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When Joni Met Jimi Print-ready version

by Danny Eccleston
MOJO
September 2021
Original article: PDF

Found in a tape hoarder's secret stash! The reel Hendrix recorded of Mitchell in Ottawa in 1968. But how did it happen?

It's one of rock's most mysterious Lost Tapes legends: what happened to the recordings made of Joni Mitchell by Jimi Hendrix at Le Hibou Coffee House in Ottawa, Canada on March 19, 1968? It's a tantalising tale of two rising genii from different ends of the '60s music spectrum and the music they bonded over. Except the tantalising is over. After 53 years, the recordings have been recovered and will be released on volume two of Joni Mitchell's Archives series on October 29.

"It's very exciting," says Ottawa native and Canadian music business lifer Ian McLeish, who found the tape in the collection of his friend Richard Patterson. Another Ottawa scene fixture, Patterson had been the drummer in local band The Esquires, and had gone on to manage artists and to work in radio for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. "So, he had a lot of contacts," says McLeish. "But, he was also a magpie, obsessed with recording tape."

In 2002, McLeish was asked to help digitise Patterson's collection, items of which were released via his Mousehole Music setup. "After Richard died in 2010, his estate asked me to go through the tapes a second time," he continues. "I found another hundred or so. There was one that said right on it: 'Joni Mitchell Recorded Live At Le Hibou Mar/68'."

The fact that Hendrix - in Ottawa to play the Capitol Theatre - taped Mitchell that night is a matter of record. Eyewitnesses recall him sitting at the front of the stage and setting up his portable machine. In David Yaffe's Joni biog, Reckless Daughter, Mitchell recalled his approach: "My name is Jimi Hendrix and I was just signed to Reprise, the same label that you're on. Could I tape your show?” According to Mitchell, Hendrix spent the show watching his levels: “He engineered it all the way through. Once in a while, he’d glance up and smile and go back to this thing.”

Post-show, Jimi, Joni and Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell repaired to the Motel de Ville in Vanier. Joni recalled them sitting on the floor in her room and listening to a tape of Hendrix’s show, only for the hotel detective to repeatedly break up their party. "They didn't like the idea of three hippies sitting around, especially one black, alone in the room in this conservative hotel," she said.

Hendrix scribbled his groovy impressions of the evening in his diary: "Went down to little club to see Joni, fantastic girl with heaven words. We all got to party... listen to tape and smoked up at hotel." And then, from March 20: "We left Ottawa City today. I kissed Joni goodbye.. .." As Mitch Mitchell recalled in his memoir Jimi Hendrix: Inside The Experience, the tape recorder and tapes were stolen the next day - "end of story on that".

McLeish has no idea how Patterson obtained the tape. In his latter years his friend suffered from dementia, and always kept his collection close. "He was a character," says McLeish. "It doesn't surprise me that somebody might have passed the tape on to him and said, 'Hang onto this.' Or, it could have come into his possession after, as he went through other people's tape libraries."

What is certain from the recordings - now buffed by mastering maestro Bernie Grundman - is that Mitchell was on form that night, in terms of music and banter, and Hendrix no slouch as an engineer. Mitchell's Song To A Seagull debut would be released in days but she was already playing songs from 1969 's Clouds and 1970's Ladies Of The Canyon and one, The Way It Is, destined not to appear officially until now. Three Hendrix tape tracks - Chelsea Morning, Roses Blue and Both Sides, Now - don't make it to the box.

Beyond Rhino’s release, the feedback McLeish has had from the Mitchell camp has been gratifying.

“I sent the tape to Joni’s manager in April, who sent it to her,” he says, “and she absolutely fell over. She couldn’t believe it. She loves it. She’s so glad that it was found.”

JIMI’S JONI TAPE IN FULL
1 Night In The City
2 Come To The Sunshine
3 Chelsea Morning
4 The Pirate Of Penance
5 Conversation
6 The Way It Is
7 The Dawntreader
8 Both Sides Now
9 Marcie
10 Nathan La Franeer
11 Dr. Junk
12 Roses Blue
13 Michael From Mountains
14 Go Tell The Drummer Man
15 I Don’t Know Where I Stand
16 Sisotowbell Lane
17 Ladies Of The Canyon

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Added to Library on July 28, 2021. (378)

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