I’ve waited a long time to write this because everytime I started, I had to stop. I write honestly because it’s the only way I know how, and sometimes I let too much show. I hesitated writing this because tradition dictates that I write that Mitch was a fantastic drummer, one of the best I ever played with, that he was a wonderful human being, had a great and fulfilling life, was a loving husband, father, brother and son and that I have nothing but good memories. But that’s not so, and people are around who know it isn’t so, so without being a jerk about it. I’m going to put down my honest thoughts and remembrances. People have read other stuff I put on this site and said “wow, I didn’t realize you felt that way!” so it’s probably good just to lay it out there.
Mitch was my brother and part of Vengeance before it was ever thought of. I can vividly remember the two of us miming to Wings’ “Rock Show”, bugging our parents to get us instruments. I had an acoustic guitar, but it was hard to play, and I was in love with the fuzztone sound of songs like “What is My Life” by Harrison. Mitch always wanted to be a drummer, bashing it out on cardboard boxes until we finally got real instruments for Christmas. We had a gig by Valentine’s Day, no one sang, so we played them all with a rhythm guitarist who played with a bassy sound and I played the melody line. The little girls loved it and we were hooked.
We were always Beatles freaks but at that time we were REALLY into Wings, so much so that our first line-ups played nothing BUT Wings. We later spread our wings a little to include School’s Out, Free Bird, American Band but we always tried butchering HI Hi Hi, Band on the Run, Rock Show, all those complicated songs with lots of changes and tempo breaks so dangerous to garage bands. At our Dad’s suggestion we called up all the local Elementary and Middle schools and offered to play the school carnivals and fairs for free and we got a lot of gigs. We also played regularly at the local rec center and were baby rock stars among the girls. Mitch gamely went along with whatever I wanted to play and did his best, and over the years I threw some hard stuff at him, but he was always at least competent and in time (coming out of rolls, well he could have used some work there).
We started getting into heavier music right around the time I left highschool and Mitch joined the Navy. I continued with new people getting into Priest, Sabbath, UFO, Maiden, Accept, Scorps, etc. but we were still party-level, I didn’t have the players nor the equipment to make the jump to the bars.
Herb, the best drummer and best bass player I ever played with (and the fact he played both probably had a lot to do with it) was on drums when Mitch got out of the Navy 2 years later. He happily jumped to bass and Mitch took over on drums. Carl Bennett had been singing with us since we poached him from another local band, and we were off. In those days there was a major (as in 12-24 kegs or more) keg party every few weeks and we were a very popular band and sought after to play these gigs.
The legendary Mike Sacco, who was known as being an ace guitarist who played Rush and Queen (but only in his bedroom to friends) saw us and wanted to join. I was resistent, I was the lead guitarist, but I finally came around and it was the thing that made us. Mike had a brother in law with a pro lighting company, Lars Lighting. a best friend, Bobby Gibbs, with his hand on the local import record scene who fed us great tunes to play and ran lights and generally inspired us all around. We because huge fish in a tiny pond and some of those epic gigs can be found on the pages of this site.
However, 2 things happened. Besides the fact we were all getting into our 20s and needed to move up to the bar scene, the county passed and ordinancde killing keg parties: you had to have a permit, an ambulance on site, parking had to be controlled, Port-0-Lets had to be rented. No one could afford this crap so they shut down parties as soon as the first call came in. Since we covered cars with flyers they would get wind of them pretty quick and we would get a song or 2 off and get shut down.
Meanwhile, we started to add better musicians. Carl, god bless him, was a great sport and tried his best but he did not have a Bruce Dickenson/Dio range. We used to call “Kill the King” Kill the Carl because after that tune he would be blown out. To cover his nervousness and throat problems, he drank more than he should have and that became a problem. We did a week long gig at a popular bottle club and he lost his voice the 2nd day and we were fired. We were ready to move on to some better players, and we got a new singer.
Carl was an especial friend of Mitch, and MItch took Carl’s firing hard. The other thing was, Mitch rarely worked and he still had that same drum set Mom and Dad had bought us for Christmas way back when, along with cracked cymbals he lifted off bar walls where bands would hang them, autographed, when they broke. These were his front-line cymbals. I remember sound men saying “you really want me to mic these up”?
