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Mitch Mitchell – Remembered

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Last week Mitch Mitchell, best known as the drummer behind guitar legend Jimi Hendrix, was found dead in a Portland hotel room. He had spent his last month celebrating Hendrix’s musical legend on the 2008 Experience Hendrix Tour of the States. Mitch was 61 and reportedly died from natural causes in his sleep.

Mitch was the last surviving member of the Experience. Hendrix died back in 1970 and bass player Noel Redding, another Brit, died in 2003 in County Cork, Ireland at the age of 57.

John ‘Mitch’ Mitchell was born on July 9, 1947, in Ealing, West London. He played with several notable bands including Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames and was also a busy session drummer. His background was mainly jazz influenced. In 1966 he joined the then largely unknown American guitarist Jimi Hendrix, and along with Redding became part of the Experience. This was true of course in more ways than one.

It was to be the gig of a lifetime. Mitch stayed with Hendrix for four highly eventful years, playing at both the legendary Monterey and Woodstock Festivals in 1967 and 1969 respectively. Hit singles were the norm for Jimi Hendrix and included, “Hey Joe”, “Purple Haze”, “The Wind Cries Mary”, and “All Along The Watchtower”.

It was Mitch’s powerful and distinctive drumming, his instinctive understanding of both Hendrix’s improvisational style, alongside his partnership with Noel Redding that helped propel the Experience towards legendary status.

When Jimi Hendrix arrived he simply stunned the world with not only his guitar playing but his live act and his appearance. Mitch and Noel also adopted the Hendrix ‘look’ with afro hair styles.

It was often the underrated backing of The Experience that kept things on course through increasingly lengthy improvisations as Jimi brilliantly pushed the boundaries further and further. Always recognising they were in the presence of a genius their own contributions were sometimes overlooked or at least understated.

By mid 1969 Hendrix decided to move on forming The Band Of Gypsies. Mitch entered a period of being out and back in the band. He rejoined for a return of The Experience, minus Redding, replaced by Billy Cox on bass, in 1970.

After Hendrix died in London in September 1970 Mitch worked on completing some unfinished recordings which resulted in posthumous releases such as The Cry Of Love and Rainbow Bridge. He had a brief spell drumming for the short lived band, Ramatam. He also appeared with Jack Bruce, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, and Terry Reid among many others. He can also been seen playing with John & Yoko Lennon, and Keith Richards as part of The Dirty Mac on The Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus of 1969.

In 1999 Mitch reunited with Billy Cox and Buddy Miles on Bruce Cameron’s Midnight Daydream album. Later he joined The Gyspy Sun Experience again alongside Billy Cox.

However it was his time with Jimi Hendrix that really caught the attention and he appeared in numerous documentaries, interviews, and biographies throughout the subsequent years. Those years alongside a true rock god secured Mitch Mitchell his own legendary status.

Mitch’s one of a kind style can be described as explosive and it needed to be playing behind such a figure as Jimi Hendrix. His interplay with Hendrix’s guitar on tracks such as “Fire”, or “Machine Gun”, two merely random examples, and his contribution to classic albums such as Electric Ladyland is immeasurable.

As brilliant a talent as Hendrix undoubtedly was he could not have achieved all that he did without a drummer of extraordinary ability behind him. Mitch Mitchell was, without doubt, that man. He will be sadly missed.

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  • Rob

    Great post. Mitch really was one hell of a drummer, almost a bit mind boggling at times. He certainly was the right person to play alongside Jimi Hendrix and Noel Redding. One of those beautiful moments in the musical timeline when everything just meshed.

  • Alex Szczech

    Nice post on a great drummer! Just one minor correction, the penultimate paragraph mentions Mitchell’s drumming on “Machine Gun”. While it is true that Mitchell played this song with Hendrix’ during the 1970 tour, Buddy Miles was the drummer on the definitive version that appeared on the Band of Gypsys albums.

