Mitch Mitchell died a few days ago of natural causes in his Portland, Oregon, hotel room, just days before he was to return to England after completing a Hendrix tribute tour. Most of the news stories about this event covered Mitchell’s membership in the legendary Jimi Hendrix Experience, but one key detail was not mentioned. Out of all the musicians that the legendary guitarist produced his unforgettable tunes with, Mitch Mitchell played on far more of those tunes than any other musician. Nobody else was even close. With the sole exception of New Years Weekend in 1969/1970, in which the Band of Gypsys played a pair of concerts in NYC with Buddy Miles on drums, Mitch Mitchell was the drummer pounding the skins on every one of those fiery explosions of energy, from “Purple Haze” to “Voodoo Child”. Although Stevie Winwood and a few other notables played on that thundering live-in-the-studio version of “Voodoo Chile” (without a slight return) and a passel of lucky nobodies got to join the master of the upside-down Stratocaster to play for the scattered minions at dawn at Woodstock, Mitch Mitchell was there every time.

I learned a long time ago that I can’t carry a tune across the street, but I had to honk on my Selmer tenor sax for a number of aurally torturous years before I finally threw in the towel. I thought I wanted to play that instrument like Johnny Paris of Johnny & the Hurricanes, still one of the leading bands that I wear out on my CD player nearly five decades later. My next musical obsession was with Sandy Nelson, and I soon came to realize that my favorite instruments were percussive, although that concept took about ten years to fully soak into my untalented brain. Now I realize that the reason The Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie” has impressed me so consistently, even after such a long trip from 1963, is that this recording brought the first thunderclap to the drums of rock and roll. The tom-toms are pounding the angst and energy right off the vinyl. Coincidentally, the band recorded this three-minute legend in one take for $36 in their hometown of, you guessed it, Portland OR.

Jimi replaced The Rolling Stones as my leading fave when I first heard “Foxy Lady” in 1967. Old Rubber Lips had held my undivided attention from “It’s All Over Now” in 1964, but Charlie Watts has never exactly been the God of Thunder. Even though I may not have been able to accurately communicate the concept at the time, it was probably Mitch Mitchell who made The Stones my second favorite band in ’67.

Once I fully recognized my affinity for thundering drums, the permanent adoption of Can as my favorite band of all time was a done deal the first time I plopped a brand-new promotional copy of the band’s Ege Bamyasi onto my Technics SL-1500 in 1972. The first thing you notice about Can’s sound is that they mix Jaki Liebezeit’s thundering drums right up front. Jimi Hendrix has remained my second favorite recording artist since that moment.

Rock and roll may never die, but it certainly will never be a horny teenager again, either. We can never go home again except by slow bus to nowhere. You’re either on the bus or you’re off the bus, and if you cannot remember that famous line, maybe, just maybe, you were actually there.

Floyd M. Orr is an author, commentator, and book critic. His latest book, Timeline of America: Sound Bytes from the Consumer Culture, includes a comprehensive timeline of the history of rock in America. His websites include Floyd M. Orr, PODBRAM, and Nonfiction in a Fictional Style, and his books are available online everywhere.

Be Sociable, Share!