Joni Mitchell Bio
Roberta Joan Anderson was born in Fort Macleod, Alberta, Canada on November 7th 1943. Her parents Bill and Myrtle moved to North Battleford, Saskatchewan after the end of World War II.
Joni showed interest in music from a young age, and persuaded her parents to let her have piano lessons when she was 7. When she was 9 years old, Joni and her family moved to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, a
place known as "the city of bridges", which Joni has referred to since as her hometown. She also contracted polio and started smoking at aged 9!
The young Joni had a dual interest in music and art, and after high school she enrolled in the Alberta College of Art in Calgary, but the art college life couldn't compete with the allure of the misic scene, and she left after a year.
In 1964 she began her professional musical career by playing clubs and festivals around Canada. Her repertoire consisted mostly of standard folk songs, many recorded by her idol, Judy Collins, until she began writing her own songs, starting with "Day After Day", which she wrote while on her way to the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1965.
After leaving art-college in June 1964, Joni moved and settled in Toronto. She struggled to get into the music business but couldn't afford the money to join the musician's union, and was unable to find many jobs without that membership. She worked at Simpsons-Sears, and other department stores throughout the second half of 1964.
Joni also found out that she was pregnant by her college ex-boyfriend, and in February 1965 she gave birth to a baby girl. Joni was now alone with a newborn baby and unable to find work. Joni kept this a secret for many years but she finally told "Vogue" magazine in 1994: "I had had a child, and I was broke, literally penniless. And I met Chuck Mitchell, and he said he would take us on. I was kind of railroaded...we were never suitable. I went down the aisle saying 'I can get out of this.'"
A few weeks after the birth, Joni married folk-singer Chuck Mitchell. He promised to help take responsibility for the child but something changed, and a few weeks later Joni gave up her daughter for adoption.
In the summer of 1965, Chuck Mitchell took Joni with him to the U.S. to live and work in Detroit.The marriage and partnership of Joan & Chuck Mitchell dissolved in a year and a half, and in early 1967 Joni Mitchell moved to New York City to pursue her musical dreams as a solo artist.
She took up residence in the arty Chelsea district. While performing at a club in Florida, Joni met ex-Byrds member, David Crosby, and he was quite taken with her. David was a great help in convincing the record company to agree to let Joni record an acoustic album, without a bunch of overdubs. His clout earned him a producer's credit when in March 1968, Reprise records released her debut album.
She continued her steady touring to promote the LP, and that stimulus, in addition to the performers who were covering her songs and exposing her to bigger and bigger audiences as a major "songwriter," was causing a major buzz. Joni moved to southern California late in 1967, and moved in with Crosby, who became an enthusiastic promoter of Joni's and had her play at the homes of his Hollywood friends, where she got noticed by press and radio people, who in turn wrote and spoke of her talent.
In December of '68, Judy Collins version of "Both Sides Now" peaked in the national music charts top ten, and brought Joni "lots of those little royalty pennies." This songwriting success helped create an eager anticipation for Joni's second LP, "Clouds", which was released in April '69. It contained Joni's own versions of songs already recorded and being performed by other artists; "Chelsea Morning","Both Sides Now" and "Tin Angel." It was also the first of her self portrait covers.
Joni won the Grammy in March 1970 for Best Folk Performance of 1969 for her album,"Clouds."
Reprise released Joni's third album, "Ladies Of The Canyon" soon after and it was an instant smash on FM radio, and sold briskly throughout the summer and autumn and eventually became Joni's first gold album (500,000 copies).
In early 1970 Joni Mitchell decided to retire from performing, and she took time off to travel and reflect on the celebrity that she'd sought and found, but hadn't enjoyed since the first flickers of fame had approached her with a gasp in their voices. She performed at a few festivals in the summer of 1970, but did not take on a regular concert schedule for most of the year, yet was still voted Top Female Performer for 1970 by MELODY MAKER, the U.K.'s leading pop music magazine.
She travelled throughout Europe, visiting France, Spain, and Greece. On the ancient isle of Crete she took up the dulcimer and rapidly wrote a series of songs dealing with her adventures, including "Carey" and "California".
The album, "BLUE" was released in June 1971.
The emotionally naked songs on BLUE were a result of Joni's wanting to shed the image of the hippie goddess she'd picked up in the past, and to be appreciated for her true self. If she was going to get this kind of rapturous attention, she felt that the reasons should be free of artifice. She says today that "At that period of my life, I had no personal defenses, so there's hardly a dishonest note in the vocals."
BLUE was an almost instant critical and commercial success, and peaked in the top 20 in the Billboard Album charts in September.