  • Jeff

    Thanks everyone for reading this and for taking the time to add the comments. All very much appreciated. Thanks too to Alex – re Machine Gun – it was strange but when I was writing this I could see (in my mind) Mitch playing it. I’m not sure now where that came from…..sorry to Buddy. Jeff

  • Darryl

    As much as I love Mitch and notwithstanding my deep sorrow over his passing, I could not have written a better eulogy. Thank you for that. More shocking still is that the entire original band are no longer among us. Mitch Mitchell had as much a seismic impact upon me as did Hendrix. Mitch inspired me to become a drummer, because I knew I’d never be able to play a guitar like Jimi. But no one has ever been able to play “Manic Depression” like Mitch, almost 40 years hence. The beat was relentless and clean and every bit a jar to the senses as was Jimi’s guitar, back in the innocent days of 1967. I’ve heard the session tapes of the numerous takes, and Mitch was a beast. There’s extended interview footage on the most recent edition of 1972’s _A Film About Jimi Hendrix_ that I’ll watch tonight because his recollections are still fresh, in which he talks about his life in the Jimi Hendrix Experience. There’s also Mitch’s out-of-print bio which I believe will soon briefly return to print, _Inside The Experience_. It’s sad that they’d just wrapped 18 shows of the _Experience Hendrix_ tour in Oregon and that he was ready to go home and spend time with his wife and family back in England. Just like the Denver Pop Festival in June 1969 that signaled the death of the Experience, Mitch was tired of gigging and ready to go home. Rest in peace, John. At Monterey, they used to say that the Experience went “from myth to legend”. With your passing, the band has gone from myth to legend to *immortal*.

  • Jeff

    Daryl wrote:- Rest in peace, John. At Monterey, they used to say that the Experience went “from myth to legend”. With your passing, the band has gone from myth to legend to *immortal*.

    Daryl,
    This is such a wonderfully appropriate comment – your comments are truly appreciated – I can’t thank you enough for adding them to my article. Not only is this the passing of a fellow man, and a great musician, but it also represents the passing of a huge part of our lives. But our memories will always remain as strong as ever. So, thank you, Daryl, Immortal is exactly the right word.
    Jeff

  • Darryl

    Thank you, sir! To think that Mitch won the Experience gig over Ainsley Dunbar by a *coin toss*! I cannot conceive of the Jimi Hendrix Experience without Mitch Mitchell. Mitch was my teacher, and I’m forever indebted to him, although I have yet to master “swing” drums.

  • Eric Swolgaard

    On June 25, 1967 I had the lifetime thrill of seeing the Jimi Hendrix Experience play for free in the Panhandle Park, Haight-Ashbury. I’ll never forget the sights and the sounds as the group tore into songs off their first album and a tribute to Bob Dylan(Like a Rolling Stone?) Jimi even got off a joke on Mitch Mitchell by introducing him as”Bob Dylan’s grandmother”!! Also laconically drawled something about “we tune because we care”…That day I also purchased the original Monterey Pop concert program from a week prior, I believe at the Psychedelic Shop. Obviously, one of my prize possessions.

  • Darryl

    Eric, you were fortunate indeed to catch that show, and I thank you for your recollection, since although photographed it was neither filmed nor booted. Slight correction, though — it was the late bassist Noel Redding whom Jimi dubbed “Bob Dylan’s Grandmother”. Jimi’s code-name for Mitchell was “Queen Bee”, but those were more innocent times then…

  • Darryl

    Oh, almost forgot — happy 66th birthday, Jimi!! Must have been some surprise to look up and find Mitch sharing your cloud again…

  • http://resourceforsocialmedia.wordpress.com/ peter sabbagh

    As a guitarist, and one that admires exceptional talent it is difficult to read this story, although we all have to move on and accept that great moments in time do not last forever…. It has always been difficult for me to accept that Hendrix is no longer with us, and now Mitch further removes us from the Hendrix life changing “experience”. It was also a major blow when I climbed the stairs up from the A train (subway) in NYC to 72nd street (after coming home one night from class at NYU) to be one of the 5 people standing in front of the Dakota Apartment shortly after John Lennon was shot. Breaking up is hard to do….