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Joni Mitchell

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Joni Mitchell
Photo: Joel Bernstein

Joni Mitchell, (Roberta Anderson), was born on 7th Nov, 1943. Mitchell is one of the most important and influential female recording artists of the late 20th century. Ask any female singer from Tori Amos, to Sheryl Crow and newbies like Adel who their favorite female singer songwriter is and all will say Joni. Led Zeppelin sang about her in “Going To California” so did Prince in “The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker”. Even Madonna cited Mitchell as the first female artist that really spoke to her as a teenager.

Joni Mitchell is Neil Young playing folk music on weird guitar tunings who got drunk at a jazz club. And like her fellow countryman Young, Joni has played it her way, never looking for hit records (she’s only ever had one US top 10 hit). Her early albums have become timeless classics; just listen to Ladies Of The Canyon, Blue and Court And Spark.

So, what do we know about Joni? She was stricken with polio at the age of eight and while recovering in a children’s hospital, she began her performing career by singing to the other patients. She later taught herself to play guitar with the aid of a Pete Seeger instruction book, she went off to art college, and became a fixture on the folk music scene around Alberta, Canada. After relocating to Toronto, she married folksinger Chuck Mitchell in 1965, and began performing under the name Joni Mitchell.

After performing in Coffee Houses and clubs in Ontario, Joni spread her wings and ventured south. One night when she was performing at a club in Coconut Grove, Florida, David Crosby walked in and was immediately struck by her ability and her appeal as an artist. He took her back to Los Angeles, where he set about introducing her and her music to his friends. Crosby convinced a record company to agree to let Mitchell record a solo acoustic album without all the folk-rock overdubs that were in vogue at the time, and his clout earned him a producer’s credit in March 1968, when Reprise Records released her debut album, alternately known as Joni Mitchell or Song To A Seagull.

While some of Mitchell’s most popular songs were written on the piano, almost every song she composed on the guitar uses an open, or non-standard, tuning; she has written songs in some 50 tunings, playing what she has called “Joni’s weird chords”.

Several artists have had success covering Mitchell’s songs. Judy Collins’s 1967 recording of “Both Sides, Now” reached No. 8 on Billboard charts and was a breakthrough in the career of both artists.

Retrospectively, her fourth album Blue has been widely regarded by music critics as one of the greatest albums of all time; the cohesion of Mitchell’s songwriting, compositions and vocals are frequent areas of praise. In 2020, Blue was rated the third greatest album of all time in Rolling Stone’s list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”, the highest entry by a female artist.

At least four notable versions of her song “Woodstock” were released in the same year, 1970. Mitchell’s version appeared in April 1970 on her album Ladies of the Canyon and as the B-side to her single “Big Yellow Taxi”. This was preceded by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s version, which appeared on their March 1970 album Déjà Vu and became a staple of classic rock radio and the best-known version in the United States. A third version, by the British band Matthews Southern Comfort became the best-known version in the United Kingdom, and was the highest charting version of the song, reaching the top of the UK Singles Chart in 1970. A fourth version by studio project the Assembled Multitude also became a chart hit.

Mitchell didn’t attend Woodstock. She composed the song in a hotel room in New York City, watching televised reports of the festival as well as what she had heard from her then-boyfriend Graham Nash.

Amy Grant in 1995 scored hits with covers of “Big Yellow Taxi”, the third-most covered song in Mitchell’s repertoire (with over 300 covers). Other releases of this song included versions by Counting Crows in 2002 and Nena in 2007. Janet Jackson used a sample of the chorus of “Big Yellow Taxi” as the centrepiece of her 1997 hit single “Got ‘Til It’s Gone”, which also features rapper Q-Tip saying “Joni Mitchell never lies”. Rap artists Kanye West and Mac Dre have also sampled Mitchell’s vocals in their music.

Mitchell announced in October 2002 that she had made her last ever record; she’d grown tired of the industry. She told W magazine that she intended to retire. She also claimed she would never sign another corporate label deal and in Rolling Stone magazine blasted the recording industry for being “a cesspool.”