Joni's 5th album, "FOR THE ROSES" was released in October 1972 and immediately zoomed up the charts. She followed with the single, "You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio", which peaked at number 25 in the Billboard charts for two weeks beginning 2/3/73, becoming her first bonafide hit single. The album was critically acclaimed with The New York Times saying "Each of Mitchell's songs on "FOR THE ROSES" is a gem glistening with her elegant way with langauge, her pointed splashes of irony and her perfect shaping of images. Never does Mitchell voice a thought or feeling commonly. She's a songwriter and singer of genius who can't help but make us feel we are not alone."
Throughout 1973, Joni searched for musicians who could play her "weird chords" and understand her distinctive rhythms. She had met multi-instrumentalist Tom Scott in 1972 when she went to see him perform at the Baked Potato club. He played woodwinds on the FOR THE ROSES album, and later Joni hooked up with him and his band, The L.A.Express, for her summer recording sessions for what would become the album, COURT AND SPARK.
In January 1974, the album, COURT AND SPARK, was released and was immediately greeted with open arms by both the public and the critics. It seemed to her longtime fans that she had made an approach towards a more "pop" sound without compromising her artistic ideals.
In March, the single "Help Me" was launched and became Joni's first and only Top 10 single. It peaked at #7 in the first week of June.
In February 0f 1974, her tour with the L.A.Express began, and they received rave notices as they travelled across the U.S. and Canada during the next 2 months, before flying to London in April for a BBC-TV filming of her concert at the New Victoria Theater. In November, that live album called MILES OF AISLES, a 2 record set with all but 2 songs coming from the L.A. concerts.
Joni went into the studio in the spring of 1975 to record acoustic demos of some songs she'd written since the tour ended. A few months later she recorded band versions of the tunes with most of the same musicians she employed on COURT AND SPARK. This song cycle was released in November 1975 as the album THE HISSING OF SUMMER LAWNS. The album was a big seller and peaked at number 4 on the Billboard album charts. However,
generally, the album was greeted less than enthusiastically. The fact that Joni had ceased being the confessional sin-eater, and had turned her razor sharp observations outwards to society, was not what fans and critics expected or wanted from her. This was probably the first time that an musical direction of Joni's had been questioned, and it really wounded her. She still talks today of the sting she felt at those bad reviews. But in reality there were also quite a few good notices for the album.
Joni broke up with her boyfriend, drummer, John Guerin, after a tour to promote the album and she hung out at Neil Young's house on the coast, wishing for new experiences and feeling the need for more travel. Two friends arrived, and told her they were driving cross country to Maine to retrieve their daughter who was living there with her grandmother. Joni decided that she would join them, the 3 of them left in Joni's car, and after completing their mission, Joni drove back to California alone. It was the summer of America's Bi-cenntennial celebration, and throughout the south there were all sorts of fetes and festivals happening. Joni says "This album was written mostly while I was traveling in the car. That's why there were no piano songs..." These songs, would appear on the next album she released, called HEJIRA (A journey especially when undertaken to seek refuge away from a dangerous or undesirable environment).
Joni recorded HEJIRA in the summer of 1976, with many of the same musicians she'd used since 1973, but the sound she wanted this time was more subdued and moody. She wanted music that echoed the sounds of the road songs she'd written. Many of the songs on the album dealt with learning to be at peace with not having a family.
When she'd completed recording the 9 tracks that comprise the HEJIRA album, she was told by a friend about a bass player she should hear who was creating a ruckus with his unusual playing style. Joni met Jaco Pastorious and immediately connected with the way he played his bass. Joni had been trying for years to find a certain sound on the bottom end of the bass, and Jaco's playing was a dream come true for her music. She overdubbed his bass parts on 4 of the songs on HEJIRA, and the album was readied for release in late November. The album HEJIRA was greeted as a return to form for Mitchell by both fans and critics. She was once again apparently speaking in a more personal sense about her own life.
In the summer of 1977, Joni began work on what would be her first studio double album. She was close to completing her contract with Asylum Records, and she felt that this album could be looser in feel than any album she'd done in the past. Joni said, "This record followed on the tail of persecution, it's experimental, and it didn't really matter what I did, I just had to fulfill my contract".
She had a bunch of songs left over from previous projects, and she collected them together with a couple of new songs, and recorded them with most of the same musicians from the previous albums, plus new ones like drummer Don Alias, and saxophonist Wayne Shorter, whom she would continue to work with up until the current day.
Also a few months after the release of Don Juans Reckless Daughter, Joni was contacted by jazz great Charles Mingus, who had heard the orchestrated song, "Paprika Plains," and thought that Joni had a lot of artistic courage and wanted her to work with him on a musical interpretation of T.S.Eliot's "Four Quartets."
