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Rising Folksinger From Saskatoon Discusses Career Print-ready version

by Lloyd Landa
Saskatoon StarPhoenix
July 28, 1966

It's a long way from a bungalow in southeast Nutana to singing engagements in Detroit coffeehouses and performances at Boston's Town Hall, but Joni Mitchell, a former Saskatonian, appears to have adjusted smoothly to her rising career as a folk entertainer.

Mrs. Mitchell, formerly Joni Anderson, was in Saskatoon Tuesday with her husband, Chuck, visiting her parents, Mr and Mrs. W.A. Anderson, of 1905 Hanover Avenue.

Chuck and Joni sign bookings as a duo, but found they perform best as singles, although they save a joint effort for the last number of their set.

Mrs. Anderson, as proud as a mother could be of her daughter's success, gave details of Joni's career, while we thumbed through a scrapbook filled with press notices of her performances in several major North American cities. Critics in Toronto, Detroit, and Calgary (where she first started to sing) had nothing but praise for her ability and originality as a folk performer.

Mrs. Anderson said Joni was deeply interested in art throughout her high school years at Nutana and Bowman collegiates. Some of her work still adorns the walls in the Anderson household.

A love and appreciation for folk music possessed Joni to buy a ukelele, on which she practiced fervently day and night, her mother recalled.

Her accompaniment, while still elementary at this time, and her clear, beautiful voice (Mrs. Anderson said reporters used to compare her to American folk celebrity Joan Baez) impressed television staffers at Prince Albert's CKBI-TV sufficiently to build a half-hour television show around an interview with her, plus her performance of a few songs.

After her introduction to show business, Joni went to Calgary to study art at Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, but the call of music continued to haunt her, and soon she graduated to the classical guitar. Stints in Calgary and Edmonton coffeehouses helped to advance her singing career, and she developed a touchingly beautiful guitar style.

Joni, a striking, attractive blonde, and her tall, handsome spouse discussed their careers, the folk scene in general, and experiences they've encountered in their work frankly, quietly, with charming candor and wit.

They have just completed a circuit involving two-week performances at coffeehouses in Winnipeg and Regina. They leave today for Ontario, where Joni will perform at the Mariposa Folk Festival, the annual showcase of Canadian folk talent, slated for August 5, 6, and 7 at Orillia, Ont.

The couple reminisced a bit about how they met just over a year ago, while Joni and Chuck were doing separate performances at The Penny Farthing in Toronto.

"It was a whirlwind courtship. I met Chuck, and 36 hours later, we decided to get married," Joni laughed.

He said he did not think their marriage had put any damper on Joni's creative ability. "I think she's written her best material since we've been married," he said.

Joni writes most of her material herself. Some of it is so good that top-ranking American folksinger Tom Rush, who records under the Elektra label, has included two of her compositions, Urge For Going and The Circle Game in his latest album.

The conversation turned to the position of folk music as it exists in 1966, three years after it hit it's peak of popularity.

"I think most record sales depend on the tastes of young people, and these tastes are dictated, for the most part, by popular magazines and disc jockeys. Today folk music is being played down, and folk-rock is being pushed by magazines and disc jockeys alike," Joni commented.

She said when folk music was at it's peak, most major magazines carried elaborate spreads on folk artists, but today most music articles concentrate on Beatle-oriented music, and on performers such as the Byrds, or the Loving Spoonfuls.

But college students and groups of people who were introduced to the folk element, still find deep satisfaction from listening to and performing folk music, Joni said.

"There used to be a time when all different types of music were separate entities. Rock performers, jazz musicians, and blues artists didn't influence each other very much.

"Folk, I think, has broken down these barriers. Musicians are listening to and learning from each other's material," she said.

"Folk has brought back an awareness of good lyrics," she added.

Chuck said several folk performers were now experimenting with orchestrational effects, to the horror of ethnic purists.

"Two very good examples are the Canadian folk artists, Ian and Sylvia. They had their roots in country and western music, but have added and developed their own style and sophistication. Some of their new folk-rock is exceptionally good," he said.

Much of Joni's material was inspired by her impressions of life on the Prairies. The haunting lyrics of Urge For Going, she explained, stemmed from the effect the bitter western winter has on prairie residents, and their wish to escape the cold.

"Now the warriors of winter give a cold triumphant shout.
And all that stays is dying, all that lives is getting out,
See the geese in chevron flight, flapping and a-racing on before the snow,
They've got the urge for going and they've got the wings to go ..."

- Copyright, Arthur Gorson

Another song, What Will You Give Me, describes in nostalgic terms the longing of a prairie native who is far away from home, in a moment of regret.

"What will you give me for one prairie sky,
An amethyst sea with cloud galleons sailing by,
The north-lights a'dancing on cold winter nights,
All those precious possessions I'll sell for a price ..."

- Copyright, Arthur Gorson

The Mitchells both agreed Saskatoon and the Prairies contained much that was esthetically beautiful, and Joni said she hopes to continue writing songs based on her Saskatchewan background, and her love of the flat western landscape.

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