Answer: A drummer (rim shot!).
If you're in the band (any band), you've no doubt heard that one and, hopefully, know it isn't true. Some drummers stick mainly to laying down the backbeat, keeping time and—except for occasional obligatory fills—eschew the frills. Some drummers are masters of texture as well as timing and seem to be able to almost coax melody itself from their kits.
Such was Mitch Mitchell who died on this day in 2008 at the age of 61. The last surviving member from the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Mitchell was in that league of rock and roll drummers (along with Keith Moon, for another example) who could push the percussion envelope to the point where drums almost assumed "lead" status in a song (think of Moon's drumming in "I Can See for Miles").
Much is made—and for good reason—of Hendrix's chops, but the other two guys (bassist Noel Redding along with Mitchell) were not mere potted plants backing his mastery.
Examples of Mitch Mitchell's jazz inspired drumming genius crowd the three official studio LPs in The Jimi Hendrix Experience's discography. A remembrance of Mitchell on National Public Radio the week he passed away pointed out how he follows Hendrix's guitar work nearly note for note on "The Wind Cries Mary."
On Axis Bold as Love, Mitchell gets out his brushes to seems to strive to get in touch with his inner Max Roach on "Up from the Skies."
And one of my favorite moments on Electric Ladyland are the fills in between the verses—and that bridge from verse to chorus—on "House Burning Down." Listen to two examples of what I'm talking about at approximately :51 and 1:15 in.
Hendrix would have seemed garishly out of place (and no doubt would have been bored to tears) had he played with an average rhythm section. And if rock and roll trios are to be as incredible as Hendrix, Mitchell and Redding were, you can't afford to have the bassist and drummer satisfied with simply being "a rhythm section." Each artist needs to be a Jedi of instrumental interplay, alternately supporting and contrapuntally challenging the musical concepts of the other.
So today on the dose we salute the musical legacy of Mitch Mitchell who to this day is easily one whole third of the reason the Jimi Hendrix Experience's three official studio released albums are so damned good.
And lay off the drummer jokes. Try this one instead (dedicated to my buddy Tom, a musician who almost without exception hates harmonicas):
Question: How can you tell there's a harmonica player at your door?
Answer: They forgot the key and don't know when to come in.