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Before Mazzy Star, the late Keith Mitchell was 'the Buddy Rich of punk rock' in LA groups

The Romans, 1986. L-R: Michael Uhlenkott, the late Keith Mitchell, Juan Gomez, and Robert Lloyd
The Romans, 1986. L-R: Michael Uhlenkott, the late Keith Mitchell, Juan Gomez, and Robert Lloyd
Mark Takeuchi/Restless Records

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Off-Ramp host John Rabe talks with Juan Gomez, a founding member of The Romans, a "Pasadena supergroup" with Keith Mitchell as the drummer.

"Our hearts are broken. We have lost the much beloved Keith Mitchell, a very talented and amazing drummer that we have had the privilege to work with for many years, he will live in all of our hearts forever. We'll miss you Big Fella." -- Hope Sandoval & David Roback of Mazzy Star

Long before he was "Big Fella" to the members of Mazzy Star, drummer Keith Mitchell, who died Sunday after a very short illness, was "Big Beat" to the members of Monitor and The Romans, two important, adventurous bands on the LA scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Monitor - including Keith Mitchell on drums - playing live c1980

Juan Gomez, guitarist for The Romans, Human Hands, and Billy Wisdom, remembers when Mitchell joined Monitor: "I remember Michael (Uhlenkott, co-founder of Monitor) telling me the next day ... I said, 'How's the drummer search going?' And he said, 'Oh, we found this real oddball guy. He's just got all kinds of character.' 'How's his playing,' I asked? 'Oh, I don't know,' Michael said. 'But he's in the band.' ... And he turned out to be a hell of a drummer."

Mitchell, Gomez says, "took music very seriously, and his ability was such that he could fit into this band like Monitor, who were doing polyrhythmic even written-out compositions," then move to The Romans, who started as a thrash punk band" and morphed into what was perhaps the first alt-country band. "He was like the Buddy Rich of punk rock. He was incredibly capable, and loved so many different types of music." His skill, Gomez says, gave the rest of the band the confidence to try whatever they wanted because Mitchell had their back(beat).

In Mazzy Starr, Gomez says, he brought a "steady sense of minimalism and pulse, and knowing where to fit and where not to play. He left a lot of space in that band for Hope Sandoval's haunting voice, and never overplayed. It takes a lot of restraint for somebody of that capability. He was a rock star and he was in his place, behind the drum kit. That's where he was meant to be. Rest in peace, Keith."

Some details on Keith's career, via Michael Uhlenkott:

Monitor was formed in 1978 with Jeff Rankin as drummer. He was replaced by Keith in 1979. Monitor's last show was in 1982. Here are some of the other bands Keith was in: a country bar band (can't remember the name), Billy Wisdom, Buffy’s Ghost, Clay Allison (pre-Opal), Debt of Nature, Green on Red, The Hesitations, Hyena, Johanna Went, Miranda Lee Richards, Opal, The Tikis.

Listen to the audio player for much more, including Juan's hand-picked Romans song that highlight's Mitchell's ability.