He wanted her to edit down the text, and he'd write a score for full orchestra, bass and guitar, and alternate her singing with a narrator reading excerpts from the text. Joni thought the idea was quite original, but after reading Eliot's work, she nixed the project, saying that she'd much rather condense the Bible. A few weeks later, Mingus called and told her he'd written six melodies especially for her, and he wanted her to write lyrics to the tunes he'd named "Joni I-VI".
Joni had never worked musically FOR someone else before, but she accepted the challenge, and flew to NYC where Mingus had a home, residing at the Regency Hotel the weeks that she spent in the city. Mingus had the disease known as Lou Gehrig's disease (emyotropic lateral sclerosis), and was in a wheelchair by the time that he and Joni met.
Mingus died in January 1979 before the album was finished, but he'd heard all but 1 of the lyrics that Joni had written for his melodies. This last song, "God Must Be a Boogie Man," was written by Joni after reading the first four pages of Mingus' autobiography, "Beneath the Underdog." Joni continued working on the songs, finally coming up with sets of lyrics for 3 of the 6 melodies he wrote for her, plus "Goodbye, Pork Pie Hat." These 4 collaborations, plus her originals "The Wolf That Lives in Lindsey" and "God Must Be a Boogie Man" completed the album, and Joni included as links between the songs, bits of tapes of Charles talking about his life that Sue Mingus gave her after Charles died.
The album MINGUS was released in June to a relatively positive response, but no airplay from either jazz stations or the pop/rock stations that had supported Joni's music in the past. Topping out at number 17 on the Billboard album charts, which was a higher placement then her last LP, DON JUAN'S RECKLESS DAUGHTER, MINGUS still fell short of gold status, her first album since the 60's to not sell at least a half-million copies.
Joni's summer tour to promote MINGUS began on August 3 in Oklahoma City and concluded 6 weeks later with five shows at the Greek Theater in L.A. where she recorded and filmed the concerts.
When the tour ended, Joni began a year of work turning the tapes from the L.A shows into a 2 album set AND a concert film, both to be called SHADOWS & LIGHT. This would be her final release on Asylum Records and her second live double-album.
After a holiday in the Carribean, Joni began looking for musicians who could capture the polyrhythms she'd heard and help her match them to new melodies she'd written while on her working vacation.
For a year and a half, Joni worked meticulously on the tracks, recording some of them 4 times with various musicians until finally finding the right rhythm section in a drummer named Vinnie Colaiuta, and in a bass player named Larry Klein (southern California born and bred), who was also a sound engineer.
In Klein, Joni also found a kindred soul, a friend and a lover. Their relationship began to flourish with conversations conducted while playing the pinball machines at A & M studios where they were recording the album "WILD THINGS RUN FAST".
While the album was being readied for release, Joni's friend David Geffen, founder of Asylum Records, decided to start a new label, Geffen Records. As one of his premiere artists, he wanted his old friend and client Joni Mitchell. However, Joni still owed Asylum one record on her contract, and up until the autumn of '82, a new album from her was on their release lists. But when "Wild Things Run Fast" was finally shipped to record stores in late October, it was, indeed, on the new Geffen Records label. WILD THINGS RUN FAST was seen a return to pop, and did moderate business.
On November 21, 1982, Joni and Larry Klein married in a ceremony performed at the Malibu home of her manager, Elliot Roberts.
Joni's art continued to flourish, and twice during 1984 she had an exhibit of her canvases at Kamikaze, a combination cafe and gallery located in New York City.
As 1984 ended, Joni was writing new songs, and Larry was taking lessons on the Fairlight synthesizer. They'd had a suggestion from Geffen that perhaps an outside producer with experience in the modern technical arenas they wanted to explore might be a worthy addition. They approached synth wizard Thomas Dolby, who had recorded a version of Joni's song "The Jungle Line" as a B-side, and he was excited to join them in working on tracks for Joni's next album.
Joni had written some angry songs and Larry and she were experimenting to get the right colors on modern machinery like their FAIRLIGHT CMI synthesizer. Joni told Digital Audio magazine: "Larry and I knew the sounds we were after, but it took us a long time to find them. Thomas was hired in that capacity...as a colorist and a player."
Joni did not want someone else re-decorating her music, so she agreed to hire Dolby only as a guide to the modern programming techniques that she and Larry were still learning. Two songs: "Fiction" and "Tax Free," were Larry's instrumentals for which Joni wrote words and music. His rhythm tracks caused her melody lines to come out in shorter phrases.
