British drummer Mitch Mitchell (1946-2008) played for Jimi Hendrix. He was quite brilliant and lauded by Hendrix—so let’s thrash this one out.
The Genius of Mitch Mitchell’s Drumming
The drummer’s performance on Hey Joe is a perfect place to start. A fine example of his power, fluidity, and rock/jazz influences.
He grew up in Middlesex just after WWII. Weirdly enough, he also had roles as a child actor in British films such as Bottoms Up (1960).
But as his musical interests grew, Mitchell was inspired by jazz drummers such as Ronnie Stephenson. And that’s a huge part of his playing style, the jazzy chops. Much like Ginger Baker.
He auditioned to join Jimi Hendrix’s band in October 1966. In fact, the guitarist couldn’t make up his mind.
Mitchell and other English drummer Aynsley Dunbar impressed him so much he decided on a coin toss. The former won the gig and that’s history for you. A lot of luck and Mitchell was off.
Meanwhile, by that point The Who was massive. And seeing Keith Moon and his furious drumming style, Mitchell took that and adapted it.
Moon wasn’t impressed and the two had an unhealthy rivalry after that, fueled by Moon’s anger of being copied.
Mitchell was more technically accomplished, though, and could match Hendrix’s busy style. Including whenever he went off on one, whether live or not.
For us watching now, he was one of the few rock drummers of his era to continue on with traditional grip. A homage to his jazz roots.
Even Ginger Baker, massive jazz enthusiast, stopped that.
But Mitchell also threw in that explosive Sixties rock element. John Bonham was adept at it. Moon and Baker also.
And we can’t help but feel like jazz drumming greats were threatened by it. Buddy Rich, as brilliant as he was, threw scorn onto the rock drumming world.
But then you had the likes of Mitchell who merged the two together. Behold a solo.
Ultimately, Mitchell’s drumming brilliance was overshadowed by the nature of Hendrix’s genius.
Whilst the guitarist poured praise onto his sticksman, during the Sixties it was all about Jimi. Kind of understandable given his talent.
You think of the moments. Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Woodstock in 1969. Hendrix was the centre of attention. And in many respects, rightfully so.
But to hold your own in the presence of a legend—well, that’s mighty impressive stuff. And with bassist Noel Redding (1945-2003) they were pretty epic together.
Ultimately, Hendrix’s drug abuse led to frictions in the band. Redding and Mitchell left and rejoined a few times leading up to the fateful 1970.
But for Mitchell, he was essentially drumming typecast. He never got over his involvement with Hendrix and formed a tribute act to Hendrix’s music.
It seems odd such a gifted drummer didn’t do much else after 1970, but there we go. His minor projects aside, Mitchell dedicated his time to marking Hendrix’s legacy.
And why not? That’s a once in a lifetime deal. A handful of years with a genius and you may want to dedicate your time to it, too.
That’s why you’re here reading Professional Moron. *giggle snort guffaw*