The Real Story Behind Jimi Hendrix's Song, The Wind Cries Mary

In his short four years as a prominent musician and singer, before his death at age 27 in 1970, Jimi Hendrix electrified late 1960s rock 'n' roll (via Britannica). He pushed the boundaries of what was possible with the electric guitar, and mixed core elements of rock with blues, jazz, and soul to create a dynamic and explosive sound.

1966 saw Hendrix's first hit, "Hey Joe," and from then until 1970 his masterpieces just kept coming. There was the pulsing "Purple Haze"; his haunting cover of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower"; the racing "Hear My Train a Comin'" and red-hot "Foxey Lady." Thanks to Hendrix, rock 'n' roll was now harder and more versatile, shattering genre boundaries and influencing artists across categories and across the world.

One of his first big songs, however, was 1967's slower, poetic "The Wind Cries Mary." Contrary to popular belief, it has nothing to do with marijuana (Mary Jane). It was about Hendrix's girlfriend Kathy Mary Etchingham.

A Fight in the Kitchen

Kathy Etchingham was a London DJ who dated Jimi Hendrix starting in 1966. In her book "Through Gypsy Eyes," she wrote that Hendrix penned "The Wind Cries Mary" after one of their notorious fights. "Once he was moaning about my cooking again and I felt I had put a lot of effort into whatever it was -– mashed potatoes probably. I didn't take kindly to being told they were disgusting, so I picked up the plate and smashed it on the floor. 'Hell –- what are you doing?' he screamed at me, so I picked up a few more plates and threw them around the room as well, yelling back at him."

Etchingham stormed out and didn't return until the next day. When she came back, Hendrix told her he had written a song. Etchingham wrote in her book that he "handed me a piece of paper with 'The Wind Cries Mary' written on it. Mary is my middle name and the one he would use when he wanted to annoy me. I took the song and read it through. It was about the row we had just had, but I didn't feel the least bit appeased."

Hendrix's Powerful Lyrics

One can hear regret and loneliness in the song, as well as a narrative of the fight's aftermath (lyrics via Genius). "And the clowns have all gone to bed" sets the scene at night, with "happiness staggering on down the street / Footprints dressed in red" alluding to Kathy Etchingham angrily leaving their home. 

The second verse makes one imagine Jimi Hendrix sorrowfully cleaning up the broken plates in their kitchen: "A broom is drearily sweeping / Up the broken pieces of yesterday's life / Somewhere a queen is weeping / Somewhere a king has no wife / And the wind it cries Mary."

With a later connection between "emptiness" and his "bed," and the powerful crescendoing from "the wind whispers Mary" to "the wind cries Mary" to "the wind screams Mary," Hendrix's loneliness and yearning for Etchingham that night is simply palpable. The couple made up and dated until 1969 when Etchingham left him over what she saw as a troubling personality that came after his excessive drug and alcohol use (via BBC).