Last Updated: 11/11/2009 | Viewed 14698 times
John "Mitch" Mitchell (9 July
1947 – 12 November 2008) was an English drummer, best known for his
work in The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
A child actor, Mitch was
largely self taught, though he received some lessons when he worked in
Jim Marshall’s (the Amp man) music store. Mitch did some free lance
work before settling in with Georgie Fame and the Blue Fames. One of
the great UK jazz inflected R&B bands. After 18 months George fired
the whole band as management wanted a change in direction. The next day
Mitch got a call from Chas Chandler to come and try out with this
American he was managing. Mitch was invited to join for two weeks work touring France. One of the great musical synergies was born.
Jimi Hendrix has a magnificent rhythmic drive, his playing sets the
groove. He also has a strong idea what the bass player is to play.
Indeed he is a pretty good bass player himself as on several tracks he
replaced Noel Redding and recorded the bass himself ("All Along the
"1984…"). With Jimi setting the groove and the bass player holding it
and following his lead, the drummer had great opportunity to fill and
interact. Jimi and Mitch are closer to Townshend and Moon, then with
Cream (Baker had two lead guitarists!).
Mitch is a jazz influenced player, especially Elvin Jones but also Max
Roach and Joe Morello. He uses the underhand or military grip switching
to matched for tom work. He used a variety of kits: first Premier with
20" bass & 14x 8" top tom, then a Ludwig Silver Sparkle in the
classic jazz setup: 22" bass, 13x9" top, 14x14" & 16x16" floor,
Ludwig Supra-phonic snare. Cymbals varied but typically: 15" Hi-hat,
20" ride, 20" & 22" crash and later a 22" or 24" riveted ride. In
1969 he moved to a Ludwig double bass kit with 24" bass drums and
additional 12x8" top tom, then the same setup on Gretsch (possibly
Ludwig sponsorship in Europe and Gretsch in USA). The double kit didn't
change his style, it just added some tonal variety. Sticks were
medium/heavy and he played seated low in a hunched position.
Mitch plays in the Elvin Jones explosive style with fast snare and
cymbal riding coupled with more basic rock triplet bass patterns and
big bombs. In line with jazz drumming he played within the
snare/hi-hat/ride cymbal/bass drum arc with the toms as variations. His
hi-hat and cymbal work is of the highest order and he used brushes on
occasions. He is criticised as a busy drummer which is grossly
overstating the case. More restrained drumming may have been more
appropriate on a few tracks (that’s Mitch’s opinion). I really can’t
describe them as flawed, just that it could have been done differently
and that doesn’t mean better!
The thing that Mitch had was incredible stamina especially in the
studio as Hendrix endlessly worked though songs. He always responded to
Hendrix’s variations and worked from his arrangement. Mitch never
defined his arrangement within the song. Live was the same, as it was
need to follow Hendrix’s improvisations and also fill in those gaps,
especially when Hendrix did his stage act. It was behind these that
Mitch took his solo over a droning bass line, usually at an exciting
high tempo. He was a fast drummer - lightning at times and surprisingly
loud for his diminutive statue. But as a true soloist he could not
retain momentum - the solo on "Voodoo Child" looses momentum
surprisingly quickly. This is a result of the lack of thorough formal
training and the techniques that it provides to build a coherent solo -
a limitation of no relevance in this band.
Mitch’s critical asset was his explosive, intuitive responsiveness to
Jimi. He could lay down a strong, light groove but then instantly react
as Hendrix shifted gears or moved off in another direction. His style
is in stark contrast to Buddy Miles who lays down a relentless groove
which, when combined with the solid groove bass playing of Billy Cox,
Mitch’s return freed up Hendrix and Billy Cox as well. I really cannot
conceive of Baker playing this sort of role - his personal rhythmic
impetus would also have impeded Hendrix but not as greatly as Miles.
After Jimi died, Mitch languished in some ordinary projects. The one
that had the greatest potential was the Jack Bruce/Larry Coryell/Mitch
Mitchell/Michael Mandell jazz/rock fusion band. The available bootlegs
show Mitch playing in a jazzier style with some Bakerish inflections
with the tom fills. What I find most interesting is that the rhythmic
drive is coming from Jack, allowing Mitch to fill, reinforce and
explode but in a controlled way. That was a good band that should have
gone on but Jack got the irresistible call to join the Tony Williams
The third of the great British Rock drummers of the ‘60s, with a very
different style and technique. His legacy is an indispensible part of
that of Jimi Hendrix’s …’nough said.
Greatest moments: "Manic Depression", "Fire", "Crosstown Traffic" (the
groove), "Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)"and the BBC sessions.
Historical Footnote: Ginger and Mitch were not rivals, in fact they
were friendly members of the drummers club. On the night that Jimi
died, they had picked up Sly Stone from London airport and were looking
for Jimi to participate in a jam.
November 12, 2008
Mitch Mitchell, drummer for Hendrix, found dead
Mitchell, drummer for the legendary Jimi Hendrix Experience of the
1960s and the group's last surviving member, was found dead in his
hotel room early Wednesday. He was 61.