percussionist behind Hendrix goes to the great drum circle in the sky.
By Rev. Keith Gordon
Mitch Mitchell, best-known as the powerful presence behind
the drum kit of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, died of natural causes in Portland, Oregon
on Wednesday, November 12, 2008 at the age of 62.
John “Mitch” Mitchell was born on July 9, 1947 in London, England.
As a young teen, Mitchell starred in the BBC television program Jennings,
but his love of American jazz, blues, and rock music turned him away from
acting towards music. During the early-60s, Mitchell honed his craft as a session
musician, playing on the Pretty Things’ second album, and later performed with
Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames.
Fate came calling in 1966, however, when Mitchell beat out
Aynsley Dunbar (allegedly by a coin toss) for a seat with the Jimi Hendrix Experience
alongside bassist Noel Redding. Although some critics have claimed through the
years that the guitarist was saddled with two white musicians in order to
appeal to a wider rock audience, the truth is that Mitchell provided an
essential element to the Hendrix legacy.
Mitchell’s inventive jazz-rock fusion style of drumming
allowed him to riff easily behind Hendrix’s improvisational flights of fancy,
and his work on songs like “Fire” and “Manic Depression”
make a strong argument for Mitchell as the consummate rock drummer of the
Mitchell played behind Hendrix in the Experience from 1966
until its break-up in 1969, performed as part of the guitarist’s band at Woodstock and the Isle of Wight
festivals, and was a member of the final Experience line-up at the time of
Hendrix’s death in 1970.
Post-Hendrix, Mitchell hooked up with April Lawton and Mike
Pinera in Ramatam, recording two albums with the band. Over the next three
decades, Mitchell kept a low profile, recording sporadically with artists like
Randy California, Robert Wyatt, Bruce Cameron, and Junior Brown.
At the time of his death, Mitchell had just completed the
month-long, 18-city “Experience Hendrix” tour, a celebration of the
life and music of Jimi Hendrix. The tribute featured guitarists like Jonny Lang,
Eric Gales, and blues legends Buddy Guy and Hubert Sumlin performing classic
Hendrix tunes in front of the rhythm section of Billy Cox and Mitchell. The
tour’s last date was in Portland and Mitchell
had decided to stay in the city for a few days before returning to England.
Mitch Mitchell’s life should be celebrated, not only for the
part he played in creating the enduring music of Jimi Hendrix, but also for his
influence on a generation of rock drummers that followed his lead.