SKF NOTE: Here’s the back story on my interview with J.R. Mitchell. In this excerpt, Mr. Mitchell discusses some of the challenges left-handed drummers face. Once I on an Iowa gig I had to share my right-handed drumset with the other band’s left-handed drummer. This was a deal my bandleader had made. I very reluctantly went along with it, but I was angry. Finally, I was tired of having my drums changed around all night, so I left them set up left-handed and played them that way.
So I am quite empathetic with what J.R. Mitchell says here.
SKF: Did you find any challenges in being a left-handed drummer?
J.R. Mitchell: Yeah. I really didn’t want to play left-handed because I was concerned about sitting in. I told my teacher, “I won’t be able to go and play. I’ll have to be changing people’s drums around.” He said, “Well, if you play well enough you won’t have to sit in with other people.”
It made alot of sense.
I knew a guy in Philadelphia named Richard Easley. He was left-handed, but he set his drums up right-handed. It was so goddam awkward. He played with [jazz organist] Jimmy McGriff for the longest time.
My teacher told me that whatever hand you use the most should be the hand that you use the most should be the hand that you use on your ride cymbal. The muscles have been used more in that hand — and it’s stronger.
I can play right-handed but the feeling is so much different. I’m ambidextrous because I write left-handed, play baseball right-handed.
I found that most cats don’t mind you changing the snare and the sock cymbal. If I was going to sit in and saw that a guy had his drumset tied down — I wouldn’t even ask him. Alot of times I really don’t want to sit in. I think there’s a period of time in a musician’s life where they do alot of sitting in. I’ve done that.
Now if I’m going to play it’s serious business. I don’t have to play to let other musicians know that I’m a drummer. You’re not proving anything to yourself and you shouldn’t have to prove it to the other musicians.