Sticksman provided Hendrix foil
November 20, 2008
OBITUARY: Mitch Mitchell. Drummer. Born Ealing, England, July 9,
1947. Died Portland, Oregon, November 12, aged 61.
MITCH Mitchell helped provide the beat to the rock revolution of the
late 1960s, when his drumming underpinned the explosive guitar
pyrotechnics of Jimi Hendrix. With Ginger Baker and Keith Moon, he
was in the influential vanguard of British sticksmen who created the
template for modern rock drumming.
Hendrix's favoured line-up of the power trio -- guitar, bass and
drums -- gave Mitchell space and freedom, and the guitarist fed off
the drummer's rhythmic patterns in a dynamic and frequently thrilling
fashion. A highly versatile drummer, Mitchell was equally adept at
underpinning Hendrix's more tightly structured studio compositions or
buttressing his wildest inventions during long on-stage jams.
John Mitchell was born in 1947 in Ealing, west London. While still at
school, he took a Saturday job in the London music shop run by Jim
Marshall, whose amplification systems were vital to the development
of '60s rock. In 1964, he joined the Riot Squad, whose line-up
included the future Deep Purple organist Jon Lord, but left for the
more lucrative life of a studio session drummer until he received an
offer to join Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames.
In 1966, Mitchell had a call from Chas Chandler, who was managing
Jimi Hendrix, an unknown US guitarist he had brought to London. He
auditioned and was selected. Noel Redding was added on bass and the
new trio became the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The initial contract was
for a two-week tour of France. This went well and Redding and
Mitchell were each put on retainers of pound stg. 15 a week. The
group's first single, Hey Joe, was released at the end of 1966 and
reached No.6 in the charts.
During the next two years the Jimi Hendrix Experience revolutionised
rock music. Further hit singles followed with Purple Haze, The Wind
Cries Mary and Burning of the Midnight Lamp. The group's debut album,
Are You Experienced?, was kept from the top of the charts in the
summer of '67 only by the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club
Band, and before the year was out a second album, Axis: Bold as Love,
had followed it into the top five. In between the group made its US
debut at the Monterey Pop Festival.
Inevitably, it was Hendrix who attracted the attention with his wild
look, incendiary guitar playing and eye-catching stage antics but
Mitchell, sporting a striking frizz of hair and similarly attired as
a psychedelic dandy, made a considerable musical contribution. He was
not only loud and fast but highly innovative, capable of a real
synergy with Hendrix's lead instrument, giving the music not only
rhythmic support but momentum and attack.
By 1968 Hendrix had recognised that there were limitations to the
trio format and added an array of other musicians, including a second
drummer, Buddy Miles. The resulting album topped the US charts and
made it to No.6 in Britain. It included some of Mitchell's finest
studio playing, particularly on 1983 ... (A Merman I Should Turn to
Be) and the bluesy Voodoo Chile.
In 1969 Hendrix decided that the Experience had come to the end of
the road and announced the group's final gig from the stage, much to
the surprise of his bandmates. He rehired Mitchell for the Woodstock
festival in August 1969, but when he formalised the new group as the
Band of Gypsys, Miles took over on drums. Mitchell had been offered
the chance to stay on, but Hendrix had surrounded himself with a new
entourage, many of them associated with the Black Power movement, and
among other considerations, Mitchell was unsure how he fitted in with
His exile was brief: by 1970 Miles was out and Mitchell was back,
playing with Hendrix on his final Cry of Love tour and in the studio
on his last recordings. After Hendrix's death in September 1970,
Mitchell played an important role in preparing the recordings for
posthumous release on the LPs Cry of Love and Rainbow Bridge.
He never again played a prominent part in the music world. Before
Hendrix's death he had turned down an approach to join Keith Emerson
and Greg Lake in a new band that could have become ELM rather than
ELP. In 1972 he recorded one album with the band Ramatam and there
were gigs with Terry Reid, Jack Bruce and Jeff Beck. As a mere
employee, Mitchell had not made a fortune from the Experience's
success and at one low point in the 1970s he was forced to boost his
funds by selling a guitar Hendrix had given him. It was almost
certainly financial considerations that caused him to audition for
Paul McCartney's band Wings in 1974, but the job went to Geoff
In later years Mitchell worked on a number of Hendrix tribute
projects. He had finished an Experience Hendrix tour of the US five
days before he died.
Mitch Mitchell dies at age 61 in Portland
The Orange County Register (MCT)
Issue date: 11/17/08
Or 62, depending on which source you believe. In any case, Mitch
Mitchell was found dead early Wednesday morning in a hotel room in
Portland, Ore., apparently of natural causes.
Which means that the entire Jimi Hendrix Experience, guitarist
Hendrix, drummer Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding, is now dead. It
also means both of Hendrix's key drummers are now gone, as Band of
Gypsys sticksman Buddy Miles passed away in February.
Rolling Stone and Pitchfork have brief reports saluting Mitchell's
many accomplishments, chief among them being his groundbreaking work
on the three seminal Experience albums, Are You Experienced? (1967),
Axis: Bold as Love (1968) and Electric Ladyland (1969), as well as
his performances backing Hendrix at Monterey Pop, Woodstock and the
Isle of Wight festival in 1970.
A lesser but interesting footnote: He also drummed for the Dirty Mac,
the ad-hoc group fronted by John Lennon and featuring Eric Clapton on
guitar and Keith Richards on bass, which performed Yer Blues during
the Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus in late '68.
But more recently Mitchell had been appearing on the Experience
Hendrix tour, alongside Gypsys bassist Billy Cox and a slew of
guitarists, from veterans like Buddy Guy and Hubert Sumlin to
relative newcomers like Jonny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
RIP, Mitch. Your innovative style and key role in a crucial piece of
rock 'n' roll history will not be forgotten.