Mitchell was one of the most influential drummers of the late 1960s and early 1970s. In the few years before joining The Experience he was known locally as an outstanding session drummer and had hosted a children’s program on TV. Pre-Experience bands included “Johnny Harris and the Shades” The Riot Squad and Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames.
Mitchell is noted for his work with The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and legendary work 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, Philly Joe Jones, and Art Blakey. He brought this dynamic, flowing style to the group, and was given the freedom to perform interplay with Jimi Hendrix, while still maintaining a foundational rhythm. The speed and creativity of his comping style of playing was impressive, as any drummer trying to emulate it would attest. In the Experience’s film debut at Monterey Pop Festival, Mitchell’s playing appears to be on fast speed relative to all else on stage.
Mitchell pioneered a style of drumming, which would later become known as fusion. This is a “lead” style of playing distinguished by virtuoso interplay with lead instruments such as guitar or keyboards, and the melding of jazz and rock drumming styles. In late 1966, this expressive and flamboyant style of playing was unusual in rock and roll. Historically drums were relegated to the background, keeping rhythm along with the electric bass. Along with Hendrix’s revolutionary guitar work and songwriting, Mitchell’s playing helped redefine rock music. He did this, incidentally, using the traditional ‘classic grip’ method of holding the drum sticks, as did many other technically extraordinary drummers such as Louis Bellson and Buddy Rich, or the innovative Tony Williams.
Mitchell was Hendrix’s most important musical collaborator, playing in Hendrix’s Experience trio from October 1966 to mid-1969, his Woodstock band in August 1969, and also his “Cry of Love” band in 1970. Hendrix would often record tracks in the studio with only Mitchell, and in concert the two fed off of each other to exciting effect.
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 favor of playing with Hendrix. Ramatam never achieved commercial success and Mitchell left the act prior to their second LP release. Mitchell also did some gigs with Terry Reid, Jack Bruce, and Jeff Beck (subbing for drummer Cozy Powell, then sick).
According to Eddie Kramer’s book Hendrix: Setting the Record Straight, Michael Jefferey, 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 1970’s 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.
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 Home” 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 passing. 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 is now in semi-retirement and lives in Europe.
Edited by metawirt on 13 Nov 2008, 09:58
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