November 12, 2008 – John “Mitch” Mitchell was born on 9 July 1947 in Ealing, west of London. He started life in show business as a child actor on the TV series “Jennings At School”.
His love for jazz and pop music drove him to become a musician. Mitch’s main influences in music were Max Roach and Elvin Jones, teaching himself on the drums, he mixed jazz and rock styles, which later became known as “fusion”, of which he was a pioneer. In the early days he found work as a session player and worked with groups such as Johnny Harris and the Shades, the Pretty Things and the Riot Squad and in 1965 he began playing with Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames.
It was in October 1966 he got a phone call from Animals bass player Chas Chandler asking him if he was interested in playing with a guitarist, singer song-writer he had brought over from America called Jimi Hendrix. He met up with “this guy in a burberry raincoat” in what he described as a “sleazy little club” and soon after with Noel Redding on bass guitar, one of the most influential bands in the history of rock music was born, The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Actually Mitch became the drummer via a coin toss with Aynsley Dunbar.
Almost immediately after their first rehearsal on October 6th 1966, they were touring France, warming up for Johnny Hallyday. Their debut single “Hey Joe” charted in the UK and became an evergreen over the years. Mitch’s playing not only provided a rhythmic support for the music, but also a source of momentum and melody. He made heavy use of snare rudiments, fast single and double stroke rolls, and jazz triplet patterns in his playing, and shifted between both traditional and matched grips. “Hey Joe” was a fine example of his style which included the rudiment-heavy fills which help to carry the song through a series increasingly intense crescendos.
In December 1968, Mitchell played with The Dirty Mac, an all-star band assembled for The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. Others included John Lennon as vocalist and rhythm guitarist “Winston Leg-Thigh”; Yoko Ono providing improvised primal screams; Eric Clapton as guitarist, and Keith Richards as bassist. The group recorded a cover of “Yer Blues” as well as a jam called “Whole Lotta Yoko”. While working with the Band of Gypsys from late 1969 until early 1970, Mitchell also collaborated with the Jack Bruce and Friends band along with ex-Cream bassist/vocalist Jack Bruce, keyboardist Mike Mandel and jazz-fusion guitarist and future The Eleventh House frontman Larry Coryell. Mitchell also took part in Miles Davis’ demo sessions for the 1969 album Bitches Brew, but did not appear on the final album.
Mitch with Jimi Hendrix recorded on the albums Are You Experienced?, Bold As Love, Electric Ladyland, The Cry Of Love, Rainbow Bridge, War Heroes and the relevant hit singles from these albums, and played with Hendrix at all the big festivals including Monterrey, Woodstock and the Isle of Wight festival. After a tour of the United States with 54 concerts in the space of only 47 days the band split up in late 1969.
Mitch did some work with Martha Velez, and played on her Friends and Angels album, but even after the break up of the Experience Mitch still worked a lot with Jimi, in 1970 he had been offered the drum spot with ELP, but he turned it down to play with Band of Gypsies. After Jimi’s untimely tragic death in Sept. 1970, Mitch formed a band Ramatam, cutting 2 albums “Ramatam” and “In April Came the Dawning of the Red Suns”.
In the early 70s Mitch had steady work as a session musician, touring, guesting and recording with the likes of Junior Brown, Greg Parker, Bruce Cameron, Roger Chapman, Billy Cox, Buddy Miles, Jack Bruce, and played live shows with the Hendrix emulator Randy Hansen. Michael Jeffery, Hendrix’s manager, had relegated Mitchell and Noel Redding to paid employees without an ownership share in future revenues. This limited their earnings and led to Mitchell and Redding being largely excluded from sharing in revenues generated from the Experience. Financial hardship pressured Mitchell in the mid-1970s to sell a prized Hendrix guitar. He also sold his small legal claim to future Hendrix record sales for about $200,000. Just weeks prior to his death Jimi Hendrix was discussing with his former manager Chas Chandler to fire manager Michael Jeffery, because of his “cruel” antics.
The late 70s, 80s and part of the 90s saw a time of semi retirement from music with an occasional collaboration such asin 1986 when he and Greg Parker made a music video session of Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog.
In the late 90s, he was part of the Gypsy Sun Experience, along with former Hendrix bassist Billy Cox and guitarist Gary Serkin.
His final tour was an 18 city tour in the US celebrating the music and legacy of Jimi Hendrix on the 2008 Experience Hendrix Tour, the music he loved. Also featuring in the tour were Buddy Guy, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Eric Johnson, Cesar Rosas, David Hidalgo, Brad Whitford, Hubert Sumlin, Chris Layton, Eric Gales and Mato Nanji.
Five days after the tour ended Mitchell died in his sleep on 12 November, in his room at the Benson Hotel in Portland of “natural causes.” However it was known that Mitchell had been in ill health for many years due to alcohol-related problems. He was the last surviving member of the original Experience. Mitchell had planned to leave Portland that day to return to his home in England. He was buried in Seattle, which was also Jimi Hendrix birth place and last resting place.
He was the last surviving member of the power trio which proved one of the most influential bands in the history of rock music and arguably the first real Supergroup.