The use of modern technological machines, such as the FAIRLIGHT CMI and various drum machines caused the DOG EAT DOG album to be Joni's most expensive record to date.
The critical response to DOG EAT DOG was mostly negative. Not surprisingly, the album turned out to be only a moderate seller, charting at 63 on Billboard's Top Albums chart. This was Joni's lowest chart position since her first album peaked at number 189 almost 18 years before.
In early 1986 Larry was hired to play bass on 2 songs on Peter Gabriel's album "So". Joni went along with him when he traveled for an extended working-visit to the U.K. Peter's studio in Bath was called Ashcombe House, and since he had mostly finished his album, he offered Joni and Larry the use of his studio if they wanted to record. They did, of course, and the result was the beautiful track "My Secret Place" featuring a duet of Joni and Peter.
For the recordings on the next album, CHALK MARK IN A RAIN STORM, Joni and Larry continued experimenting with synthesizers, drum machines, & sequencers as they had on DOG EAT DOG, but the results were smoother and more listenable on these new tracks. Including their early sessions at Peter Gabriel's studio, they recorded in 9 different studios for this album.
CHALK MARK IN A RAIN STORM was readied for release in March of 1988.
Billboard magazine's Steve Gett reviewed the new album and awarded it an early rave. Other reviews were mostly very favorable, and the fact that there were cameos by many well-known musicians brought it a great deal of notice. The album easily bested DOG EAT DOG's chart position, peaking at a friendly 45 on the Billboard Top Album chart.
Throughout the first half of 1990 Joni and Larry recorded and worked on the songs that would appear on her next album. The sound was stripped-down and more acoustic in execution than the heavily produced tracks done in the 1980's.
The album "Night Ride Home" was released by Geffen Records on March 5, 1991.
NIGHT RIDE HOME received almost universally glowing reviews. In the U.S. it premiered on Billboard's Top Album charts on March 23 at number 68, moving up to 48 in it's second week, and peaking at 41 in it's 6th week. In the U.K. the new album premiered at number 25 on the album charts for the week ending March 9, 1991.
Joni told the Boston Globe about the sound and mood of her new album. She said "The album is mainly variations on the key of C, a lot of C major...major chords are happy, positive chords. It's a very sunny modality, this album, and friendly."
Joni told Murray McLaughlin at her "Swinging On A Star" radio appearance: "We got a cricket on the track (Night Ride Home) when we recorded it. He flew into the studio behind the curtain when the door opened. He flew right into the studio like a lucky thing. So we DAT'd him! Stuck him in the FAIRLIGHT and gave him the downbeat."
In September 92, Bill Clinton won the Democratic presidential nomination in a race against the incumbent Republican President George Bush. Much was made in the press about the fact that Clinton's teenage daughter Chelsea had been named after the Joni Mitchell song "Chelsea Morning." Clinton stated that it had been Judy Collins version that he'd heard while in England as a youth.
In June 1993, Joni began recording tracks for her next album, TURBULENT INDIGO. Joni said a few years later that she and husband Larry Klein broke up on the day they started recording the album. Joni talked to "Mojo" magazine and said "...there were things about living with "Joni Mitchell" - not with me - that pinched on his life in a certain way that made me think he needed a break."
The new album TURBULENT INDIGO, an even more intimate and acoustic collection of tracks than NIGHT RIDE HOME, and considerably less cheery, was released on October 25, 1994.
The first track written for the new album had been "Yvette In English," a co-written composition with David Crosby.
TURBULENT INDIGO received excellent reviews and also did quite well in sales, reaching 47 in the US charts. It also won two Grammy's for Joni.
In September 96, the soundtrack to the excellent film, Grace of my Heart was released that included a song, Man from Mars that Joni wrote. Larry Klein was music superviser and his songs have a very Joni-like sound!
An unauthorized biography called "Joni Mitchell: Both Sides Now" by Brian Hinton was released in the U.K. in October. Joni's new best-of albums, Hits and Misses, were released in 1996. Hits on October 7th. Misses followed it three weeks later.
At around this time, Joni was receiving awards and tributes in recognition of her influence and achievements around the world.
In April 1997, she hit the headlines when her long lost daughter was re-united with her mother. Kilauren had tried to track her mother down having little information, apart from that she was a folk singer. The Joni Mitchell Homepage on the internet had a role in the story. A happy ending.
Joni's recent releases, "Taming the Tiger", and the orchestral torch song cover version album, "Both Sides Now" brought Joni more acclaim and award nominations. Hopefully, she is now being recognised as the national treaure she is...
Much of the information here was gleaned from the extremely wonderful and informative Joni Mitchell Homepage, which has an extensive and much fuller biography section if you want to find out more.
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