Squirmin' and rockin' and kickin' and shakin'

The evolution of Coyote

by Les Irvin
JoniMitchell.com
February 7, 2020

Bob Dylan fans have been fortunate. With all the official bootleg releases, people can hear the evolution of many of his classic songs. A dozen takes of Positively Fourth Street, twenty or more takes of Like A Rolling Stone, and a staggering two dozen takes of One of Us Must Know (just to name a few)- Dylan fans are treated to the changing lyrics, melodies, and tempos of many of his legendary compositions. Joni fans, as of now at least, are not afforded such a luxury. Few, if any, of her studio outtakes have been officially released.

Coyote is an exception of sorts. On November 13, 1975 Joni ‘fell in’ with a traveling hodgepodge of stars, musicians, writers, and hangers-on. The Rolling Thunder Review featured Dylan, Joan Baez, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Sam Shepard, Ronee Blakley, Bob Neuwirth, Kinky Friedman, Roger McGuinn, Allen Ginsberg, Gordon Lightfoot, Mick Ronson, and more. Joni later remarked that "I came along on the tour for the magic and enjoyment and interaction between writers and musicians. I couldn't think of a more interesting place to be at the time." And lucky for us, Joni just happened to be writing Coyote along the way- singing 'the daily rushes' as she put it- at each performance. Although Joni has never admitted it, fellow traveler Sam Shepard is almost certainly the inspiration for Coyote, if not the coyote himself.

Let's look at how the song lyrics evolved along the way. Changes from the previous performance appear in red.

November 26, Augusta, Maine

At this very first performance of the song, neither the melody nor the guitar chords are in their final recorded form- and only 2 of the 4 verses have been written. Joni began the song by playing the entire verse chord structure instrumentally before starting to sing.

Joni's intro: "...looking at the daily rushes... this is ummm.... this one was just written yesterday so it's..."

No regrets Coyote
we just come from two sets of different circumstances
I'm up all night in the studio
and you're up early on your ranch
brushing out a brood mare's tail
while the sun is ascending
and I'll just be getting home with my reel to reel
there's no comprehending
just how close to the bone and the skin
and the eyes and the lips you can get
and still feel so alone and still feel related
like stations on some relay
you're not a hit and run driver no no
racing away
You just picked up a hitcher
a prisoner of white lines on the freeway

I looked a coyote in the face
On the road to Baljennie near my old hometown
and he went running through the whisker wheat
chasing some prize down
and the hawk was playin' with him
and the coyote was jumping up and making passes
and he had those same eyes just like yours
under your dark glasses
privately probing the public rooms and
peekin' through the numbered doors
where the players lick their wounds
and take their temporary lovers and their pills
and their powders to get them through this passion play
I've got no regrets coyote
I'll just get off up a ways
You just picked up a hitcher
a victim of the fine white lines on the free freeway

December 1, Toronto

Joni has added a third verse, which she put in between the two she had previously written.

No regrets Coyote
we just come from such different sets of circumstance
I'm up all night in the studios
and you're up early on your ranch
brushing out a brood mare's tail
while the sun is ascending
and I'll just be getting home with my reel to reel
there's no comprehending
just how close to the bone and the skin
and the eyes and the lips you can get
and still feel so alone and still feel related
like stations in some relay
you're not a hit and run driver no no
racing away
You just picked up a hitcher
or a prisoner of the white lines on the freeway

We saw a farmhouse burning down
In the middle of nowhere
In the middle of the night
And we rolled right past that tragedy
'til we pulled into a roadhouse lights
Where a local band was playing
and the locals were squirmin and rockin on the floor
And the next thing I know coyote
you're knockin' at my door
You pin me in a corner and you won't take no
you drag me on that dance floor
And we're dancing so close and slow
you've got a woman at home
a woman for the night now you want one for the day
Why'd you have to get so drunk
And lead me on that way
You know you just picked up a hitcher
A prisoner of white lines on the freeway


I looked a coyote in the face
On the road to Baljennie near my old hometown
and he went running through the whisker wheat
chasing some prize down
and the hawk was playin' with him
and the coyote was jumping up and making passes
and he those same eyes just like yours
under your dark glasses
privately probing the public rooms and
peekin' through keyholes in numbered doors
where the players lick their wounds
and take their temporary lovers and their pills
and their powders to get them through this passion play
I've got no regrets coyote
I'll just be getting off up a ways

December 2, Toronto

Only a day later, but Joni continues to tweak a number of the lines in the song.

