By Rosie Smith, Third-Year Anthropology
People who aren’t hardcore fans of classic rock wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that guitar legend Jimi Hendrix was a solo act. Many people may not know the full entourage’s official name was ‘The Jimi Hendrix Experience’, consisting of Jimi Hendrix, of course, but also bassist Noel Redding, and drummer Mitch Mitchell.
Mitchell may not be as well known today as other more widely revered drummers, like John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, but many of said drummers have cited him as having had a major influence on their work. He’s been highly praised by legends like Queen’s Roger Taylor, and his impact on the music industry throughout the late 20th century and even into the modern day shouldn’t be underestimated.
In the fourteen years since his passing, it’s safe to say that The Jimi Hendrix Experience has in no way loosened its grip on popular imagination, but Mitchell’s accomplishments as a drummer should not be contained to just the group.
Born on the 9th of July, 1946, in London, Mitchell’s childhood was spent with one foot in the spotlight starring in various films and television shows. Yet, even then it seemed evident to those around him that his interests lay in music, particularly drumming. And so, in the 1960s, he became a session drummer for many well-known bands at the time, most notably The Who (pre-Keith Moon, of course). Following this modest introduction into studio recording and life in a band, Mitchell was now geared towards greater things.
It was in 1966 that he became the drummer for The Jimi Hendrix Experience, beating out Aynsley Dunbar (who went on to play drums on Bowie’s Diamond Dogs in 1974) by way of a coin toss for the position. He subsequently played on the band’s iconic albums Are You Experienced and Electric Ladyland, solidifying his position as one of the most iconic drummers in psychedelic rock of all time.
Although Noel Redding quit The Experience in 1969, Mitchell stayed with Hendrix until the guitarist’s untimely death in 1970. As a result, he played on one of history’s most recognisable stages, Woodstock - and gave one of the most iconic performances of the twentieth century.
Mitch Mitchell was undoubtedly the perfect drummer for someone like Hendrix. He had an uncanny ability to provide the perfect rhythm (alongside Redding, of course) to whatever strange concepts Hendrix presented him with. Considering The Experience were pioneers in their specific genre of rock, this was no mean feat. Mitchell wouldn’t have had many drummers he could draw direct inspiration from at that time, so his energy was entirely his own. His explosive percussion made The Experience’s songs sound larger than life - the way music should sound. Although it might be true that most people only know The Experience for the Jimi Hendrix element, it’s obvious why Mitch Mitchell is generally revered by other musicians - particularly drummers.
It also cannot be forgotten that Mitchell was the drummer for The Dirty Mac - John Lennon’s temporary band, formed in 1968, for the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus, which included the likes of Eric Clapton (of Cream) and Keith Richards (of The Rolling Stones). Although this group might not be particularly well known today, its members certainly are, with the majority being household names - with good reason. And, after all, if they thought Mitch Mitchell was a brilliant drummer, who are we to argue?
Mitchell (as a member of The Jimi Hendrix Experience) was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, and in 2016 he was named the eighth greatest drummer of all time by Rolling Stone magazine. These credentials are certainly well-deserved given his major contribution to the English music scene of the late-60s and early-70s and his commitment to music for the remainder of his life.
Mitch Mitchell died on the 12th of November, 2008, at the age of 62, but his legacy is alive and well. His drumming contributions to some of the most iconic psychedelic rock songs, such as ‘Purple Haze’ and their cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘All Along The Watchtower’ has forever cemented his status as a legendary figure of rock and roll.
Listen to The Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Dity Mac here:
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