One of rock’s true greats, Mitch Mitchell’s drumming was a key element in the sound of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.. Hendrix’s guitar pyrotechnics caused an immediate sensation among the British rock elite the audience at one early gig included John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Brian Jones and a backup band was needed for a last-minute French tour. Noel Redding was hired first… at bass guitar, followed a few days later by Mr. Mitchell, who was barely out of his teens but already an established session player in London.
Led by Hendrix’s explosive and rhapsodic style, the group revolutionized rock music and became an archetypal power trio. Its style was built around Hendrix’s improvisations, with Mr. Redding’s sticky-thick steady bass lines acting as an anchor and Mitchell who was influenced by jazz players like Elvin Jones and Buddy Rich, playing a lighter, fill-in, looser counterpoint to the guitar. The sheer volume, incandescence and pyromaniac creativity that to this day it remains unmatched and undimmed. It still has the power to knock you off your seat and Mitch Mitchell’s percussive ferocity is a significant contributor to that. Mitchell had been a child actor, a skill he brought to bear in the spoken word intro to Axis: Bold As Love, and at ease with the extroversion of rock showmanship.
The group also developed a signature look that embodied the dandyish flamboyance of the British psychedelic era. The members sought out bell-bottoms and vintage clothes in British shops and teased out their hair.
From Hendrix’s first album, “Are You Experienced”.. the track, “Manic Depression” exposed the true unequivocal essence of Michell’s playing. The snare drum/ride cymbal interplay that brings in this Hendrix Experience classic has all the hallmarks of a top-name drummer at the peak of his power; somehow underlines it all with a stonking groove and feel. This was recorded back in March 1967, when Mitchell was just 20 years old. Apparently inspired by Johnny Dankworth’s African Waltz and Hendrix’s instructions to Redding and Mitchell.. “Think Africa”, here is a drum part that takes every second of Mitchell’s jazz schooling and smashes it into a guitar-hero rock tune. It sought to embody the feeling that the world of music was open and the cusp of change.
He passed away in 2006 at the age of 61 while on tour in Portland, OR…. a man who has without question earned his place at rock drumming’s top table. Rock pundits should always remember to open their ears beyond Hendrix’s dazzling playing and recall that Mitchell was, then and forever, an indispensable part of the Experience.