Jul 25 2023
Interview by John McDermott.
Interview by John McDermott
FROM THE VAULT. This classic interview with drummer, Mitch Mitchell was conducted in early 2000 during production of the documentary film, Blue Wild Angel: Jimi Hendrix Live At The Isle Of Wight. It was first published in the Fall 2000 edition of Experience Hendrix Magazine.
As technicians scurried around him making last minute preparations prior to filming, Mitch Mitchell sat comfortably in a New York recording studio, reflecting upon the August 30, 1970 performance at the Isle Of Wight and the tumultuous events which led up to the group’s performance. Mitch’s comments provide an insightful perspective for Jimi’s fans.
As cameras rolled for the new Isle Of Wight documentary, Blue Wild Angel, Mitch spoke with candor of his mixed feelings for the group’s performance, as well as the disorder which plagued many, if not all, of the now legendary music festivals. Mitch also spoke of the promise, which he felt the reformed Experience held in store prior to Jimi’s death.
When we sat down with Mitch, we asked him to take us back to February 1970 and the uncertain days in the wake of the Band Of Gypsys failed Madison Square Garden performance on January 28, 1970.
Experience Hendrix: How did The Experience get started again in February 1970?
Mitch Mitchell: It looked as if there was going to be another tour with Noel. Suddenly Jimi called one night, just completely out of the blue, and he said, “I don’t want to go there.” To be frank with you, I didn’t object. Obviously, Jimi had played with Billy Cox quite a bit through the Band Of Gypsys. My first playing with Billy had been the Woodstock situation. That was just a nightmare. No offense to the other players with us, but that band, [laughter] oh boy! It just wasn’t happening. As it slimmed down to a three piece, things were looking a lot better.
When Billy came into the band properly – if there is such a thing – as a three-piece unit, it gave me a lot more freedom. I started to feel incredibly happy.
“To me, the band with Jimi, Billy, and myself, I’d say from a musical standpoint that was possibly the best band we had with Jimi. It was a delight to look forward to the gigs.”
To me, the band with Jimi, Billy, and myself, I’d say from a musical standpoint that was possibly the best band we had with Jimi. It was a delight to look forward to the gigs. Some of them were the same circuit gigs as before – the large festivals left a lot to be desired – but there were some very pleasant gigs.
EH: Compared to previous years, the one major difference in 1970 seemed to have been that the tour schedule appeared much more manageable.
MM: We would just do the work on weekends and there would be time off in between the gigs. Jimi, being as he was, was using Electric Lady Studios a lot even though it was unfinished.
EH: One of the interesting things about the 1970 tour was that the band actively performed new songs, which at that time, had not yet been released on disc. Were you excited to play those songs?
MM: Yeah, sure. I mean, clearly. In the early days, I can’t say that a lot of the tracks were fillers, right, but there were a lot of songs, which were just done in the studio. Just done the one time and never again. That’s it. Consequently, things like “Dolly Dagger” and some of the other new songs we just had the rough ideas of, we used the stage to actually build them up. It felt good doing that. We were expanding as a band.
EH: At the end of July 1970, the group took a break in Hawaii. How did you get involved with the film Rainbow Bridge?
MM: We ended up in Hawaii at the end of the summer so that we could have a couple weeks to cool out with families. We got involved with Rainbow Bridge, this crazy film that Mike Jeffery was working on in Maui. That was just very strange.
At any rate, once we were in Maui, Mike Jeffery and a few other people from the film came up with this idea of literally going through the streets with a truck and a few placards saying, anyone who wants to come see a concert, come up to the crater of the Sun and Moon and Volcanoes. It was like, if my memory serves me right, a four-mile hike. Even if you drove to where it was, you had one heck of a walk. All of these people started to turn up.
Now the thing is, from a sound and recording point of view, only certain electrical equipment worked at any one given time because I think there was some kind of kinetic force there! We must have been having some fun because we played for three hours. It was relaxing. The band just enjoyed playing and that was the main thing.
EH: Eddie Kramer recalls that when it came time for Jimi to leave for the Isle Of Wight, there a feeling that once again progress in the recording studio was being interrupted by touring.
“Maybe that was the right thing. Jimi was just starting to give himself a chance to expand.”
