It is my very sad duty to report that Mitch Mitchell (61), drummer for the Jimi Hendrix Experience, was found dead this morning in a Portland, Oregon hotel.
The preliminary ruling is natural causes, although an autopsy will be performed.
Mitch was the last surviving member of the (original) Experience. Jimi died in 1970 and Noel Redding passed in 2003.
I really was doing my best to salvage a completely shitty day. I am suffering the aftereffects of a particularly nasty cold; in the stage where it sounds much worse than it is. I’m pretty tired because of this, plus I put in another one of those days at work where people are waiting for you before you enter the building and things only get worse from there. Where lunch is snatched by three in the afternoon and only because I hadn’t eaten all day. When my boss managed to drive my entire department crazy because it wasn’t enough that he was crazy by himself. The sharing was magnificent.
I suppose for me this is like losing one of the Beatles, only different (how’s that for descriptive?). Jimi is one of my favorite musicians of all time. He’s been gone for thirty eight years (uh-oh, that’s most of my life) and there are areas where people still haven’t caught up to him. He makes me proud to be a lefty Strat player (even though he used upside-down Strats).
I am not a drummer. I don’t claim to understand much about them. The most I can tell you is that whenever a drummer was late to a gig, we set up his kit left-handed. No one is quite ready for this, except for my brother, who actually plays his drums left-handed.
I can tell you what I like as far as drummers go. It can largely be summed up in two words: John Bonham. His timekeeping, leadfootedness, and sense of space (when not to play) continue to amaze me to this day. The combination of Richie Hayward (drums) and Sam Clayton (percussion) from Little Feat thrills me to no end.
I discovered Mitch Mitchell only through Jimi. He was obviously not the stereotypical rock pounder, the boring old Toss One Off studio guy, or a human rhythm box. My understanding is that he had a more traditional jazz background, which really made an interesting brew when combined with Jimi’s incindiery guitar work and Noel’s low end support (Noel was originally a guitarist but took the gig for the money).
If one were to ask to hear one song that really stood out, it would have to be Manic Depression. There is nothing normal about that beat (or the song). It’s in three (waltz) as opposed to four (rock), which further distinguishes it. What puts it over the top is Mitch’s frenzied yet solid playing. The beat is kept on a cymbal and the fills are on the tom toms. It’s very interesting and very not rock and roll. It is precisely this type of influence Mitch brought to the Experience. Combine one part jazz with two parts psychedelia and you have the recipe for either Musical Mayhem or some serious alchemy. Fortunately we are left with the latter.
After a lot of external turmoil, Jimi formed the Band of Gypsies with army buddy Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles (died February 2008) on drums. Their sole output was the live album recorded New Year’s Eve 1969/1970.
Mitch reunited with Jimi as the Experience, with Billy Cox on bass. In my opinion this marked a more solid sound and rhythm section for Jimi. If you can find a copy of the video Rainbow Bridge, you will see a very interesting performance from this band, filmed live in Hawaii. The scenery alone is worth the price of admission.
Mitch coauthored a very good book on his time with Jimi but his musical output was somewhat sporadic. He was finishing up the last leg of a tour with some contemporaries as well as disciples of Jimi.
Foul play is not suspected.
Can you imagine going out like this? The poor guy doesn’t even die a rock star’s death (choking on his own vomit due to intoxication of some variety)…. he only dies half a rock star’s death. It’s just not fitting for someone of his stature.
Play on, brother.