“Purple Haze” is one of Jimi Hendrix’s most popular songs, and on August 26, 1967, the single entered the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart, where it spent eight weeks. The Jimi Hendrix Experience had released Are You Experienced in the US that week, after the single with “Purple Haze” and “The Wind Cries Mary” came out in March in the US. For many Americans, “Purple Haze” was their first introduction to Hendrix’s woozy, psychedelic rock.
Drummer John Graham “Mitch” Mitchell comes in on the third measure of “Purple Haze,” when Hendrix introduces the famous riff that first piqued producer Chas Chandler’s interest and caused him to urge Hendrix to finish the song.
Fun fact: In 1966, when Hendrix was deciding on a drummer for his band, he couldn’t choose between Mitchell and Aynsley Dunbar. So he did what any rational person would and flipped a coin.
Mitchell won, and the rest is history. Don’t feel bad for Dunbar, though, he did alright playing with John Mayall, Frank Zappa, David Bowie, Journey and many others in his post-coinflip career.
Mitchell brought a jazz sensibility to the Experience — which makes sense since his influences were Elvin Jones, Max Roach, and Joe Morello. He also excelled at bringing improvisatory flourishes to Hendrix’s open-ended guitar playing.
The Experience began recording “Purple Haze” in January that year, at De Lane Lea Studios in London. According to Mitchell, he and bassist Noel Redding learned the song in the studio:
“Hendrix came in and kind of hummed us the riff and showed Noel the chords and the changes. I listened to it and we went, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ We got it on the third take as I recall.”
And, on a funnier note, “Purple Haze” is often cited as having one of the most misheard song lyrics of all time. How many times have you heard “Excuse me, while I kiss the sky” mis-sung as “Excuse me, while I kiss this guy”?
One website, appropriately called KissThisGuy.com, offers an entire archive of misheard song lyrics for your amusement and edification, should you want to go down that wormhole.