Joni's intro: "This is a new song, it's still unfinished, there's another verse to be added... it's all about a coyote."

No regrets Coyote
we just come from such different sets of circumstance
I'm up all night in the studios
and you're up early on your ranch
brushing out a brood mare's tail
while the sun is ascending
and I'll just be getting home with my reel to reel
there's no comprehending
just how close to the bone and the skin
and the eyes and the lips you can get
and still feel so alone and still feel relate
like stations in a relay
you're not a hit and run driver no no
racing away
You just picked up a hitcher
a prisoner of white lines on the freeway

We saw a farmhouse burning down
In the middle of nowhere
In the middle of the night
We rolled right past that tragedy
and we came to some roadhouse lights
Where a local band was playing
and locals were shakin on the floor
And the next thing I know coyote
you're knockin' at my door
You pin me in a corner and you won't take no
you drag me on the dance floor
And we're dancing so close and slow
you've got a woman at home
and one for the night and now you want one for the day
Why'd you have to get so drunk
And lead me on that way
You just picked up a hitcher
A prisoner of white lines on the freeway

I saw a coyote right up close
On the road to Baljennie near my old hometown
and he went running through the whisker wheat
chasing some prize down
and the hawk was playin' with him
coyote's jumping up and making passes
and he's got those same eyes just like yours
under your dark glasses
privately probing the public rooms and
peekin' through keyholes in numbered doors
where the players lick their wounds
and take their temporary lovers and their pills
and their powders to get them through this passion play
I've got no regrets coyote
I'll just be getting off up a ways
You just picked up a hitcher
a victim of fine white lines on the free freeway

December 4, Montreal

This was the first performance in which Joni dispensed with the long instrumental intro. It's now played like the recorded version. Notably, Joni changes many of the pronouns in the second verse from a 2nd person to a 3rd person perspective- from 'you' to 'he'. Joni has also added the final verse she promised earlier.

Joni's intro: I came to this tour in New Haven, and I just hitched along for the rest of the distance. It's kind of like running away from home to join the circus. Anyway, I've got this tune that has been growing. It started off with two verses and a couple nights later I added another one. Last night I got a fourth one. I think it's finished but I don't know, maybe there's a couple more chapters to go but it's called Coyote and it goes like this.

No regrets Coyote
we just come from such different sets of circumstance
I'm up all night in the studios
and you're up early on your ranch
you'll be brushing out a brood mare's tail
while the sun is ascending
and I'll just be getting home with my reel to reel
there's no comprehending
just how close to the bone and the skin
and the eyes and the lips you can get
and still feel so alone and still feel related
like stations in some relay
you're not a hit and run driver no no
racing away
You just picked up a hitcher
a prisoner of white lines on the freeway

We saw a farmhouse burning down
In the middle of nowhere
In the middle of the night
We rolled right past that tragedy
'till we came to some roadhouse lights
and a local band was playing
and locals were up shakin and kickin on the floor
And the next thing I know
A coyote's at my door
He pins me in a corner and he won't take no
and he leads me on that dance floor
And we're dancing so close and slow
he's got a woman at home
a woman for the night and now he wants one for the day
oh why'd you have to get so drunk
And lead me on that way
You just picked up a hitcher
A victim of white lines on the freeway

I looked a coyote in the face
On the road to Baljennie near my old hometown
and he went running through the whisker wheat
chasing some prize down
and the hawk was playin' with him
and the coyote was jumping up and making passes
and he had those same eyes just like yours
under your dark glasses
privately probing the public rooms
and peeking through keyholes in numbered doors
where the players lick their wounds
and take their temporary lovers
and their pills and powders
to get them through this passion play
I have no regrets Coyote
I'm getting off up a ways
You just picked up a hitcher
A prisoner of fine white lines on the free freeway

Coyote in the restaurant
He's staring a hole in his scrambled eggs
He picks up my scent on his fingers
While he's watching the waitresses' legs
He's too far from the Bay of Fundy
Too far from appaloosas and eagles and tides
From salt air and fifty mile tides
And the air-conditioned cubicles
And the carbon ribbon rides
Are spelling it out so clear
but either he's got to stand and fight
Or take off out of here
From Louie on the balcony
And the ladies in the show
And from me, Coyote
The flame you typed up in an Eskimo
Me the hitcher, me the victim
of the free freeway

December 8, New York City:

By this performance, the first verse is pretty much locked in and sung the same each night. The last verse goes through a pretty substantial revision.

