Sunday, November 16, 2008

Mitch Mitchell, RIP

By Ted Burke

Mitch Mitchell passed away this last week, and it's an odd thing to realize that all the members of the original Jimi Hendrix Experience are now deceased. Drummer Mitchell was a wiry, pro-active, Elvin Jones influenced musician who was one of the few who could keep up with guitarist Hendrix's flamboyance , both when he was brilliant (was frequent) and when he was out of tune and erratic ( just as frequent).
In either case, Mitchell was there, piling basic rock beats, 4/4 time, but often enough embellishing and tricking up his stickwork with polyrhythms, counter bits of propulsion, attacking the written and improvised structures from outside the progression and at times catching Hendrix on a sweeping uplift of rattling, snare drum cracking uplift.

One has only to pay attention to the Experiences first album Are You Experienced?to understand how important Mitchell was to Hendrix's developing genius--the crashing waltz time he keeps on "Manic Depression" is a fury that condenses the mania of Tony Williams Life that provides a drumming excitement the equal to the band leader's fabled fretwork, or in the tension Mitchell creates on the iconic song "Hey Joe", with Hendrix's vocal and guitar slow and insinuating as Mitchell performs jazz-slanting furies behind Jimi's slow, snaking approach to the song's message of anger and payback. The surface calm and the roiling rage under the off hand presence, the perfect dualism, musical and narratively.

And then there's Electric Ladyland, one of the very few albums from the Sixties that qualifies as an unabashed masterpiece; one may discuss this assertion at length in other venues, but the point here is that without Mitchell's amazing chops as a drummer , Hendrix most likely would have had a vastly different double record release. No one could do what Hendrix could do, and no one could do for Hendrix what Mitchell did, and it's one of the great rock and roll tragedies that these musicians didn't have the opportunity (or inclination?) to record more albums as great as Ladyland. But I am grateful for the great music that was given to the listener, and am grateful for the privledge of hearing Mitch Mitchell lay it down for Jimi.

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