By Mary Hudetz
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Mitch Mitchell, drummer for the legendary Jimi Hendrix Experience of the 1960s and the group's last surviving member, was found dead in his hotel room early Wednesday. He was 61.
Mitchell was a powerful force on the Hendrix band's 1967 debut album "Are You Experienced?" as well as the trio's albums "Electric Ladyland" and "Axis: Bold As Love." He had an explosive drumming style that can be heard in hard-charging songs such as "Fire" and "Manic Depression."
The Englishman had been drumming for the Experience Hendrix Tour, which performed Friday in Portland. It was the last stop on the West Coast part of the tour.
Hendrix died in 1970. Bass player Noel Redding died in 2003.
An employee at Portland's Benson Hotel called police after discovering Mitchell's body.
Erin Patrick, a deputy medical examiner, said Mitchell apparently died of natural causes. An autopsy was planned.
"He was a wonderful man, a brilliant musician and a true friend," said Janie Hendrix, chief executive of the Experience Hendrix Tour and Jimi Hendrix' stepsister. "His role in shaping the sound of the Jimi Hendrix Experience cannot be underestimated."
Bob Merlis, a spokesman for the tour, said Mitchell had stayed in Portland for a four-day vacation and planned to leave Wednesday.
"It was a devastating surprise," Merlis said. "Nobody drummed like he did."
He said he saw Mitchell perform two weeks ago in Los Angeles, and the drummer appeared to be healthy and upbeat.
Merlis said the tour was designed to bring together veteran musicians who had known Hendrix — like Mitchell — and younger artists, such as Grammy-nominated winner Jonny Lang, who have been influenced by him.
Blues-rock guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd, who is 31 and was part of the tour, said Mitchell was to the drums what Hendrix was to the guitar.
"Today many of us have lost a dear friend, and the world has lost a rock n' roll hero," he said.
Mitchell was a one-of-a-kind drummer whose "jazz-tinged" style was influenced by Max Roach and Elvin Jones, Merlis said. The work was a vital part of both the Jimi Hendrix Experience in the 1960s and the Experience Hendrix Tour that ended last week, he said.
"If Jimi Hendrix were still alive," Merlis said, "he would have acknowledged that."
During his career Mitchell played with the best in the business — not just Hendrix, but also Eric Clapton, John Lennon, Keith Richards, Jack Bruce, Jeff Beck, Muddy Waters and others.
Mitchell performed with Hendrix and Redding at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967, the U.S. debut of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. He also was member of a later version of the band that performed the closing set of the Woodstock Festival in August 1969 — where Hendrix played a psychedelic version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" before the band launched into "Purple Haze."
The Jimi Hendrix Experience was inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame in 1992. According to the Hall of Fame, Mitchell was born July 9, 1947, in Ealing, England.
Terry Stewart, chief executive of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, said Mitchell transformed his instrument from a "strictly percussive element to a lead instrument."
"His interplay with Jimi Hendrix's guitar on songs like 'Fire' is truly amazing," Stewart said Wednesday. "Mitch Mitchell had a massive influence on rock 'n' roll drumming and took it to new heights."
Hendrix, Redding and Mitchell held their first rehearsal in October 1966, according to the Hall of Fame's Web site.
In an interview last month with the Boston Herald, Mitchell said he met Hendrix "in this sleazy little club."
"We did some Chuck Berry and took it from there," Mitchell told the newspaper. "I suppose it worked."
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