazing 4-note power chords.
They are essentially common 3-note power chords but then you add the 5th again below the root note and this makes them sound incredible.
The song kicks off with these chords progressing up the neck in half steps (one fret at a time). The 3 chords are Eb5, E5, and F5. They all use the same chord shape. Jimi just moves them up one fret at a time. Here are those 3 shapes.
From there Jimi hammers into another common chord shape he used all the time, and that is a triad in 1st inversion. In music theory, a chord is in first inversion when the third of the chord is the bass note.
The root of the chord is then moved up an octave and placed above the third. For example, the Eb major triad in root position is Eb-G-Bb, but the Eb major triad in first inversion is G-Bb-Eb.
Jimi then walks these 1st inversion triad chords up the neck in half steps, following the same motif as he used for the power chords.
From there we’ll move on to the Verse section of this song. For the Verse, you’ll need to know 4 chords C, Bb, F, and G.
The first two chords are played as standard bar chords with roots on the 5th string, and the last two here are going to be played as “thumb” chords.
A thumb chord on guitar is a chord that is played with the thumb of the fretting hand on the bass note of the chord. This technique allows the guitarist to play more complex chords and voicings, as well as to create a more percussive sound.
For C I play this:
Bb keeps the shape exactly the same, but just shifts it down 2 frets like this:
Then for F, we’ll switch to a thumb chord like this:
G is exactly the same as F, it’s just shifted up two frets. (Again using the fretting hand thumb on the 6th string.)
Jimi Hendrix was known for his innovative use of thumb chords. He used them to create a variety of effects, including:
Here are some of the ways that Jimi Hendrix used thumb chords:
Hendrix's use of thumb chords was a crucial part of his rhythm guitar sound and style.
There are two more chords you’ll need to know. These come in later in the song during the guitar solo and they are Ab and Db.
For Ab just move the G chord shape up one fret like this:
And Db is played again using the same shape but just shifting it up to the 9th position like this:
Alright now that you have the basic changes down you may be wondering, “How do you solo over The Wind Cries Mary?”
Well, the primary scale that Hendrix uses in his solo is the F major pentatonic scale. The notes of the F major pentatonic scale are F, G, A, C, and D.
Here is a great way to play this scale higher up the neck:
Here are some tips for practicing the F major pentatonic scale:
The F major pentatonic scale is a very versatile scale. It can be used in a variety of songs and genres. It’s the same as a full major scale but minus 2 notes.
Taking these two notes away in comparison to the major scale results in a very open sound.
Hendrix used the pentatonic a lot and combined it with a guitar technique called double-stops.
Double-stops are essentially playing two notes at the same time. Jimi Hendrix was a master of this technique, and “The Wind Cries Mary” is a prime example of this. He would use double-stops to play melodies, with hammer-ons and pull-offs. This approach creates a real percussive and rhythmic sound.
The bottom line is, Jimi Hendrix was a true pioneer of rhythm guitar playing. His innovative use of chords, scales, and techniques helped to shape the sound of rock and roll music. And he was very deeply rooted in the blues.
“The Wind Cries Mary” is a classic example of his beautiful style, and it still continues to inspire guitarists of all levels even today.