MM: Yes. I think Ed [Kramer] is quite right about that. We had just started to get into the situation of doing a tour spread over a few months, but just working the weekends. This was such a change after all of those stupid years of two shows a night, which were just ridiculous. There were still a lot of countries that we would have liked and should have gone to: Japan, Australia, you name it. There again, Jimi could be a manager’s worst nightmare, because he would live in the recording studio given half the chance. But maybe that was the right thing. Jimi was just starting to give himself a chance to expand.
EH: You were the first member of the group to travel to England. How did you get to the Isle Of Wight?
MM: I flew back to England to my new house. I didn’t see Jimi when he arrived in London. I was in the country. I had a road manager that was working with The Cream who offered to drive me to this out of the way airport to get to the Isle Of Wight. There had been equipment problems. Certain pieces of my drum kit were lost. I couldn’t replace them as it was a public holiday. It was a strange feeling.
Jimi flew in from New York where he had been devoting a lot of time at Electric Lady. [The studio] was in the final stages [of construction].
EH: Give me a sense of what was happening once you arrived on the Isle Of Wight. Were things truly crazy backstage at the festival?
MM: Oh yeah! I eventually got this small charter plane from somewhere in the depths of the English countryside. Flew it to the Isle Of Wight, went to this little hotel, it was like a bed and breakfast, if I remember rightly.
I saw Jimi [there] for the first time. I asked about the studio and he was very enthusiastic. Obviously, it meant a lot. Got to the gig. Don’t remember how we got there. Probably a car. I do recall that there were all of these trailers, the usual trailers behind the backstage area. It was the usual chaos. The usual, to be expected, chaos.
EH: Did returning to perform in the UK have any special significance for Jimi?
MM: I can’t speak for Jimi, but I would imagine it meant a fair bit, as it was the first time he had done a concert in England in some time.
EH: What are your impressions of the group’s performance at the festival?
MM: It was just a bad gig, quite honestly. I can’t say if Jimi’s heart was in it. One thing, looking back in retrospect, was that we should have definitively had a rehearsal. That’s strange because the band was working so well, it was like clockwork. At that point in time, we were relaxed with each other’s playing. There is no real reason why it should have been, you know, just grim. But the feeling just wasn’t there.
You know, Jimi had so much on his mind with the opening of Electric Lady. Maybe in his heart he just wanted to be there, quite honestly.
“It was just one of those situations. No gig can be 100% perfect all of the time.”
It was just one of those situations. No gig can be 100% perfect all of the time. You can come off some nights and people will pat you on the back, ‘Great show, great show,” and you know it was a bunch of #$%! I don’t think there was a particularly morbid feeling about it. We had some other gigs directly after [the Isle Of Wight], but I do remember that we all spoke and said, ‘Well, what was the reason for the lack of feeling at the gig?’ Maybe it was because it was one of those large festival situations.
EH: Having done other major festivals like Woodstock and Atlanta Pop, was there a sense of trepidation going in that your sound equipment would be compromised in the general chaos which existed at these events?
MM: It always did to some degree. Especially with Jimi. It didn’t take very much. If one amplifier was out of whack or it had technical troubles, it had been known for Jimi to throw—I’m not going to say a tantrum—but a bit of a moody. Quite honestly, his heart didn’t appear to be in it that night and for no particular reason to my knowledge. I felt relatively comfortable. I could hear Billy for a start, which was very important. I am just not certain. Maybe the English audience expected the same old songs. Hey, that could disturb things up a bit, you know.
BLUE WILD ANGEL: JIMI HENDRIX LIVE AT THE ISLE OF WIGHT
Blue Wild Angel: Jimi Hendrix Live At The Isle Of Wight documents the guitarist’s legendary performance before 600,000 people at this massive outdoor music and arts festival in August 1970. This unforgettable concert film experience draws heavily upon Academy Award winning Director Murray Lerner’s vast archive of previously unseen performance footage and presents some of the Hendrix’s finest ever concert performances, including extended takes of “Machine Gun,” “Red House,” and other favorites such as “All Along The Watchtower,” “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” and a unique medley of “God Save The Queen” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Authentic Hendrix and now streaming exclusively via The Coda Collection.