Saturday, November 15, 2008

Mitch Mitchell

Mitch Mitchell, one of rock's most innovative drummers and the last surviving member of the original Jimi Hendrix Experience, passed away Wednesday at age 61.

The jazz-influenced Mitchell had done a variety of session work prior to joining up with Hendrix, and he had also spent time in British R&B outfits The Pretty Things and Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames. He had also worked in Jim Marshall's music shop in London. (Marshall was the inventor of the amplifier that bears his name.) Mitchell joined the Jimi Hendrix Experience in October 1966, shortly after bassist Noel Redding, and over the next three years the trio blazed a fiery trail across the rock landscape.

Hendrix' sense of rhythm was so strong that he was able to set the groove with his playing, enabling his drummer more opportunity to fill and interact with his lead guitar lines. Mitchell was able to do this with great effect during his tenure with Hendrix, using ideas he picked up from jazz influences such as Elvin Jones and Max Roach to move the Experience's sound far beyond the standard blues-based power-trio format. The strong groove allowed Mitchell to play his drums more like a lead instrument. Mitchell and Hendrix developed an intuitive relationship where Mitchell could suddenly react as Hendrix changed gears, and Hendrix in turn played off of Mitchell's responses to his sudden tempo shifts.

Mitchell continued in a number of projects after Hendrix' death, but none came close to earning the acclaim he received with the Experience. While Hendrix was living, he was offered the drummer's chair in what was to become Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, but turned it down to continue with Hendrix. Most interesting of Mitchell's latterday outfits were Ramatam, a group featuring guitarists Mike Pinera and April Lawton, and a jazz-fusion group with guitarist Larry Coryell and ex-Cream bassist Jack Bruce that broke up when Bruce left to join Tony Williams' Lifetime. He also auditioned at one point for Paul McCartney's Wings, but was turned down. His last project was the 2008 Experience Hendrix Tour, an all-star lineup put together to celebrate the legacy of the great guitarist. Mitchell was in Portland, Oregon, five days after the tour ended, when he passed away in his hotel room.

Of "Fire", Brian Holland says it "may well have been the greatest three minutes of any drummer's career". Kinda tough to disagree.