Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hats Off to Mitch Mitchell

I bought the first Jimi Hendrix Experience album "Are You Experienced" the day it came out in August of 1967.
I wore that LP out.
Hendrix, Noel Redding and Mitchell took the music of the day to a new level. As long as there is recorded music to listen to, they will never be forgotten. 2008 photo

PORTLAND, Oregon (AP) -- Mitch 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.

From left, Noel Redding, Jimi Hendrix and Mitch Mitchell arrive at Heathrow airport in London in 1967.

From left, Noel Redding, Jimi Hendrix and Mitch Mitchell arrive at Heathrow airport in London in 1967.

Mitchell was a powerful force on the Hendrix band's 1967 debut album "Are You Experienced?" as well as the trio's albums "Electric Ladyland" and "Axis: Bold As Love." He had an explosive drumming style that can be heard in hard-charging songs such as "Fire" and "Manic Depression."

The Englishman had been drumming for the Experience Hendrix Tour, which performed Friday in Portland. It was the last stop on the West Coast part of the tour.

Hendrix died in 1970. Bass player Noel Redding died in 2003.

An employee at Portland's Benson Hotel called police after discovering Mitchell's body.

Erin Patrick, a deputy medical examiner, said Mitchell apparently died of natural causes. An autopsy was planned.

"He was a wonderful man, a brilliant musician and a true friend," said Janie Hendrix, chief executive of the Experience Hendrix Tour and Jimi Hendrix' stepsister. "His role in shaping the sound of the Jimi Hendrix Experience cannot be underestimated."

Bob Merlis, a spokesman for the tour, said Mitchell had stayed in Portland for a four-day vacation and planned to leave Wednesday.

"It was a devastating surprise," Merlis said. "Nobody drummed like he did."

He said he saw Mitchell perform two weeks ago in Los Angeles, and the drummer appeared to be healthy and upbeat.

Merlis said the tour was designed to bring together veteran musicians who had known Hendrix -- like Mitchell -- and younger artists, such as Grammy-nominated winner Jonny Lang, who have been influenced by him.

Blues-rock guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd, who is 31 and was part of the tour, said Mitchell was to the drums what Hendrix was to the guitar.

"Today many of us have lost a dear friend, and the world has lost a rock n' roll hero," he said.

Mitchell was a one-of-a-kind drummer whose "jazz-tinged" style was influenced by Max Roach and Elvin Jones, Merlis said. The work was a vital part of both the Jimi Hendrix Experience in the 1960s and the Experience Hendrix Tour that ended last week, he said.

"If Jimi Hendrix were still alive," Merlis said, "he would have acknowledged that."

During his career Mitchell played with the best in the business -- not just Hendrix, but also Eric Clapton, John Lennon, Keith Richards, Jack Bruce, Jeff Beck, Muddy Waters and others.

Mitchell performed with Hendrix and Redding at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967, the U.S. debut of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. He also was member of a later version of the band that performed the closing set of the Woodstock Festival in August 1969 -- where Hendrix played a psychedelic version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" before the band launched into "Purple Haze."

The Jimi Hendrix Experience was inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame in 1992. According to the Hall of Fame, Mitchell was born July 9, 1947, in Ealing, England.

Terry Stewart, chief executive of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, said Mitchell transformed his instrument from a "strictly percussive element to a lead instrument."

"His interplay with Jimi Hendrix's guitar on songs like 'Fire' is truly amazing," Stewart said Wednesday. "Mitch Mitchell had a massive influence on rock 'n' roll drumming and took it to new heights."

Hendrix, Redding and Mitchell held their first rehearsal in October 1966, according to the Hall of Fame's Web site.

In an interview last month with the Boston Herald, Mitchell said he met Hendrix "in this sleazy little club."

"We did some Chuck Berry and took it from there," Mitchell told the newspaper. "I suppose it worked."

It’s hard to be the greatest guitarist in history of the universe with a dud drummer.

Maybe impossible. Luckily, we never need to find out thanks to Mitch Mitchell.

Jimi Hendrix’s Scottie Pippen, his Ed McMahon, his Ron Weasley, was Mitchell, the drummer in the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the guy behind the kit at Woodstock, Monterey and the Isle of Wight.

Almost 40 years after Hendrix’s death, Mitchell, 61, is preparing for the Experience Hendrix tour, which stops at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom on Wednesday, Providence Performing Arts Center on Friday and the Orpheum on Saturday. Mitchell and fellow Hendrix cohort, bassist Billy Cox, will team with axemen Buddy Guy, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Eric Johnson and Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford - because it takes at least five guys to come close to Hendrix. Mitchell took a break from packing to tell us why he’s still playing Jimi classics.

Mitchell drum solo on “Catfish Blues” 1967 (Story continues below)

Herald: At your age, what gets you flying across the Atlantic to play with these guys?

Mitchell: One word, three letters. F-U-N. And also, let’s put it this way: I didn’t play with Billy Cox for many years, so playing with him is like putting on your favorite pair of sneakers or your favorite slippers. It feels so comfortable. I’m also one of those really lucky people that still loves playing drums. If it gets to be work, I won’t do it.

You didn’t work a ton with Billy back in the day. How do you work as a rhythm section?

I have to correct you on that. Billy and I worked with and without Jimi quite a lot in the studio in ’68 or maybe ’69. We got to know each other and worked together without Jimi later. We quite get on with each other’s playing.

How’d you meet Jimi and how’d you know you wanted to play with him? Better yet, how’d he know he wanted to play with you?

(Laughs) Well, that’s a question for Jimi. But I was working with a band in the UK, doing mostly r&b covers. That band got disbanded on a Monday and on Tuesday I got a call from (Hendrix manager) Chas Chandler asking if I’d fancy playing with this guitarist he’d brought over from America. We met in this sleazy little club, and (Jimi) was this guy in a Burberry raincoat. We did some Chuck Berry and took it from there. I suppose it worked.

