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PROFILE: Joni Mitchell Print-ready version

by Anne Hershoran
Hoot (folk music magazine)
September 1966
Original article: PDF

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volume 2 number 5 september 1966 60 cents

Joni Mitchell was born in Alberta and grew up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan with a great love of the prairies. At twenty-two, she has already written many good songs and a few great ones.

She originally came east as Joni Anderson to see the Mariposa Folk Festival. By the following year she met Chuck Mitchell and was a featured performer on the Mariposa programme. Although she had intended to return to art college in Calgary, she found that she could get work singing in Toronto and decided to stay.

"...I was hired at the Penny Farthing, in the cellar they had there - where they kept the Canadian talent - and while I was playing there, Chuck and Loring James came into town and were playing upstairs. Then he (Chuck) wrote to me and said, "I've got a job lined up for you in Port Huron", so I went down for the job and in the meantime met his brothers and sisters and parents and he proposed to me. It was all very exciting - it was all very sudden....we were married a month this point we were both in growing stages - I had written about four songs and hadn't really developed my style or my confidence or anything. We worked as a duo and found it a little hectic - we worked the Chessmate fourteen times..."

With the help of friends Chuck and Joni managed to 'break' New York and worked successfully at the Gaslight.

"We played the Gaslight and it was what you might call an artistic success because we created a lot of excitement, but we didn't draw because we were relatively unknown. We both felt that this was a turning point."

Joni has often been compared to Joan Baez and worried that she would never have an individual style. Most listeners would agree that she has at least come into her own, but Joni still can't be sure...

"Joan Baez came down to the Gaslight and said that she liked my songs and everything...and she thought I sounded like Buffy St. Marie"!

Joni has a few friends whose support she had found priceless especially that of Tom Rush.

"...when we first met him, he was playing at the Chessmate and we were playing at another club in Detroit and he stayed with us. He liked my songs so he took a tape and the next thing I heard he was doing 'Urge for Going'".

Songwriting came easily to her because of her interest in poetry.

"If you've written poetry and become familiar with the rhyme scheme then it comes easier when you go on to songs".

"I've not tried to be influenced by anyone's writing mainly because I didn't want to fall into the same problem I had with my singing".

"The first song I wrote was called, 'Day After Day', which was a feeling-sorry-for-myself song...Then I wrote another one called, 'What Will You Give Me', that's a very sentimental song about the prairies.

"Then I started on my series of broken-hearted love songs - I wrote about three - then I got married. Since then my songs have been quite different. I think I've matured. I don't write self-pitying songs - most of them are sentimental".

"I remember when I wrote 'the Circle Game' the chorus came first and one verse and then I laboured over the rest of the verses...whereas 'Urge for Going' came out clean on a piece of paper. And 'Brandy Eyes' was another one that just came out. I wrote that one on a flight - just an hour in the air and it was all finished. Another song - 'Here Today and Gone Tomorrow' - I woke up in the middle of the night and wrote down about ten verses. In the morning I woke up and edited it.

Joni has worked in concerts and clubs as well as television and has different feelings about each.

"The thing I like best about a concert is that your audience is definitely there to see the show and for no other purpose. The audience is more likely to be excited. The side of the concerts that I don't like is mainly based on lighting. In most concert situations they usually have the lights in your eyes and it blacks out most of your audience. Generally, too, the stage is set up like a sound trap so that you can't see the audience and you can't hear the response. But concerts are important from an ego point of view. All performers need ego boosting - not only on occasion, but frequently".

"Every time I play a new club I get a little bit nervous before I find out what the audience is going to be like. Audiences vary so much from club to club that you never know what to expect. I like Toronto audiences very much - they're generally warm".

"I can't say that I've ever worked on a well-organized television show. Usually it's so confused that when you go to sing you feel completely disorganized. In a club situation I use people as a sounding board, I look to see their expression - whereas when you're doing a television show you lose yourself into your own head. You think more about your lines and less about the people who are watching".

Her feeling about music in general is that it has become very exciting. Folk music, she finds, has changed in its mass appeal.

"I think the time that folk music per se started downhill was the arrival of the Beatles. Folk music filled a gap because rock and roll before the Beatles was a very dull thing. Everything had been done and there was nothing new being added to it. Right at the height of folk music came the Beatles and brought life back to a rhythmic form of music...and I think the Beatles, too, have learned a lot from folk music. Although, in this part of the world at least, traditional music has narrowed down its market to just a handful of people, I think that folk music has done one thing. That is - beaten down the doors of musical snobbery. For instance, we have friends in Detroit who are jazz musicians who are coming down faithfully and catching folk acts that come through - taking folk melodies and using them and then breaking off into jazz riffs.

"Everybody's looking for new material and a lot of the new writing and the good melodies are coming from folk music so that they are bleeding into every form of music. And I think that the things the Beatles are writing now are as much contemporary folk as that of any of the people who have come up through the folk schools. They're songs of our time. And that's what folk music is. Isn't it? Folk music is hard to define. I guess that songs of the past were songs of the time then".

Joni will have a single of 'The Circle Game" out in the near future and she hopes to work in Britain as soon as possible. She is happy with the work she is doing now and will do it forever if she can.

"I only hope that I never have to be categorized - just to feel that I am a musician (even though I can't read music)".

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