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Mitch Mitchell: In Memoriam

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When the Jimi Hendrix Experience's Are You Experienced? initially appeared, all of the attention was focused on the guitarist—understandable, as this was his group, and the guitar sounds were unique extensions of blues, rock and electronics (the latter particularly) that had never made their way to the general record buying audience (greater displays of virtuosity could be heard from Danny Kalb and Larry Coryell a little earlier, and Clapton, Blackmore and Townshend had experimented successfully with feedback—albeit tentatively—a little earlier); but Hendrix was the total package—singer, song writer, visionary, guitar wizard—and he would be heard. A key element to the explosiveness of the mix was John "Mitch" Mitchell, former child virtuoso, former Georgie Fame drummer, and winner of the coin toss in which Hendrix was deciding between him and Aynsley Dunbar. Dunbar had formerly played with Mayall and Jeff Beck, founder of the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation, later of the Mothers of Invention, and finally, super group Journey. (Hendrix' manager, Chas Chandler, was hoping that Dunbar would win the coin toss, because Mitchell was much more temperamental).

Given the way the Experience turned out, Mitchell was the better choice. Dunbar was certainly technically capable of doing what Mitchell did, and may have taken Hendrix' music in a different direction, but Mitchell responded to everything that Hendrix through at him. He was a masterful drummer, using explosive fills (more controlled than Keith Moon, and also more studied, as Mitchell was grounded in jazz) and his drumming always fit Hendrix songs. On the first album alone, "Purple Haze," "Fire," and "Third Stone from the Sun" among others, would have sounded radically different with any other drummer. "Manic Depression" is a tour de force, easily ranking (and, in my opinion, outdistancing) virtually any song accompaniment of the '60's, with the possible exception of Keith Moon on "I Can See for Miles". Other examples from later albums would be "Up From the Skies," the perfect accents and fills on "Spanish Castle Magic" and even "You Got Me Floating". Mitchell had great ears, fast reflexes and always seemed to know what Hendrix was thinking, as can be heard on "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" (which really became free jazz drumming) and "All Along the Watchtower."

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