On these tours, you’ve shared the stage with both legends such as Buddy Guy, the Doors’ Robby Krieger and Rolling Stones’ veteran Mick Taylor and young guys such as Lang, Shepherd and pedal-steel innovator Robert Randolph. How does your playing fit with all these different guitarists on this tour?

It’s a cliche, but these shows keep you on the balls of your feet. I think it’s really healthy for my playing. It’s challenging. Last year I got up and sat in with Buddy Guy. It wasn’t planned or anything. But it felt OK. (Laughs). After all, they didn’t complain. Then there’s someone like Eric Johnson. I met him in Los Angeles 25 years ago but I haven’t really played with him, so there’s always new players to connect with.

Is there anyone that gives off the same spark as Hendrix?

No. I’ve got to keep it quite straightforward on that. I’ll never go looking for that, because it doesn’t exist. It’s like trying to compare John Coltrane to Wayne Shorter. You can’t. I’ll never go along with a straight Jimi tribute thing because it doesn’t exist and it never will. People have different interpretations of the songs and that’s good, but it’s not the same. People need to remember Jimi didn’t go up to 11 on the amp all the time, he kept the undertones. People forget that.

Interview with Mitch Michell from the Boston Herald, Oct. 13, 2008


By Matt Dickinson, PA
Thursday, 13 November 2008

Mitch Mitchell has been described as one of the three great British rock drummers of the 1960s.

According to fan forum, he had "magnificent rhythmic drive" and ranks alongside legendary Cream drummer Ginger Baker and The Who's Keith Moon.

Mitchell was born in Ealing, west London, on 9 July 1947, and started off his showbiz career as a child actor.

But his love of jazz and rock music soon took over and he developed into a largely-self taught and in-demand session drummer by his late teens.

He played for a variety of bands during the early 1960s, including The Tornados, and Riot Squad, also auditioning at one point for The Who.

His big break came in 1965 after joining jazz star Georgie Fame and his outfit The Blue Flames.

After that group was disbanded a year later, Mitchell was recruited within a week to join up with the world's most electrifying guitarist, Jimi Hendrix, and bassist Noel Redding.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience held its first rehearsal on October 6, 1966, and quickly secured their place in rock and roll history thanks to their powerhouse performances.

In a recent interview with a US paper, Mitchell recalled the moment he joined the band: "I got a call from (Hendrix manager) Chas Chandler asking if I'd fancy playing with this guitarist he'd brought over from America.

"We met in this sleazy little club, and (Jimi) was this guy in a Burberry raincoat. We did some Chuck Berry and took it from there. I suppose it worked."

A week after the group was formed, the Experience played a four-day French tour supporting French rocker Johnny Hallyday.

A clutch of classic albums including Are You Experienced? and Electric Ladyland followed that featured tracks like Purple Haze, Little Wing and Hey Joe.

The group also notched up some of the famous performances of all time, including at the Monterey Pop Festival where Hendrix famously set light to his guitar, and Woodstock.

After the guitarist's death in 1970 aged just 27, Mitchell's career lacked direction but he continued to play and record with some of rock and jazz world's biggest names, including former Cream bassist Jack Bruce.

In 1992 the Jimi Hendrix Experience was inducted with Redding into the prestigious Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Redding died at 57 in 2003, leaving Mitchell the only surviving member of the legendary trio.

Before his death, he was performing with the Experience Hendrix Tour in the US with companions including guitarists Buddy Guy and Robby Krieger from The Doors.

One tribute on a fan site appeared to sum his career up: "A lot of drummers are great but there is only one Mitch Mitchell. Mitchell held it all together for Hendrix. How do you play drums like that? He's the best I ever heard! That's the way real drums should sound like!"
more photos at NME


  1. "Electric Ladyland" to me, is the best album of all time.

    The shit that you hear on that album is other worldly and all the more impressive when you realize it was recorded back in the late 1960's, before all of the whiz bang devices and computers they use today.

    That album has accompanied me on many a trip thru the cosmos and never let me down.

    The 12 bar blues song, "Red House" is a king-size motherfucker.

    "Crosstown Traffic" will blow the balls off a charging rhino at 50 yards.. sorry Ted, you just don't have Jimi's chops, never did and never will.

    "1983... A Merman I should turn to be" is another fantastic cut..

    Hell, each and every song is a masterpiece.

    Goodbye Mitch, you won't be forgotten.

  2. I would have to agree with you on "ladyland" Greg.

    I had a friend who actually got hold of a copy of the rare issue with the nude cover art and we 'stared' at it often in amazement.

    Here are links to that cover:

    The album was definitely ahead of its time in more ways than one.

  3. Yeah, i've seen pics of the original album cover that was sanitized for American consumption.

    What a shame.

    However, i did manage to get hold of the original cover CD of Blind Faith's first album that showed a topless teenage girl, holding a model jet, standing in a field.

    Don't know how that got past the censors.

    Someone who does an excellent copy of "Red House" is Jimmy Thackery and the Drivers on their CD called, "Empty Arms Motel."

    Back in May of 1970 I had two tickets to a Hendrix concert in St. Louis at Kiel Auditorium.

    Fifth row, no less.

    But the concert was cancelled, never to be rescheduled.

  4. I don't think the risque 'ladyland' and 'blind faith' covers ever got by the censors in this country. The ones that made it here were imports from England and Europe.

    Unfortunate that the show was canceled, it would have been a great memory to carry forward.

    The closest I got to Hendrix was second hand stories from some people I knew who actually played with him.
    I wrote a little about it here: