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Sweet Joni Print-ready version

by Steve Ponsonby
Shadows and Light
July 1996
Original article: PDF

Part of the mystery that is Joni Mitchell, and no doubt an element in her songwriting that endears her to many, is her ability to open her heart in all matters to do with love. Love won. Love lost. Love in its many manifestations be they human or environmental.

This has been one topic that has recurred again and again in Joni's lyrics. In the late 60s and early 70s Joni's relationships with many of her contemporary artists culminated in quite of few of those friendships becoming the basis of Joni's songs.

From her early days in the Canadian folk scene, Joni had met Neil Young at the 'Penny Farthing' in Toronto's Yorkville district in late 1964. Both were aspiring musicians trying to gain valuable experience and both were getting nowhere fast. Neil's path took him to America to find fame with Steven Stills in Buffalo Springfield, while Joni had some fame by having her songs recorded successfully by Judy Collins and Gordon Lightfoot. One of the songs that provided Joni with that early success was a song that she had written about a friend who was terrified of reaching his 21st birthday and all the implications of growing old. The song was 'The Circle Game', her friend was none other than Neil Young.

After moving to New York in 1967, following her divorce from Chuck Mitchell, Joni came to Britain and toured with the Incredible String Band where she also did some work in the "little coffeehouses" there. On her return to America Joni met her, soon to be manager, Elliot Roberts at the Au Go Go-café in New York. They then set off on a small tour of clubs. Elliot left to go to meet Mo Austin of Warner Brothers to try and get Joni a record deal and Joni headed for Coconut Grove in Florida where she met, and fell for the charms of one, David Crosby, ex of the Byrds.

David introduced Joni to a new circle of friends including "Mama" Cass Elliot and many influential music business people. David had agreed to produce Joni's first LP at the Sunset Sound Studios in California. The very first day at the studio an engineer came in to tell them that the "Buffalo Springfield" were in the studio next door! Joni says "You've got to meet Neil Young. I know him from Canada. He's in the Springfield. He's so funny. You're going to love this guy." This was the first meeting of Crosby, Stills and Young, the rest, as they history!

Whilst many of Joni's songs were very open in their expressions of her feelings about her friends, all of them stopped short of actually naming names. Neil Young eventually returned Joni's compliment of 'The Circle Game' and on 20th March 1973 at Bakersfield, California during a gig, Neil sat down at his piano and played the only known performance of a new song he'd just written:

Sweet Joni from Saskatoon
There's a ring for your finger
It looks like the sun
But it feels like the moon

Sweet Joni from Saskatoon
Don't go, don't go too soon,
Who lives in an old hotel
Near the ancient ruins

Only time can tell
Only time can tell
Go easy the doorman says
"The floor is slippery, so watch your head"
This message read
Sweet Joni from Saskatoon

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