As the drummer in the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Mitch Mitchell was one of the greatest rock drummers of the 1960s. Mitchell's style was a blend of the abandon of someone like Keith Moon with the jazz complexity of a sticksman like Elvin Jones. While no one, including Mitchell, could match Moon for sheer rock power, it's also true that Mitchell had the technique to handle some rhythms and patterns that were beyond Moon's abilities. Mitchell was drummer on all of the Hendrix Experience's recordings and some of his post-Experience solo outings, and was still in his touring band when Hendrix died in September 1970.
Mitchell was a former child actor who had starred in the BBC children's television series Jennings before he was even in his teens. By the early '60s he was concentrating on his drumming, and gained experience in bands such asPeter Nelson & the Travellers and the Coronets. He also started doing some session work, and was a member of the Riot Squad, who had about half a dozen soul-rock singles in the mid-'60s without getting a hit. He played on some of the Pretty Things' second album, Get the Picture? He was considered for the permanent drum seat in the band when Viv Prince left, but was passed over in favor of Skip Alan, whom the Pretties felt had a more suitable personality.
Mitchell played in Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames during 1965 and 1966, but was fired in October 1966 when the lineup disbanded. The day after the firing, Chas Chandler invited him to audition for the group being formed around Jimi Hendrix. Mitchell beat out a lot of top young talent in London, including the other finalist, Aynsley Dunbar. Chandler later said that, unable to make up their minds, he and Hendrix tossed a coin, the flip coming out, fortunately for everyone concerned (except Dunbar), in Mitchell's favor. Mitchell was not a mere sideman to Hendrix, but an important collaborator. Always changing rhythms, never predictable, he was also flexible enough to bounce off and respond to Hendrix's own original solo lines. This was evident on the very first singles and the trio's first album, Are You Experienced?, as can be heard on the thrilling drum parts on tracks like "Fire," "Third Stone from the Sun," and "Manic Depression."
The Jimi Hendrix Experience as originally formed -- Hendrix, Mitchell, and bassist Noel Redding -- played their last show in mid-1969. There followed a confusing period in which Hendrix was obviously unsure of where to take his music and who to bring along for the ride, or perhaps even whether he wanted a permanent band lineup of any sort. Mitchell played behind Hendrix at his famous Woodstock performance, but then Hendrix started playing and recording with the Band of Gypsys, with Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles on drums. The Band of Gypsys didn't go smoothly, and the original Experience was re-formed in early 1970, but fell apart almost immediately. By the spring of 1970, Hendrix was playing with Cox on bass and Mitchell on drums. Mitchell has written that Hendrix, after finishing a strenuous tour in September 1970, wanted to keep working with Mitchell, a different bass player than Cox (possibly Jack Casady or Jack Bruce), and other musicians, possibly including the Brecker Brothers and Motown players. Hendrix died before any plans were made. Mitchell, unfortunately, has rarely recorded since, a shame as he obviously had the talent to work with top-flight rock and perhaps jazz and experimental musicians.
Some revisionist historians have contended that Mitchell and Redding were white faces hitched to Hendrix by pop-conscious management, and that Hendrix's heart lay with black musicians who were closer to the guitarist's blues and soul heritage. Looking at the available evidence, however, it seems impossible to conclude that Hendrix was merely putting up with Mitchell because of outside pressures that prevented him from collaborating with black musicians. Ultimately, Mitchell was the musician with whom Hendrix had the most important and sustained creative relationship out of the many people he led or supported, both onstage and on record. With John Platt, Mitchell wrote a memoir of his Hendrix years, Jimi Hendrix: Inside the Experience, recommended for its first-hand perspective and emphasis upon the musical cornerstone of the Hendrix legend.
November 12, 2008
Mitch Mitchell, drummer for the legendary Jimi Hendrix Experience of the 1960s and the group's last surviving member, was found dead in his hotel room early Wednesday. He was 61.