The other thing was, while he did an adequate job, Mitch had had very few lessons and was self-taught. He had a flamboyant, Keith Moon, over the top- over-playing style which worked for a long time but not in the bars among our real peers. I’m sad to say his playing and drums had become an embarassment for us.
At that time, the best drummer in the area, Curt’s brother, Dave, who was best friends with our new singer, Wayne, became available. The guys came to me reluctantly, because I’d always defended Mitch and they thought I would be against replacing him. However, I was young and ambitious and honestly, we never would have played regularly with Mitch. He just wasn’t at that level and never did get there, although he got better drums. He was crushed, he was hurt and angry, and years later he would tell people who came out to see the band, of which he was still a supporter, “you’re probably wondering why I don’t play with Guy anymore. Our musical tastes went in different directions, I have my own thing going now.” and I could tell it hurt him even 20 years later and he considered it a terrible break that damaged the rest of his life. He never played in a real band again, just jam bands where he led the band with his crazy style Mike labeled “circus drumming”, accenting lines in vocals and generally playing “lead drums” instead of copping a groove.
I’m not going to go into specifics, but Mitch’s life did go downhill from there, loss of important job, divorce, separation from his daughter, substance and alcohol problems, legal problems, severe on-job injuries. He would call me when he was down and out and stay with me for a while, but he was very abrasive and resentful. He HATED cops and would confront them when he saw them in public. He would be rude and hateful to strangers, then do something weird like tip a waitress $100 at the Pizza Hut. He didn’t like a CD I had put in and threw my plug-in CD player out the car window. He fought with my live-in girlfriends and said all kinds of mean and gross stuff about women. He borrowed money and when I caught him using it for drugs I said no more. He finally showed up at 3am demanding his speakers back ($20 speakers which he had given me as security for a $300 load) and I thought about it, then I just gave them to him.
I said “Don’t ask me for anything, anymore. You just take advantage and I don’t know if I’m really helping you or just enabling you.”
That was in 2002. He stomped off and I never saw him again. In 2019, weeks before the Wuhan virus craze, I got a call asking if I was Mitch’s brother. He had been living in a tent in a field for the last 10 years or so and was a neighborhood character, but didn’t show up for his free meal and the restaurant owner went looking for him and found him, several days dead. He could have asked for help from my parents or me, we were easy enough to find, but he lived the way he wanted. He died from the effects of years of alcoholism.
Now, of course I can’t claim the blame for everything that happened to Mitch after he left the band. But I do know it was an enormous blow to him he never got over. He was still talking about it the year he died, explaining it to people and justifying it and bad-mouthing me, not that I mind. I probably deserve it. But it had to go that way. We moved on in a big way and did so much,and we never would have with Mitch on the drums. I tried to throw him a bone by doing things like a Queen project in my studio and letting him play drums and jamming with him and his buddies on occasion. I let him stay with me a dozen times when he was broke or a catastrophe like all the Port Tampa sewers backing up into the houses (“that stuff is NOT going into my trunk”).
But we were always at odds. We were never close again and he left for Portland OR in the early ’90s for 10 years to work in the shipyards, abandoning his daughter to my parents (probably luckily for her) and never spoke to any of the family but me again. When he got back in town he did not seek them out, and he did not see his daughter, whom he left at 2 years old, again in his life. She didn’t attend the funeral.
Family is complicated, and both my Mom and Dad were professional musicians. My Dad understood completely my canning Mitch. But I feel a huge amount of guilt, and I’ll never stop thinking there might have been more I could have done, although all the negative stuff that happened to Mitch probably would have happened anyway. It’s just how he was. I would have liked to talk to him one more time and reminisce, but hey, memory lane’s a dead end street.
I try to focus on the joy and enthusiasm with which he played when it was going really well. One moment that stands out, immortalized on a video tape one of Carl’s girlfriends destroyed, at the very end of the Labor Union Hall gig, a huge gig for us in front of hundreds of people, at the very end after the last note and the flash-pods going off, Mitch raising his arms in triumph with a huge grin. The tape immediately ended, but it was classic. It was one of the best moments of my life, and I’d be willing to bet his too. At least we did have several years of playing together and winnning. I remember our inside jokes and coded talk even the other band members didn’t get. We fought like brothers but we were close as brothers can be, at that time. That time is captured in a photo and in my memory, forever.
Here’s to Mitch 1962-2019