She has received eight Grammy Awards during her career, with the first coming in 1969 and the most recent in 2008. She received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002, with the citation describing her as “one of the most important female recording artists of the rock era” and “a powerful influence on all artists who embrace diversity, imagination and integrity.”

She was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1981 and received the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, Canada’s highest honour in the performing arts, in 1996. In 2002 she was named a Companion of the Order of Canada, Canada’s highest civilian honour.

On March 31, 2015, Joni Mitchell was found unconscious in her Los Angeles home. She regained consciousness in an ambulance on her way to hospital, but was taken to intensive care for tests. On May 29, 2015, it was confirmed that Mitchell had suffered a brain aneurysm and that while speech was difficult, Mitchell had been communicating with others.

Since 2015 Mitchell has made several recent public appearances as she recovers, according to some reports she is still learning to walk again, and she has not spoken in public. She appeared on stage on 7 November 2018 at the conclusion of Joni 75, a benefit performance in honor of her birthday at LA’s flagship performing arts destination, the Music Center.

Since her debut album in 1968, Mitchell has released 19 studio albums. In the United States alone, Mitchell has accrued record sales of 7 million certified by the RIAA.

On 24 Jul 2022, Joni surprised the crowd at Newport Folk Festival, Rhode Island when she joined Brandi Carlile on stage for two songs. Fans were treated to a rare performance from the music legend when she appeared during Carlile’s set. Performing from a chair the pair sang Mitchell’s classics ‘Both Sides Now’ and ‘A Case Of You’, released in 1966 and 1971, respectively. She also played the guitar solo from her 1974 song ‘Just Like This Train’.

Important Dates In The Life Of Joni Mitchell:

