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Listening Party: A New Joni Mitchell Archival Album Print-ready version

All of It with Alison Stewart

WNYC All of It
November 12, 2021

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On March 19, 1968, a relatively unknown 25-year-old Joni Mitchell performed a concert at Le Hibou Coffee House in Ottawa, Canada. The performance was recorded and engineered by a 26-year-old by the name of Jimi Hendrix. Now, fifty-three years later, the performance, as well as other home demos and unreleased tracks are being compiled into one album. Joni Mitchell Archives - Vol. 2: The Reprise Years (1968-1971), will be released on November 12. Patrick Milligan, director of A&R at Rhino Entertainment, who worked directly with Joni to produce the record, joins us to discuss this time period in her career and listen to some tracks.

Transcription by Maria Morgan

Alison Stewart: 2021 has been a big year for Joni Mitchell; she turned 78 this past week. 2021 marked the 50th anniversary of her seminole album, Blue, and today, a newish Joni Mitchell album is being released; it's called Joni Mitchell Archives – Vol. 2: The Reprise Years (1968-1971). Let's listen to an unreleased demo Joni recorded at her home in 1968; this is Midnight Cowboy.

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Alison Stewart: The release of Joni Mitchell Archives – Vol. 2 demonstrates how much her life changed forever in just three years. Starting in ‘68 she released her first album, Song To A Seagull, beginning a career journey that would produce more albums, three more, many more albums, traveling the world, love, and heartbreak. With me, now, is the person who oversaw and worked directly with Joni in her archives, Patrick Milligan director of A&R at Rhino Entertainment and co-producer of Joni Mitchell Archives – Vol. 2: The Reprise Years (1968-1971).

Alison Stewart: Patrick welcome to the show.

Patrick Milligan: Thank you; thanks for having me.

AS: It's a big question, but how does the process of putting together an archival album like this work?

PM: Well, I just try to gather sources from everywhere I can which includes Joni’s own tapes. She's got an archive in in Canada and I've been getting some tapes from there, different collectors, things we have in the Warner vault, and just kind of going through and figuring out what all is there and assessing it and trying to whittle it down into something that makes a story and that she likes; and she's been very agreeable and great to work with on all this stuff so it's a very fun process. I'm so thrilled to be able to work with work with her and do this.

AS: As you worked with Joni what were some of the themes that became clear; what were things that were important to her?

Patrick Milligan: Well, I think you know what's really been enlightening with this is sort of going through her early material with her that she's often written off and having her rediscover then reassess it. And you know, I realized when we were listening to and we just did a box set previously up to four albums that this material is sort of delving deeper into. And when she listened to the test pressings for approval, l you know she kind of was talking about “Wow, you know, gee, wow, I sound pretty good, I've got pretty good voice, I'm a pretty good guitar player”. And I said, “I guess I never stopped to think you don't really go back and listen to these records” and she said, “No I don't”. So, I think she's, you know kind of hearing especially in the first set, you know, her being young and starting out as a folk singer which she always kind of you know issued but she's embraced that to some extent at least from that period. And just you know her delighting in hearing this stuff and its great cause she'll listen to something and go “Wow, that's the best thing I ever did; my intonation is so good. I'm like “your intonation is always spot on”. That's the amazing thing about listening to going through this all this stuff is just how perfectly executed and to, you know, on a technical and emotional level everything that she does, is so it's a delight.

Alison Stewart: The album is from ‘68 to ‘71. What was distinct about this time period for Joni and her work?

Patrick Milligan: Well, I think one of the main differences from the first set was that she was starting to record so we had an additional dimension in this set to be able to explore some demos and outtakes from some of the records and sort of alternate arrangements and things that she considered but she ultimately didn't use. So, I wasn't really sure how open she was going to be to that stuff, but she ended up really, you know, hearing like the Urge For Going – with Strings, which was recorded for Blue but not used, when she heard that she said, “Wow, that's really nice I wonder why I didn't use it”?

AS: (Laughing) Did you ever get to why she didn't use it when you had conversations?

PM: What’s that now?

AS: You said she wondered why she didn't use it; did those kind of…that ever lead to other conversations, like well why didn't you?

PM: Yeah, sometimes, you know, I go back on that stuff that you know a lot of this stuff when you're an artist and you're making records constantly all your life and trying to put things she doesn't really specifically remember having done that so when she hears it, it’s like “Oh yeah that's pretty cool I don't remember it but it's nice”.

AS: My guest is Patrick Milligan we were talking about Joni Mitchell Archives Volume II The Reprise Years. He co-produced this new archival album. So, on the album there's this full recording of Joni giving a performance at an Ottawa coffeehouse on March 19th, 1968. It just so happens the person who was recording it was Jimi Hendrix. He wrote “I talked with Joni on the phone; I think I'll record her tonight with my excellent tape recorder; knock on wood, hmm, can't find any wood, everything is plastic. Went down to the little club to see Joni, fantastic girl with heaven words. We all got to party. OK millions of girls listen to tapes and smoked back at the hotel”. How did this happen?

PM: Well, apparently, he reached out to her, they happen to both be playing in Ottawa and he wanted to go see her and reached out and she agreed to let him come. And the amazing thing about the tape, really is, in the notes to the first set in her conversation with Cameron Crowe, she mentions that recording and that the tape and the machine and most of Jimmy's equipment had been stolen out of his van the next day. So, the tape was thought to be long lost yet here came a collector who actually had the tape in Canada, that there was a collector that had it that had passed away that had all those tapes his family at his tapes transferred and the engineer realized what it was and got it to us. So, it's just it's an amazing thing that she happened to mention this and then it showed up. So, we kind of had this joke that we're going to keep mentioning things in each set so that some other amazing thing shows up for the next set. That happened in the first set too. The earliest thing on the on the volume one set it was a tape that was recorded by a friend of hers when she was 19 and he was 18 and he had just started working at a radio station in Saskatoon and found it in his garage after having thought it was lost forever and got it back to her just as we were working on that set. So, there's a lot of amazing serendipity with these projects it seems.

AS: Well, let’s listen to one of the songs from that night she performed; this is ‘Night in the City’

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AS: Her voice is so perfect. Patrick, what did you think when you heard that? Oh, my goodness.

PM: That's what I mean; it's just she's always spot on. It's just her voice is beautiful, her playing, just everything, her delivery, she's just… she's a freak of nature.

AS: There are a couple demos that she recorded in her friend Jane Laurel’s apartment here in Manhattan and Chelsea.

AS: Before we listen, who was Jane and why did Joni record so much in that space?

PM: Well Jane was Joni’s very close friend and actually for a while was her road manager, so traveled with her. But the apartment was actually Joni's apartment and it's the apartment where she wrote Chelsea Morning, and that's what that's based on. And when Joni moved to Laurel Canyon, Jane took over the apartment and when Joni was in New York she would stay with her. And Jane, just I had the great opportunity to chat with her about this, and she just said, “You know, I had bought this kind of cheap tape recorder that I had when I got out of college and when Joni was there doing stuff it just occurred to me this might be something someday”; so, she recorded it and thank goodness she did.

AS: Well, let's listen to ‘The Way It Is’ from those Chelsea demos; this is Joni Mitchell.

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AS: This is from Joni Mitchell Archives – Vol. 2: The Reprise Years (1968-1971). I'm speaking with the co-producer of the release, Patrick Milligan.

AS: So, you said this was Joni’s apartment; how much time did she spend here; what was her relationship with the city at the time?

Patrick Milligan: Well at the time those demos were done she was living in Laurel Canyon, but she was in New York at The Fairmont performing and doing, you know, TV appearances; that's when she was on The Dick Cavett Show. I mean she flew out to go to Woodstock and as we all know, didn't go and sat in a hotel room. But so, yeah, it's just you know as she was kind of rising up there another thing that's on the set that's really spectacular is her February 1969 appearance at Carnegie Hall. So, yeah, she was in the city a lot and I think just, you know, Jane was a good friend, and it was a good place to stay.

