Mitch Mitchell Remembered
By Mick Polich - 11/13/2008 - 01:25 PM EST
When I was nine years old, I heard Jimi Hendrix's song "Purple Haze" on my little AM radio in 1967 - it scared the bee-jeezus outta me. With the ominous, dark opening guitar riff, and it's in-the-moment drug-inspired lyric content, it was far beyond anything I had heard up to that point on the nationwide "Good Guy Radio" format (The FM underground format was a few years away in central Iowa). Besides the other-wordly guitar riffing, one thing that caught me was the drumming - it was different then what I had experienced in any pop songs in my little universe. The man behind the drum set on "Haze", and many a Hendrix recording, was John "Mitch" Mitchell. The guy was a drummer's drummer - sure, Ginger Baker and Keith Moon were getting more press and attention for their skills and antics on record and in-concert, but you could tell Jimi had found a perfect musical foil in Mitchell - in a sports metaphor, Mitch was Scottie Pippen to Hendrix's Michael Jordan, grooving in sync and style.
Having been a child actor, and played in a number of obscure R and B and rock groups before being plucked out of a nightclub gig by then Hendrix manager Chas Chandler, Mitch gave the drum and music world at the time a different flavor. Mitchell's idol was Elvin Jones, and you can hear the Jones-inspired drumming in such cuts as "Third Stone From The Sun" and the live version of "Spanish Castle Magic" on the "Woodstock" CD. Underrated but never undulated in his musical prowess, Mitchell was actually touring before his death with the "Experience Hendrix" band for a retrospect of Jimi's music, playing with such greats as Brad Whitford, Eric Johnson, and Mitch's old buddy/former Hendrix bassist Billy Cox. In interviews that I've read with Mitchell, he was always a gentleman, while never failing to 'tell it like it is' to correct some misquote or wrong in regards to the legacy of Jimi.
As I type this, my downstairs DVD player is blasting the Hendrix "Woodstock" DVD, straining it's little speakers. As a guy who dreamed of being a drummer first, then a guitarist ( but ended up bass-ackwards on that realm, only to get my first drum kit 5 years ago), Mitch provided the technique and groove I could relate to. He had enormous double-bass chops - well needed at the time - while giving a certain intelligence to everything he played on. He always responded to the song's melody, bringing to mind such a modern-day old schooler such as Richie Hayward from Little Feat.
May I suggest cueing up Jimi's "If Six Was Nine", a cold beverage in tow, and waving your freak flag high in salute for Mitch Mitchell - let's celebrate what's he's given us in music history.
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