On this day in music
10 Jan 2023
American jazz and rock guitarist Dennis Budimir died at the age of 84. He was a member of The Wrecking Crew and worked with many artists including Joni Mitchell, Carpenters, Brian Wilson, Barbra Streisand, Frank Zappa, Linda Ronstadt and Dusty Springfield. He also played on more than 900 movie soundtracks from the early 1960s until the 2000s.
24 Jul 2022
Joni Mitchell surprised the crowd at Newport Folk Festival, Rhode Island when she joined Brandi Carlile on stage for two songs. Fans were treated to a rare performance from the music legend when she appeared during Carlile’s set. Performing from a chair (Mitchell had a brain aneurism in 2015), the pair sang Mitchell’s classics ‘Both Sides Now’ and ‘A Case Of You’, released in 1966 and 1971, respectively. She also played the guitar solo from her 1974 song ‘Just Like This Train’.
29 Jan 2021
Grammy-winning English pianist, orchestrator, music producer and songwriter Jeremy Lubbock died aged 89. He moved to Los Angeles with his family in 1977, and worked on Joni Mitchell's album Mingus, and Minnie Riperton's final album Minnie. In following years, he worked with David Foster, Quincy Jones, Chicago, and many others. He won Grammy Awards for his arrangements on Chicago's ‘Hard Habit to Break’ in 1984, and for Celine Dion's ‘When I Fall in Love’.
21 Jun 2019
American music manager and record executive Elliot Roberts died aged 76. He is best known for helping to start and develop the careers of singer-songwriters from the late 1960s and 1970s, including those of Neil Young – whom he managed for over fifty years – and Joni Mitchell.
31 Mar 2015
Joni Mitchell was rushed to hospital after being found unconscious at her Los Angeles home. The singer songwriter was admitted to intensive care where she underwent tests. Los Angeles fire officials said paramedics had answered a 911 call in Bel Air, where Mitchell lives, and had taken a patient whom they did not identify to hospital.
6 Jan 2007
US country-rock steel guitar player 'Sneaky' Pete Kleinow, died aged 72. He was one of the original members of the Flying Burrito Brothers with the Byrds' Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons. Also worked with John Lennon and Joni Mitchell.
7 Jan 2004
Drummer John Guerin died of pneumonia aged 64. Worked with Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa, Linda Rondstadt, Gram Parsons, Todd Rundgren. He also played on the original title tune for the television series Hawaii Five-O.
6 Apr 2000
An all-star tribute to Joni Mitchell was held at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City featuring performances by Elton John, Bryan Adams, Shawn Colvin, James Taylor, Cyndi Lauper, Richard Thompson, k.d. Lang, and Mary Chapin Carpenter.
18 Oct 1996
Joni Mitchell was interviewed by Morrissey for the promotional CD 'Words and Music' by Reprise Records to promote her new releases Hits and Misses.
27 Mar 1996
American drummer Howard Wyeth died of cardiac arrest at St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan aged 51. He worked with Bob Dylan, Don McLean, Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell.
21 Jul 1990
Roger Waters' The Wall took place at the Berlin Wall in Potzdamer Platz, Berlin to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall eight months earlier. Over 350,000 people attended and the event was broadcast live throughout the world, Van Morrison, Bryan Adams, Joni Mitchell, The Scorpions, Cyndi Lauper, Sinead O’Connor and others took part.
21 Sep 1987
American jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius died from injuries sustained in a fight. Pastorius was trying to enter the Midnight Bottle Club in Wilton Manors, Florida, (where he'd been banned), and became involved in a fight with a bouncer, Pastorius fell into a coma and was put on life support. In 2006, Pastorius was voted "The Greatest Bass Player Who Has Ever Lived" by readers in Bass Guitar magazine. Was a member of Weather Report and worked with various acts including Joni Mitchell and Herbie Hancock.
5 Jan 1979
American jazz double bassist, pianist, composer and bandleader Charles Mingus died aged 56. His compositions retained the hot and soulful feel of hard bop, drawing heavily from black gospel music and blues. His final project was 'Mingus' a collaboration with Joni Mitchell.
4 Nov 1977
The Last Waltz, the movie of The Bands final concert premiered in New York. The Martin Scorsese movie also featured Joni Mitchell, Dr John, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Neil Diamond, Eric Clapton.
25 Nov 1976
The Band made their final performance; 'The Last Waltz' held on American Thanksgiving Day, at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. The show also featured Joni Mitchell, Dr John, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Neil Diamond, Eric Clapton and others. The event was filmed by director Martin Scorsese and made into a documentary of the same name, released in 1978.
20 Sep 1975
Winners in this year’s Melody Makers Readers poll included, Robert Plant who won Best singer, Joni Mitchell, Best female singer, Yes won Best band, Genesis won Best live act, Best single, ‘I’m Not In Love, by 10cc, Best album Led Zeppelin, and Brightest hope went to Camel.
24 Mar 1975
Paul McCartney held a party on the Queen Mary at Long Beach in California to celebrate the release of the Wings album Venus And Mars. Among the 200 guests on board were George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Marvin Gaye, The Faces and The Jackson 5. The party was the first time McCartney and Harrison had been seen in public since the Beatles break-up.