Joni's intro: "This is a brand new song that just kept growing along the bus routes of this tour."

[First verse same]

We saw a farmhouse burning down
In the middle of nowhere
In the middle of the night
We rolled right past that tragedy
'til we turned into some roadhouse lights
Where a local band was playing
and locals were up shakin and kickin on the floor
And the next thing I knew
A coyote's at my door
He pins me in a corner and he won't take no
he drags me on that dance floor and we're
dancing close and slow
he's got a woman at home
and he's got one for the night
now he wants to take one for the day
oh why'd you have to get so drunk
And lead me on that way
You just picked up a hitcher
A prisoner of this white line on this freeway

I looked a coyote right in the face
On the road to Baljennie near my old hometown
and he went running through the whisker wheat
chasing some prize down
and the hawk was playin' with him
the coyote was jumping up and making passes
he had those same eyes just like yours
under your dark glasses
privately probing the public rooms
peeking through keyholes in numbered doors
where players lick their wounds
and take their temporary lovers
and their pills and powders
to get them through this passion play
I have no regrets Coyote
I'm just getting off up a ways
You just picked up a hitcher
A prisoner of fine white lines on the free free freeway

Coyote's in the coffee shop He picks up my scent on his fingers
While he's watching the waitresses' legs
He's too far from the Bay of Fundy
Too far from appaloosas and eagles and tides
From salt air and fifty mile tides
And the air conditioned cubicles
And the carbon ribbon rides
Are spelling it out so clear
but either he's going to have to stand and fight
Or take off out of here
From Louie on the balcony
And the ladies in the show
And from me, Coyote

I tried to run away myself
To run away and do some work with my ego
And this
flame in this Eskimo
In this hitcher, this prisoner
Of the fine white lines
on the free free free freeway

January 20, 1976, St Louis, Missouri

When the thunder stopped rolling, Joni quickly embarked on a tour of her own in January. On the third stop in St Louis, Joni was back to playing the entire verse instrumentally before beginning to sing. By this time, the lyrics to Coyote were mostly similar to the recorded version except for a few lines of verse two.

During the downtime Joni had written the song "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter"- calling it "a sequel" and playing it as a medley with Coyote. This medley treatment continued throughout the '76 tour. At some point, however, she decided not to record it this way, opting to record each separately and even on different albums.

[First verse same]

We saw a farmhouse burning down
In the middle of nowhere
In the middle of the night
We rolled right past that tragedy
'til we turned into some road house lights
Where a local band was playing
locals were up shakin and kickin on the floor
And the next thing I know
That coyote's at my door
He pins me in a corner and he won't take no
he drags me on that dance floor and we're
dancing close and slow
he's got a woman at home
he's got a woman for the night
and now I think he wants to take me for the day
why'd you have to get so drunk
And lead me on that way
You just picked up a hitcher
A prisoner of the white lines on the freeway

I looked a coyote right in the face
On the road to Baljennie near my old hometown
and he went running through the whisker wheat
chasing some prize down
and the hawk was playin' with him
the coyote was jumping straight up and making passes
he had those same eyes just like yours
under your dark glasses
privately probing the public rooms
peeking through keyholes in numbered doors
where the players lick their wounds
and take their temporary lovers
and their pills and their powders
to get them through this passion play
No regrets Coyote
I'll just getting off up a ways
You just picked up a hitcher
A prisoner of the white lines on the free free freeway

Coyote's in the coffee shop
He's staring a hole in his scrambled eggs
He picks up my scent on his fingers
While he's watching the waitresses' legs
He's too far from the Bay of Fundy
Too far from appaloosas and eagles and tides
And these air conditioned cubicles
And these carbon ribbon rides
Are spelling it out so clear
either he's going to have to stand and fight
Or take off out of here
I tried to run away myself
To run away and wrestle with my ego
And this bonfire in this Eskimo
In this hitcher, in this prisoner
Of the fine white lines on the free free free freeway

February 13, 1976, Cleveland

By this performance, the lyrics remain mostly stable, with the last remaining deviation from the recorded version being sung-

...changing from:

he's got a woman for the night
and now I think he wants to take me for the day

...to:

now he's got a woman at home
he's got another woman down the hall
and he seems to want me anyway

After the '76 tour, Joni most likely did not perform the song again live until the Berkeley Jazz Festival on May 27, 1979. Coyote was a staple of the coming 1979 tour with Pat Metheny and Jaco Pastorius, but Don Juan's Reckless Daughter was nowhere to be found... except on the record.


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