So Mitch Mitchell is dead. He was the last surviving member of the original Jimi Hendrix Experience (Billy Cox from the second version is still alive).
If you're like me, the first two or three thousand times you listen to Jimi you may not notice that much of anybody's playing with him, you're so riveted to the ideas that came out of the main man's fingers. But if you can tear your ears away from Jimi long enough to dig the rest, it won't take long to realize how important Mitch was to Jimi's music.
Take a listen to this May 1970 performance of "New Rising Sun." I won't even try to claim it's one of Mitch's best performances: but it is typical. Listen to Jimi's freeform beginning, and notice how subtly Mitch helps it ease into a tempo, into a song. No simple timekeeping there: with little rolls and shuffle beats he nudges it along until it settles into a groove. And then for the rest of the song he's right there with Jimi. Jimi raises the tension with a verse or two, Mitch takes it up a notch with tasty cymbal work, snare stutter-steps. Jimi peaks with the chorus, and Mitch plays perfect counterpoint - Jimi holds a note so Mitch can break down the time with his bass rolls. And so on. Between them they're juggling time, while Billy holds down the middle - he's the net they're volleying over, now furiously, now gently.
The dynamic was totally different with Noel Redding on bass, of course, but I've been listening mainly to spring and summer '70 when I get in a Hendrix mood lately.