Mitch, Michael & Me

By now most of you will have heard of the death of Mitch Mitchell in November 2008. The legendary British drummer who shot to fame as one third of the Jimi Hendrix experience was just 61.

There have been lots of suitable tributes by far more knowledgeable folk than I but I wanted to share my own, albeit, brief meeting with Mr. Mitchell back in ‘the day’.

I was a whipper-snapper doing ‘work-experience’ in a music store in Kent when Mitch came into the shop for a few bits’n’bobs. At the time I was clattering about on a state of the art Simmons kit (by this point I had been playing a few years and was at least 3 quid closer to the 5 zillion-pound price tag on said kit). I was sure the black/white Simmons on rack would look the biz once I was on TOTP.

Anyhow, one of the local drum teachers told me in hushed tones who he was and although I knew the name I would not have recognised him as the 60s mop of hair and lurid trousers had long since gone. He took time out to come over and have a chat. He was very complementary about my playing and asked me how long I’d been drumming and about lessons etc. We spoke for 10-15 minutes and he came across as a very unassuming guy, never once coming over as superior to a teenage lad.

The store owner happened to have all of Hendrix’s vinyl in the office so with marker pen in hand he bowed and scraped his way into get Mitchs autograph on each sleeve. Mitch duly signed his name in large letters right across his face on each gatefold cover, remarking how he didn’t like the pictures! ….Something about the hair I think.

It was only afterwards that it really hit me and the other guys in the shop. I mean, this guy was at Woodstock! I couldn’t imagine what he had seen, done and the music he had played. Years later I listened to more of Mitch’s playing as the band I played with covered various Hendrix tunes and I tried to get some of his beats and fills down. He created a fantastic partnership with a guitar player where he could really cut-loose and play some crazy shit! The ‘power-trio’configuration is one I find myself listening to (The Police, Cream & Primus perhaps!) and playing in when given the chance.

Mitch’s influence on me becomes more apparent as I reflect on a current band I play in where as a drummer I have very few boundaries and the singer (rather than guitarist) is my sparring partner. Fortunately I have an awesome bass player on my side who lets me get away with murder 😉

Anyhow, if you do find yourself at a gig, drum clinic or whatever and the occasion arises to meet the players and performers who shape you as a player (and modern music in general), then I urge you to take it. My meeting with Mitch Mitchell was a chance one but its great to think that I did meet one of the last true British drum legends; and there really aren’t that many of them left!

And before you think there is always time for it, I must also point out the recent passing of Michael Lee, again November 2008. A top British rock drummer who performed with Page & Plant, Lenny Kravitz, The Cult and Thin Lizzy amongst many others.

He was just 39. ‘Nuff said.

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