8 Sep 1974
Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills Nash & Young and The Beach Boys all appeared at the New York 'Summersault '74' at Roosevelt Raceway in Westbury.
12 Aug 1973
The Eagles, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young and the Santa Monica Flyers all appeared at the Corral Club in Topanga, California.
22 Jun 1971
Joni Mitchell released her fourth studio album Blue. The album is now generally regarded by music critics as one of the greatest albums of all time. In July 2017, Blue was chosen by NPR as the greatest album of all time made by a woman.
1 Nov 1970
Matthews Southern Comfort were at No.1 on the UK singles chart with their version of the Joni Mitchell song 'Woodstock'. The group's only UK No.1 hit.
26 Aug 1970
Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, (his last ever UK appearance), Donovan, Jethro Tull, Miles Davis, Arrival, Cactus, Family, Taste, Mungo Jerry, ELP, The Doors, The Who, Spirit, The Moody Blues, Chicago, Procol Harum, Sly and the Family Stone and Free all appeared over three days at the third  Isle Of Wight Festival. Weekend tickets, £3.
19 Aug 1969
Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Jefferson Airplane all appeared on the ABC TV Dick Cavett Show from Television Center in New York City.
16 Aug 1969
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young supported by Joni Mitchell appeared at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago, Illinois.
1 Aug 1969
The three day US Atlantic City Pop Festival took place at the Atlantic City race track with B.B. King, Janis Joplin, Santana, Three Dog Night, Dr John, Procol Harum, Arthur Brown, Iron Butterfly, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Little Richard, Tim Buckley, The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, The Mothers Of Invention and Canned Heat. Joni Mitchell started to cry and ran off stage in the middle of her third song because the crowd was not paying attention to her performance.
19 Jul 1969
Special guests on this week's Johnny Cash ABC television music variety show included, Ed Ames, Roy Clark, The Monkees and Joni Mitchell. Cash introduced The Monkees by playing the first verse of their hit 'Last Train To Clarksville' with The Monkees on backing vocals, The Monkees then performed a version of the Johnny Cash song 'Everybody Loves a Nut', with Cash.
7 Jun 1969
Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell both appeared on the first ABC TV Johnny Cash Show from Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Dylan sang I Threw It All Away and Living The Blues and duetted with Johnny Cash on Girl From The North Country.
28 Dec 1968
The three day Miami Pop festival took place, the first major rock festival held on the East Coast of the US, with The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Chuck Berry, The McCoys, Joni Mitchell, Fleetwood Mac, Marvin Gaye, The Turtles, The Box Tops, Steppenwolf, Three Dog Night, Pacific Gas and Electric, Procol Harum, Canned Heat, Iron Butterfly and Grateful Dead.
3 Jul 1968
At an impromptu gathering at Joni Mitchell's house in Lookout Mountain, Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles, David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash played together for the very first time. The trio went on to form Crosby, Stills and Nash.
21 Jul 1967
The Jimi Hendrix Experience played the first of three nights at the Cafe-a-Go-Go in New York City. The club featured many well known acts including: Grateful Dead, Tim Buckley, Joni Mitchell,Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Jefferson Airplane, and Cream who all appeared at the club.
16 Jul 1967
Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Judy Collins, Janis Ian, David Blue, Mike Settle, Tom Paxton and Eric Andersen all appeared at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, Rhode Island.
13 Feb 1960
Frank Sinatra launched his own record label, Reprise Records, in order to allow more artistic freedom for his own recordings. Hence, he garnered the nickname "The Chairman of the Board."One of the label’s founding principles under Sinatra’s leadership was that each artist would have full creative freedom, and at some point complete ownership of their work. Reprise later became the home of many influential US acts such as Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman and The Beach Boys.
3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Penelope York

    November 7, 2020 at 7:38 pm

    Joni,
    I wish you a complete recovery, and I long to see you sing again. All of the best.❤️

  2. Tom Paterson

    November 11, 2020 at 11:26 pm

    Best songwriter EVER – bar none. She lays her heart all out there in her beautiful lyrics and amazing musicianship. Both Sides Now and Song For Sharon are 2 of many MASTERPIECES
    she has written. Just an amazing artist.

  3. Kellyann

    December 28, 2021 at 1:16 pm

    She is among the top musicians in the world and among the most influential artists and songwriters in the world. No need for the sex qualifier of “female” in front of the words, artist, musician and songwriter. This unnecessary qualifier is only used when talking about women. No one ever say that Jaco Pastorius is a great male bassist or Jerry Garcia is a great male guitarist. A sex qualifier indicates that male is the norm and female is somehow fringe. We’re musicians, just like the guys. Sex chromosomes have nothing to do with it. Joni is our da Vinci, our Mozart. We are so lucky to be alive at the same time as this genius.

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