Mitch Mitchell – Better than 23?

17 Jun

Rock n’ Roll top 100 lists are obviously arbitrary. If you do a quick search on Google you can find links to the top 100 guitarists, vocalists, bassists, roadies (okay, maybe not roadies) of all time. And, in a crunched list of only 100, there are sure to be a list of snubs that will make people angry. But, take these top 100 lists for what they are. An effort to appease the masses searching for a top 100 list so they can see where their favorite lands and then…well…probably complain. Now, it can be misconstrued that this is what I will be doing in this post, but please do not misinterpret. I am simply asking the question, does Mitch Mitchell deserve a better spot than 23 on the list of top drummers of all time?

Mitch Mitchell is an often forgotten about drummer. He may not have  had the flare of a Keith Moon (The Who) or the skill of Neil Peart (Rush) or John Bonham (Led Zeppelin), but, when you enter the realm of fusion drumming, Mitchell must be placed up there with the best of them. We will get into the fusion style in a little bit. Mitchell is best known for his library of work with Jimi Hendrix and his Experience (Noel Redding and Mitchell). Mitchell actually won the drummer position on a coin flip, beating out Aynsley Dunbar (who according to Experience manager Chas Chandler, was their other choice). Dunbar’s career did not take much of a hit from the decision. He flourished into an accomplished drummer and has played with a tremendous list of diverse rock acts. In case you were wondering, he is 27th on the rock n’ roll drummers top 100 list.

Mitchell=23 and Dunbar=27; I bet you are wondering who is smacked in the middle of these skilled drummers. Well, none other than Michael Shrieve, who, at 20 years old, took the stage with Santana on day two of the Woodstock music festival (Mitch Mitchell would come on to close out the festival with Jimi less than two days later) and blasted through a drum solo during an extended version of “Soul Sacrifice,” which, may just be one of the greatest solos of all time. For those that think differently, one must look at the circumstances. Similar to DeWayne Wise’s catch to save Mark Buehrle’s perfect game in the ninth, Shrieve’s drum solo was incredibly clutch. He was an inexperienced drummer who, because of the performance, may have very well propelled a lesser known Santana into the spotlight.

Like Shrieve's solo...Awesome!

I got sidetracked. Let’s move on. With the Experience, Mitchell released several albums and recorded numerous impressive drum tracks that provided the classic Hendrix blues/psychedelic sound a large boost. Mitchell, in 1969, played with the one-off collaboration of The Dirty Mac, who I talked about yesterday. He also performed with the short-lived Jack Bruce and Friends band which featured Mitchell, Bruce, keyboardist Mike Mandel and frontman Larry Coryell.

Demonstrating his devotion to Hendrix’s work, Mitchell helped with the posthumous releases of both The Cry of Love and Rainbow Bridge. He then went on to form an unsuccesful, but ambitious act named Ramatam, with guitarists Mike Pinera (Iron Butterfly) and April Lawton (who some consider to be the female Jimi Hendrix). Ramatam actually opened for Emerson, Lake & Palmer. When ELP was forming Mitchell and Hendrix were offered spots in the supergroup that Keith Emerson and Greg Lake were creating, but this never came to fruition. Wow, if Hendrix stayed alive and Mitchell and Hendrix ended up combining with Emerson and Lake, oh my goodness what a band. But, Carl Palmer – who is one of the greatest drummers of all time (ranked 4th on the ultimate list) – ended up receiving the spot.

Mitchell continued performing through the years, and passed away after the 2008 Experience Hendrix Tour. He died on November 12, 2008. Yet, Mitchell’s incredible sound lives on through his sensational performances with the Experience.

Mitchell blended jazz and rock drumming styles (fusion) and successfully developed an interesting interplay with Hendrix’s lead guitar, thereby creating “lead drums,” a rare concept in an emerging rock scene. Lead drums, of course, was not a new concept in the world of jazz. Mitchell, a jazz drummer at heart,  was inspired by the work of Elvin Jones, Joe Morello and Max Roach, all famous jazz percussionists. Mitchells drumming, consistent with the jazz style of making a melody with the drums, made heavy use of jazz patterns, fast rolls and snare rudiments. Now, all of these drumming terms may confuse anyone who does not play or know the drums well (I am raising my hand at this as well). So, the best way to learn is through hearing and seeing. For that, I am going to take you out to Woodstock in 1969. Listen here for the rudiment-heavy fills in “Hey Joe” and think, does Mitch Mitchell deserve a higher spot on the top 100 drummers list?

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2 Responses to “Mitch Mitchell – Better than 23?”

  1. Cary March 27, 2014 at 3:46 am #

    I agree. Mitch Mitchell deserves to be ranked in the top 10 of all-time greatest drummers. He had a unique and fascinating style, and was the perfect drummer for an artist as challenging and creative as Hendrix. As for me, he is my second favourite drummer, next to Ginger Baker.

  2. John Cena December 14, 2017 at 5:29 am #

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