Obituaries

Mitch Mitchell; Drummer for Jimi Hendrix

Noel Redding, left, Jimi Hendrix and Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Mitchell was influenced by jazz.
Noel Redding, left, Jimi Hendrix and Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Mitchell was influenced by jazz. (Washington Post File Photo)
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By Terence McArdle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 14, 2008

Mitch Mitchell, the drummer with the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the last surviving member of that innovative rock trio of the late 1960s, was found dead Nov. 12 in a hotel room in Portland, Ore. He was 61.

He had performed with a tribute revue, the Experience Hendrix Tour, in Portland the preceding week.

Mr. Mitchell's drumming combined an explosive attack with shadings of great subtlety, much of it learned from his study of the jazz drummers Elvin Jones and Max Roach.

His self-taught style took rock drumming out of a strict timekeeping function to provide a running commentary on Hendrix's guitar phrases. Mr. Mitchell toured with him on and off until the bandleader's death in 1970 at 27.

The Experience -- with its psychedelic clothing and penchant for free-form improvisation -- initially toured in support of more mainstream pop rock acts, the Monkees and the Walker Brothers.

In his 1990 autobiography, "Jimi Hendrix: Inside the Experience," Mr. Mitchell wrote that Hendrix's act of setting the guitar on fire began as a joke while on tour with the Walker Brothers.

Although the guitarist climaxed his performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 with a conflagration -- festival headliners the Who merely smashed their guitars and drum kit -- Mr. Mitchell maintained that it was never a regular part of Hendrix's shows.

"In fact," he wrote, "he hardly ever did it."

John Mitchell was born in London on July 9, 1947, and started his entertainment career as a child actor on the British television series "Jennings at School."

He became a professional drummer in the early 1960s, recording with the British blues band the Pretty Things and touring with Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames.

When Fame's band split up in 1966, producer Bryan "Chas" Chandler asked Mr. Mitchell to audition for the then-unknown American rhythm-and-blues guitarist Hendrix.

Chandler planned to build a soul revue with a horn section around Hendrix. Instead, the guitarist patterned his act on Cream, the psychedelic blues rock trio that featured guitarist Eric Clapton.


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