He did this, incidentally, using the traditional ‘classic grip’ method of holding the drum sticks, as did many other technically extraordinary drummers such as Louis Bellson and Buddy Rich, or the innovative Tony Williams.
Mitchell was Hendrix’s most important musical collaborator, playing in Hendrix’s Experience trio from October 1966 to mid-1969, his Woodstock band in August 1969, and also his “Cry of Love” band in 1970. Hendrix would often record tracks in the studio with only Mitchell, and in concert the two fed off of each other to exciting effect.
Mitchell was praised for his work with the Jimi Hendrix Experience on songs such as "Manic Depression", "Stepping Stone", "Little Miss Strange", "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)", "Fire" and "Third Stone from the Sun". Mitchell came from a jazz background and like many of his drummer contemporaries was strongly influenced by the work of Elvin Jones, Max Roach, and Joe Morello.
Mitchell played in Hendrix's Experience trio from October 1966 to mid-1969, in his Woodstock band of August 1969, and also with the later incarnation of the Experience in 1970 with Billy Cox on bass, known posthumously as the "Cry of Love" band. Hendrix would often record tracks in the studio with only Mitchell, and in concert the two fed off of each other to exciting effect.
Mitchell played in the band The Dirty Mac which was assembled for The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus in 1968. The band contained John Lennon as “Winston Leg-Thigh” as vocalist and rhythm guitarist, Eric Clapton as guitarist, Keith Richards as bassist, and Mitch Mitchell as drummer. They recorded a rendition of the song Yer Blues, as well as a jam called Whole Lotta Yoko.
Another noteworthy musical collaboration in the late 1960s was with the Jack Bruce and Friends band featuring Mitchell along with ex-Cream bassist and vocalist Jack Bruce, keyboardist Mike Mandel and jazz-fusion guitarist and future The Eleventh House frontman Larry Coryell. Mitchell played in this band during late 1969 and early 1970, when Hendrix was working with the Band of Gypsys.
Mitchell also took part in some of Miles Davis' demo sessions for Miles' 1969 album Bitches Brew, but does not appear on the final album.
After Hendrix’s death, Mitchell (along with engineer Eddie Kramer) finished production work on multiple incomplete Hendrix recordings, resulting in posthumous releases such as “Cry of Love” and “Rainbow Bridge”. In 1972, he teamed up with guitarists April Lawton and Mike Pinera (who would later go on to join Iron Butterfly) to form the quite innovative act Ramatam. They recorded one album and were Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s opening act at a number of concerts. Interestingly, Mitchell had been offered the drum spot in ELP during 1970, but turned it down in favor of playing with Hendrix. Ramatam never achieved commercial success and Mitchell left the act prior to their second LP release. Mitchell also did some gigs with Terry Reid, Jack Bruce, and Jeff Beck (subbing for drummer Cozy Powell, then sick).
According to Eddie Kramer’s book Hendrix: Setting the Record Straight, Michael Jefferey, Hendrix’s manager, an innovator in getting Hendrix promoted and established, relegated both Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding to the status of mere paid employees without an ownership share in future revenues. This limited their earnings to a very low rate and led to Mitchell and Redding being largely excluded from sharing in future revenues generated from their work with The Jimi Hendrix Experience. This arrangement pressured Mitchell in the mid 1970’s to sell a prized Hendrix guitar. In addition, he sold his small legal claim to future Hendrix record sales for a sum reported to be in the range of $200,000.
For the rest of the 70s through to the 90s, Mitchell continued to perform and occasionally record although essentially doing so under the radar of most of his previous fans. He kept reasonably busy doing occasional session work (such as Junior Brown’s “Long Walk Home” album) as well as participating in various Hendrix-related recordings, videos, and interviews.
In 1999 Mitchell appeared on the late Bruce Cameron’s album, “Midnight Daydream” that included other Hendrix alumni Billy Cox and Buddy Miles along with Jack Bruce, with whom Mitchell had worked after Hendrix’s passing. Mitchell, seemingly in an attempt to satisfy the most enthusiastic fans of his drum work with Hendrix, even played a series of live shows with the very accurate Hendrix emulator Randy Hansen.
In 2005, he was named the 23rd greatest drummer of all time by Rolling Stone.
His last days were spent celebrating Hendrix's music on the 2008 Experience Hendrix Tour. For nearly four weeks the tour travelled coast to coast in an 18-city tour in the US, finishing in Portland, Oregon. The tour also featured Buddy Guy, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Eric Johnson, Cesar Rosas, David Hidalgo, Aerosmith's Brad Whitford, Hubert Sumlin, Chris Layton as well as Eric Gales and Mato Nanji. Five days after the tour ended Mitchell was found dead at about 3am on November 12, in his room at the Benson Hotel in downtown Portland. Following medical tests, it was revealed by the Multnomah County Medical Examiner's Office that Mitchell had died in his sleep of what was thought to be natural causes. He was the last surviving member of the original Experience. Mitchell had planned to leave Portland that day to return to his home in England.
Mitchell pioneered a style of drumming which would later become known as fusion. This is a "lead" style of playing distinguished by interplay with lead instruments such as guitar or keyboards, and the blending of jazz and rock drumming styles. Though the use of lead drums was not a new concept in the world of jazz, it was relatively unheard of in the rock genre at the time. Upon joining Hendrix in late 1966, it soon became evident to Mitch that the trio format of the band was similar to the recently formed Cream, and that it would allow him an opportunity to become more free with his playing. Like a jazz drummer, Mitchell's playing not only provided a rhythmic support for the music, but also a source of momentum and melody. He made heavy use of snare rudiments, fast single and double stroke rolls, and jazz triplet patterns in his playing, and shifted between both traditional and matched grips. Notable examples of his style include the rudiment-heavy fills on Hey Joe, which help to carry the song through a series of increasingly intense climaxes. Manic Depression is a 3/4 rock waltz that finds Mitchell playing a driving Afro-Cuban inspired beat, which then shifts to an explosion of triplets all around the drumkit during the outro.
Third Stone from the Sun incorporates a swing ride pattern to underpin Hendrix's jazzy surf guitar, and the spacey breakdown section features polyrhythmic drum fills that float over the 4/4 meter. 1983... (A Merman I Should Turn to Be) features military-style snare drum work and delicate cymbal playing that evokes the sound of wind chimes. The long blues jam Voodoo Chile features Mitchell playing a deep blues groove with subtle hi-hat accenting and powerful drum fills that help to propel the song to new heights. Alongside Hendrix's revolutionary guitar work and songwriting, Mitchell's playing helped redefine rock music drumming.