November 15 2008
Mitch Mitchell, who died this week aged 61, was the drummer with the
Jimi Hendrix Experience and the last surviving member of the trio
which proved one of the most influential bands in rock music.
He was on the last stop of an 18-city US tour with Experience Hendrix
-- a concert series celebrating the legacy of the late rock star.
Mitchell, who had studied the examples of Max and Elvin Jones, melded
jazz and rock styles into what was to become known as "fusion". His
free and explosive technique made the drums a force in their own
right rather than merely a rhythmic support to Hendrix.
John Mitchell was born at Ealing, West London, on July 9 1947, and
started off his showbusiness career as a child actor.
But his love of jazz and pop music was paramount, and his skills on
the drums were largely self-taught. While still in his teens he was
working as a session musician with groups such as Johnny Harris and
the Shades, the Pretty Things and the Riot Squad. In 1965 he began to
attract notice playing with Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames.
At about this time Jimi Hendrix was discovered in a club in New York
and was brought over to London by Chas Chandler, formerly of the
Animals. Chandler hired Noel Redding to play bass, then offered
Mitchell the role as drummer.
"We met in this sleazy little club," Mitchell later recalled, "and
[Jimi] was this guy in a Burberry raincoat. We did some Chuck Berry
and took it from there." At first Mitchell had no great expectations.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience held its first rehearsal on October 6,
1966, and almost immediately made its live debut opening for Johnny
Hallyday on a short French tour. On the tour they played their
version of Hey Joe (a song written by Billy Roberts) and two months
later released it as a single making the British Top Ten.
The band then signed to Track Records and put out Purple Haze (which
reached No 3 in May 1967) before touring Britain. Their debut album,
Are You Experienced?, reached No 2 -- and would have attained the top
spot had it not been in competition with the Beatles' Sgt Pepper. The
band gave a memorable performance at the 1967 Monterey pop festival
-- at which Hendrix famously set fire to his guitar -- and released
the album Axis: Bold As Love.
The double-album Electric Ladyland (which featured Crosstown Traffic
and Voodoo Chile) came out in 1968 and went to the top of the
American charts. By now the Jimi Hendrix Experience was among the
world's most successful and flamboyant groups.
In September they had a hit with their cover of Bob Dylan's All Along
the Watchtower, but the end of their success was in sight: all three
members of the group were drained by the relentless travel, lack of
sleep and prodigious quantities of drugs.
Chandler, their manager, had walked out during the recording of
Electric Ladyland. Mitchell and Redding also left the band, although
in 1969 Mitchell played with Hendrix at Woodstock. In 1970 he briefly
rejoined Hendrix, at the Isle of Wight festival.
Hendrix died at his girlfriend's London flat as a result of choking
on his own vomit in September 1970 at the age of only 27. Mitchell
had auditioned for Paul McCartney's band Wings in 1974, but was not
taken on. He continued to perform with various artists, including
Jack Bruce (the former bassist with Cream) and Jeff Beck. Recently he
was part of the Gypsy Sun Experience band.
Noel Redding died in Clonakilty, Co Cork in 2003, aged 57, leaving
Mitchell the only surviving member of the Experience.
Before his death Mitchell had just completed the Experience Hendrix
Tour in the US alongside blues guitarist Buddy Guy and Robby Krieger
from the Doors. Mitch Mitchell was found dead on Wednesday in his
hotel room at Portland, Oregon, where the band had appeared last
Friday. He is survived by his wife, Dee, and a daughter.