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.