Many songwriters will claim that some songs come to them in a dream. Paul McCartney famously wrote Yesterday after the tune came to him in his sleep. He woke up in the night, crawled over to his piano and scribbled down what was in his head and called it scrambled eggs. In the morning he couldn’t believe that he’d ‘composed’ it in his sleep and played it to a number of people asking them if they recognised it, when no-one had, he realised that it must be his. A similar thing happened to Jimi Hendrix when his song Angel came to him in a dream but was only a UK hit for Rod Stewart.
The song came to him one night in 1967 in a dream about his mother Lucille. He explained in an American interview in 1967, “My mother was bein’ carried away on this camel. And there was a big caravan, she’s sayin’, ‘Well, I’m gonna see you now,’ and she’s goin’ under these trees, you could see the shade, you know, the leaf patterns across her face when she was goin’ under … She’s sayin’, ‘Well, I won’t be seein’ you too much anymore, you know. I’ll see you.’ And then about two years after that she dies. And I said, ‘Yeah, but where are you goin’?’ and all that. I remember that. I will always remember that. I never did forget … there are some dreams you never forget.”
After scribbling down the lyrics he went into Olympic studio in October 1967 to start on the Axis: Bold As Love sessions with his drummer Mitch Mitchell and began recording the song under the name Little Wing. The following month the song had its own identity and the first demo was recorded under the title Sweet Angel and though the original lyrics were written under the title My Angel Catherina (Return of Little Wing). Nothing further happened until July 1970 when Jimi returned to the song, again with Mitchell and now with Billy Cox on bass and Eddie Kramer as his engineer and all during a session for his planned fourth album The Cry of Love. The master was produced at Electric Lady Studios on July 23. There were seven takes and it’s the seventh one that became the finished item. The overdubbing and mixing were completed four weeks later. A further four weeks later Hendrix had died and never got to see its success. He also didn’t get to hear what we hear as there was an alteration after he died. Incidentally, his song Little Wing was a totally separate his but was written around the same time.
The song had an unusual sound which was invented by Mitch Mitchell who used a variable frequency oscillator to get the sound. But he was never happy with it and subsequently re-recorded his part a month after Hendrix died. Jimi’s guitar also had a very different because Jimi used a special harp-type amplifier during the recording.
It was Mitchell and Kramer who collaborated on the track listing for the album which was eventually released in March 1971. In the same month, the song was released as a single in Europe, but as the B-side of Freedom in the USA. In 1997 it was featured on the first new release by Experience Hendrix, the company which is run by Jimi’s father and his half-sister Janie. A damaged version of Sweet Angel can be heard on the 1997 CD South Saturn Delta and a restored one (by Mitch Mitchell) on the 4cd collection The Jimi Hendrix Experience in 2000. Another version appeared on Mitchell’s West Coast Seattle Boy box set this one being a 1968 rendition which was recorded in a New York City hotel room.
The song was covered in 1972 by Rod Stewart and was the closing track on his chart-topping album, Never A Dull Moment. It was described in the press at the time as being a ‘soulful reading’ of the original. It was released as a single and part of a double A-side with What Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made A Loser Out Of Me), a song about Schlitz Beer which was written by Lynn Anderson’s husband Glenn Sutton and originally recorded in 1968 by Jerry Lee Lewis.
There have also been a number of cover versions of Angel including Vinegar Joe, Gary Moore and Fiona Apple.