Obit: Mitch Mitchell, 1947-2008.


by Brick Wahl

RIP Mitch Mitchell. Jimi Hendrix's drummer. The dude wailed like nobody. Tiny little English bastard doing his best Elvin Jones. Cool. And man could he get up a shambolic shuffle. Listen to "Hey Baby" . . . the one from "Rainbow Bridge." Hip hippie jazzness at its best. Wasn't another rock drummer that could play just like that. Dropping in Max Roach snare snaps and rim smacks and riffling popping toms, some heavy tom shit like Joe Morello on “Take Five” (remember that? Mitchell apparrently dug Morello's thunder rolls), and all that Elvin that Jimi wanted -- like when they come out at Monterey and light into "Killing Floor" and Mitch's rolls are so all over and so in there and it's frigging glorious. Crazy crazy rock'n'roll, man. Just like god intended it to be, if god smoked a lot of dope and didn't worry much about meter . . .

(Did he and Keith Moon ever play together? Can you imagine?)

Nice guy, too. It was a dinner party somewhere in Silver Lake, eons ago. All these miserable guitar players wanted to play "Red House" with him, like he hadn't been there and done that like sooooooooooooooo much better . . . Incredibly, he smiled and put up with them all. They raise 'em polite over there in England, apparently. When at last freed from his throne there was a dinner party inside. Someone put on Mingus. Two, three notes into it and Mitchell flipped. “I LOVE this!!! WHO put this on????” Outside some guitar players were brutalizing “Red House,” and inside Mitch Mitchell was hovering over the phonograph, hearing nothing but Mingus.

Yeah, alright. They can't live forever.


One story has it that in 1966 the choice for an Experience drummer came down to Mitch Mitchell and Aynsley Dunbar -- Hendrix flipped a coin and Mitchell won. I doubt the decision was that close; Dunbar had a great feel, but Mitchell could light major bonfires under Jimi’s butt.

Though Mitchell was just 19, he had already scored some pop marquee time with the Riot Squad and Georgie Fame; he’d even drummed with the Pretty Things for a minute. I don’t really hear the Elvin thing; Mitchell sounded more as if he were ceaselessly rattling up a Gene Krupa solo. Obviously he idolized Keith Moon, who was a year older and who’d played in a Royal Navy youth band. Mitchell took marching-band technique even further back to its roots with the way he hammered the snare, on “Fire” for instance -- it was an African drum designed for loudness, useful since the 1500s for keeping soldiers in formation amid battlefield gunfire, since the 1700s for martialing New Orleans funeral processions, and in the 1960s for assaulting the earholes of teenage pop fans. (Think the Dave Clark Five’s 1963 “Do You Love Me?,” Dylan’s 1966 “Rainy Day Women” and practically everything by the Who.)

Hendrix’s circa-1969 stint with the much simpler and heavier Buddy Miles (who passed this February) had its own virtues, but Jimi came back to Mitch in the end. It couldn’t have been the real Experience without him. With bassist Noel Redding (above left) having died in 2003, the trio’s full flame-out has been consummated.


Comments (2)

g.e. stinson:
i had the good fortune to be on a recording with mitch mitchell which was produced by eddie kramer. mitch was a really sweet guy. very down to earth, warm and unpretentious. i had the opportunity to go to a club and have a few beers with him. we didn't talk about the old days which i think was a relief for him. it's hard to think about mitch mitchell without being overwhelmed by his presence on some of the most influential rock recordings of all time. his unique attributes as a musician contributed a singular quality to that music which cannot be overstated. he was a very special drummer who played in an extremely musical way. a rare quality for any musician but for some reason extremely rare in drummers. peace, brother, we will miss you.
I was watching Jimi at Monterey that night and couldn't really hear the Elvin thing either . . . you DO hear a touch of it later, but yeah, Gene Krupa. I heard once too that Mitchell was a Jo Jones freak as well. Jimi called him his Elvin Jones . . . but that's like calling a wild guitarist a "Jimi Hendrix" I think . . . even if he doesn't play like him. *** I guess now Randy Hansen is the last surviving member, huh?