Allison Stewart: So, well… let's listen to a song she performed from that Carnegie Hall performance. This is, as you said, Chelsea Morning inspired by the place where she had her apartment in New York City. This is Joni Mitchell at Carnegie Hall.

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AS: That’s from Joni Mitchell’s Volume II, The Reprise Years; a performance from Carnegie Hall from 1969. We'll hear more off of this new release including some demos from Blue after a quick break.

AS: This is “All of It”. I'm Alison Stewart. My guest is Patrick Milligan. We are talking about Joni Mitchell Archives – Vol. 2: The Reprise Years (1968-1971), a new release which is out today.

AS: So, Patrick what kind of condition were the tapes in for this album as you started to collect them all?

PM: It really varies; you know things from cassettes, things from reel to reel, some that have been stored better than others. Like I said, some things were studio tapes, multi-tracks for some of the albums, so it varies. We had a couple of things that we did a little bit of restoration on, some of the Blue demos and things like that and the Jane Lurie tapes, so yeah, it's a huge cross section of sources.

AS: Yay; let's talk about the Blue demos a little bit because, obviously Blue turned 50 over the summer and back in 1979 in Rolling Stone, when Cameron Crowe was young journalist, Joni Mitchell said this: “The Blue album, there's hardly a dishonest note in the vocals. At that period of my life, I had no personal defenses; I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world and I couldn't pretend in my life to be strong or to be happy, but the advantage of it, in the music, was that there were no defenses there either”.

How do we hear this in the demos?

PS: Well, I think, you know, it’s really about the songs what's she's saying, and I think that even Joni has said this is, as much, as that album has her laying bare her soul, there are certainly happy moments in it too. So, it's, you know, it's not completely a downer album but it definitely is just, you know, opening up her life and what's going on, and what she's feeling and reacting to is becoming famous. And, so the demos are largely just a bit more stripped down. I mean, Joni basically recorded everything she did, live. And sometimes would have other people overdub things or she'd opened up vocals or another guitar here there but it's pretty much her doing the song in the studio so it's not dissimilar from the demos in many ways.

AS: Let's listen to one of the demos from the Blue recording process. this is a demo of California by Joni Mitchell.

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AS: So, Patrick, some of the tracks on the album of these demos Joni’s talking with other people in the studio or playing or humming melodies without lyrics. Why'd you want to include these kind of recordings on this release?

PM: I think it's just an incredible insight into her sort of working process and hearing her try things out, and just, you know we hear her finish songs but the chance to hear her kind of just trying something out makes temporizing temporary. And you know, it's kind of getting to see her in the creative process. I sort of, liken it to you know hearing Dylan at the doing the basement tapes; is like, you know, sort of music coming out of him in the moment, so.

AS: Let's listen to an example this song is titled Another Melody.

AS: So, Patrick what do you think a track like this or what did you learn about her creative process by hearing these outtakes, hearing her humming these melodies without lyrics, talking to people in the studio?

PS: Just, you know, how freely her mind flows; you know, that she's just she's not bound to any sort of formula. It's just, it's all sort of an adventure and how she comes up with these things and it's pretty incredible to see that in her artwork too, I think.

AS: What was hard about this project?

PM: Well, you know, it's a lot of material to go through, so deadlines and all that stuff are always looming. But honestly, it's all pretty much fun and it's great to get to work with Joni. She was very agreeable on stuff. She really liked most of what I came up with. I think I took off three things partly because she's like we don't need two versions of that or something. So, it's really, it's real. I mean there's really not much of a downside.

AS: The name of it is Joni Mitchell Archives Volume II, The Reprise Years, 1968 to 1971. I've been speaking with the co-producer of the album Patrick Milligan.

AS: Patrick, thank you so much for walking us through this wonderful recording.

PM: Well, thank you for having me and giving us a feature.

AS: Let's go out with On Circle Game by Joni Mitchell featuring James Taylor.

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Added to Library on April 20, 2022. (1954)


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