|Thursday, 13 November 2008 11:14|
John "Mitch" Mitchell
Born: July 9, 1947 Ealing, Middlesex, England
Died: November 12, 2008, Portland, Oregon, USA
Cause of death: Natural causes.
Notable because: Drummer with Jimi Hendrix experience.
Mitch Mitchell was an English drummer, most famous for his membership in The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Before joining The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Mitchell gained experience touring and as a session musician and had starred in a children's program on TV when he was a teenager. Pre-Experience bands included Johnny Harris and the Shades, The Pretty Things, The Riot Squad and Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames. He had also worked in Jim Marshall's (creator of the Marshall amps) music shop in London, and was one of Marshall's drum students.
Mitchell was known for his work with The Jimi Hendrix Experience on such songs as "Manic Depression", "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)", "Fire" and "Third Stone from the Sun". Mitchell came from a jazz background and like many of his drummer contemporaries was strongly influenced by the work of Elvin Jones, Max Roach, and Joe Morello.
Mitchell played in Hendrix's Experience trio from October 1966 to mid-1969, his Woodstock band in August 1969, and also with the later incarnation of the "Jimi Hendrix Experience" in 1970, with Billy Cox on bass, known as the "Cry of Love" band. Jimi Hendrix would often record tracks in the studio with only Mitchell, and in concert the two fed off of each other to exciting effect. Buddy Miles replaced Mitchell for the three months it took to rehearse, record, produce and deliver the finished Band of Gypsys LP to Ed Chalpin.
Mitchell played in the band The Dirty Mac which was assembled for The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus in 1968. The band contained John Lennon as "Winston Leg-Thigh" as vocalist and rhythm guitarist, Eric Clapton as guitarist, Keith Richards as bassist, and Mitch Mitchell as drummer. They recorded a rendition of the song "Yer Blues", as well as a jam called "Whole Lotta Yoko".
After Hendrix's death, Mitchell (along with engineer Eddie Kramer) finished production work on multiple incomplete Hendrix recordings, resulting in posthumous releases such as "Cry of Love" and "Rainbow Bridge". In 1972, he teamed up with guitarists April Lawton and Mike Pinera (who would later go on to join Iron Butterfly) to form the quite innovative act Ramatam. They recorded one album and were Emerson, Lake & Palmer's opening act at a number of concerts. Interestingly, Mitchell had been offered the drum spot in ELP during 1970, but turned it down in favour of playing with Hendrix. Ramatam never achieved commercial success and Mitchell left the act before their second LP release. Mitchell also did some gigs with Terry Reid, Jack Bruce, and Jeff Beck (substituting for drummer Cozy Powell, then sick).
According to Eddie Kramer's book Hendrix: Setting the Record Straight, Michael Jeffery, Hendrix's manager, an innovator in getting Hendrix promoted and established, relegated both Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding to the status of mere paid employees without an ownership share in future revenues. This limited their earnings to a very low rate and led to Mitchell and Redding being largely excluded from sharing in future revenues generated from their work with The Jimi Hendrix Experience. This arrangement pressured Mitchell in the mid-1970s to sell a prized Hendrix guitar. In addition, he sold his small legal claim to future Hendrix record sales for a sum reported to be in the range of $200,000. In 1974, he auditioned for Paul McCartney's band Wings, but was turned down in favour of drummer Geoff Britton.
For the rest of the '70s through to the '90s, Mitchell continued to perform and occasionally record although essentially doing so under the radar of most of his previous fans. He kept reasonably busy doing occasional session work (such as Junior Brown's "Long Walk Back" album) as well as participating in various Hendrix-related recordings, videos, and interviews.
In 1999, Mitchell appeared on the late Bruce Cameron's album, "Midnight Daydream" that included other Hendrix alumni Billy Cox and Buddy Miles along with Jack Bruce, with whom Mitchell had worked after Hendrix's death. Mitchell, seemingly in an attempt to satisfy the most enthusiastic fans of his drum work with Hendrix, even played a series of live shows with the very accurate Hendrix emulator Randy Hansen. Most recently, he was part of the "Gypsy Sun Experience" band, along with former Hendrix bassist Billy Cox and guitarist Gary Serkin. He entered semi-retirement living in Europe.
His last days were spent celebrating the music and legacy of Jimi Hendrix with old and new friends on the 2008 Experience Hendrix tour. For nearly 4 weeks, the tour traveled coast-to-coast in the US, bringing the music of Jimi Hendrix to nearly 50,000 fans across the country. In addition to Mitchell, the tour featured Buddy Guy, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Eric Johnson, Cesar Rojas, David Hidalgo (Los Lobos), Aerosmith's Brad Whitford, Hubert Sumlin (Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters), Chris Layton (Double Trouble) as well as Eric Gales and Mato Nanji (Indigenous). The tour ended 5 days before Mitchell was found dead at approximately 3 a.m. on November 12, 2008 in his room at the Benson Hotel in downtown Portland. Mitchell, 61, apparently died of natural causes, Erin Patrick, the Multnomah County Medical Examiner said. An autopsy is planned.(as of 11/12/2008) He was the last surviving member of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, not counting Billy Cox. Mitchell was to leave Portland, on Wednesday, 12 November, and return to his home in England.
Mitchell pioneered a style of drumming which would later become known as fusion. This is a "lead" style of playing distinguished by interplay with lead instruments such as guitar or keyboards, and the melding of jazz and rock drumming styles. Though lead drums was not a new concept in the world of jazz, it was relatively unheard of in the rock genre at the time. Upon joining Hendrix in late 1966, it soon became evident to Mitch that the trio format of the band was very similar to the recently formed Cream, and that it would allow him an opportunity to become more free with his playing. Like a jazz drummer, Mitch's playing not only provided a rhythmic support for the music, but also a source of momentum and melody. He made heavy use of snare rudiments, fast single and double stroke rolls, and jazz triplet patterns in his playing, and shifted between both traditional and matched grips. Notable examples of his style include the rudiment-heavy fills on "Hey Joe", which help to carry the song through a series increasingly intense crescendos. "Manic Depression" is a 3/4 rock waltz that finds Mitch playing a driving afro-cuban inspired beat, which then shifts to an explosion of triplets all around the drumkit during the outro. "Third Stone from the Sun" incorporates a jazz ride pattern to underpin Hendrix's jazzy surf guitar, and the spacey breakdown section features polyrythmic drum fills that float over the 4/4 meter. "1983... (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)" features military-style snare drum work and delicate cymbal playing that evokes the sound of wind chimes. The long blues jam "Voodoo Chile" features Mitch playing a deep blues groove with subtle hi-hat accenting and powerful drum fills that help to propel the song to new heights. Alongside Hendrix's revolutionary guitar work and songwriting, Mitchell's playing helped redefine rock music drumming
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