Canadian singer-songwriter, born 1943
From the 1960s onward, Joni Mitchell wowed and confounded the musical world with her compositions, and has become known as one of the most influential female writers and recording artists of all time. Her desire to challenge musical norms, and push back at the boundaries of both cultural and musical experimentation has led to her paving the way for many other female performers.
She was born on 7th November 1943 in Fort McLeod, Alberta, and named Roberta Joan Anderson. After starting piano lessons in 1951, her singing career began at the age of nine when she was in hospital recovering from polio, as she entertained the other patients with her singing. She subsequently learned to play the guitar, thanks to a guitar tutorial by Pete Seeger, and went to art college at Alberta in 1963, where she studied for a year, when she began singing in local cafes, and became well-known on the local folk scene. She played guitar using modified tunings, to compensate for the weakness of her left hand, a legacy of her polio.
Her teachers encouraged her strong artistic streak, one Mr Kratzman in particular supporting and praising her early efforts in creative writing and poetry. "If you can paint with a brush", he told her, "you can paint with words." Because of this, she dedicated her first album to him.
Her Music Career
In 1965 she married Chuck Mitchell in Toronto, and began performing under the name of Joni Mitchell. The next year found her in Detroit, and after her separation from Chuck, she remained there, gaining some fame as a songwriter and performer, the media hailing her as a cause celebre. In 1967 she moved to New York, touring and singing at many East Coast venues before being signed to the Reprise record label. Her eponymous debut album was released in 1968, produced by David Crosby of Crosby, Stills, and Nash fame.
Her albums were not always huge successes in distribution terms, but many of her songs were covered by other artists. One notable cover was Both Sides Now, by Judy Collins, a strange reverse given that Joni began by covering many of her songs in her early folk club days. The late 60s and early 70s saw many of her best-known songs released as singles, including Big Yellow Taxi and the hippie anthem Woodstock (a major hit for Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young).
Joni was ever 'reinventing herself' in musical terms, moving from 'pure' folk through hippy anthems (Ladies of the Canyon telling her views on culture and change) into jazz, with her Court and Spark and Hissing of Summer Lawns, both relatively successful in commercial terms, and both demonstrating her wide range as a musician and lyricist. She included elements from other cultures and styles, the track The Jungle Line being a classic example, including a background from the war drummers of Burundi.
After spending some time with the band Dog Eat Dog, she briefly moved into pop with Wild Things and experimented with elctronic music, working with Thomas Dolby on her Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm, a kind of collaborative mix, with Peter Gabriel, Tom Petty and Billy Idol. With occasional forays back to her folk roots, and some 'greatest hits' albums, she continues to work at the leading edge, Taming the Tiger challenging her listeners with an eclectic mixture of synth, modified guitars and jazz.
Joni has begun work on another album, with the working title Circle Game, and Allison Anders (Sex and the City) has announced that she will be making a documentary of Joni using the material from the album as her theme.
Joni Mitchell has touched so many with her songs, her voice and above all, her desire to challenge conventional musical wisdom in her composition and production, and she continues to be an evangelist of change.
Both Sides Now 2000
Taming The Tiger 1998
Turbulent Indigo 1994
Night Ride Home 1991
Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm 1988
Dog Eat Dog 1985
For The Roses 1983
Wild Things Run Fast 1982
Shadows & Light 1980
Don Juan's Reckless Daughter 1977
Hissing Of Summer Lawns 1975
Miles Of Aisles 1974
Court & Spark 1974
For The Roses 1972
Ladies Of The Canyon 1970
Song For A Seagull¹ 1968
¹ (originally self-titled Joni Mitchell)
indiana5268 for correction on Dog Eat Dog