Despite being one of the most prominent skin slammers of the entire classic rock era, Mitch Mitchell is still vastly underrated. Perhaps that’s because he was backing up arguably the greatest guitarist of all time, a figure whose charisma and on-stage antics made it nearly impossible to focus on anyone else. But all you have to do is turn away from the guitar for a second and pay attention to the drums to realise just how talented Mitchell was.
The list could go on for days recounting some of his greatest hits (pun incredibly intended): the rapid-fire fills of ‘Fire’, the laid back groove of ‘Red House’, the propulsive thump of ‘Little Miss Lover’, the mind-bending rhythms of ‘Manic Depression’. Mitchell was both the anchor of The Experience and a ferocious counterpoint to Jimi Hendrix‘s flash and style, matching every emotional string bend or pick slide with a lightning-fast response. Mitchell was a jazz drummer at heart, but his ability to teeter right on the edge of losing control was what made him one of rock’s greatest percussionists. There’s a reason why Hendrix kept him around throughout his career. When it came to chemistry and ability, Mitchell was always the perfect fit.
Due to Hendrix favouring a power trio lineup, Mitchell was given ample opportunity to show off and fill up space within songs, often engaging in call-and-response passages with Hendrix and occasionally with both Noel Redding and Billy Cox as well. Mitchell had great ears and a well-earned sixth sense for where his bandmates would go in a song, and his ability to punctuate their runs with a well-timed cymbal hit or drum roll was unmatched. Still, Mitchell wasn’t really one to hog the spotlight, conceding that the audience was ultimately there to see and hear Hendrix.
That being said, Mitchell would usually get a small window during shows to bring his jazz chops to the fore. During The Experience’s 1969 show in Stockholm, Hendrix dropped out of the ‘Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)’ jam to let Mitchell take the lead. Mitchell worked best when playing off his bandmates, but the solo is a clear indication that Mitchell can hold his own whenever called upon to do so.
Just like his contemporary John Bonham, Mitchell knew the power of triplets and the effects they had on the listener. Basically, if you take the triplet rhythm, spread it across different drums, and play them at devilish speeds, it’s like a shot of serotonin straight to the brain. Mitchell builds and builds throughout the solo, amping up the excitement until he’s blasting away with such ferocity that he becomes a blur behind the skins.
Part Buddy Rich, part Keith Moon, Mitchell stakes yet another claim for immortality in the clip down below.