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Excerpt from a conversation with Julie Larson Print-ready version

by Wally Breese
March 1999

Wally: Let's talk about the upcoming Joni Mitchell tribute album which you're in charge of.

Julie: I'm the sole executive producer. It's one of the projects I'm doing this year and I've had some difficulty finishing it up because of the holiday season (1998). We also have to go back to what Joan feels is honour. The record company and I fought about which bands were asked to be on the record. They wanted the top selling new bands and Joni didn't feel they were strong enough. I had to turn down many performers besides Morrissey, to mention one artist. Many platinum-selling artists were eliminated because Joni didn't feel it was an honour. Her favourite rendition is by Janet Jackson on "The Beat Of Black Wings." Also Etta James did a tremendous version of "Amelia." I think the problem that I've really run into is that the women have responded in droves, but I'm having a bit more of a difficult time getting men interested. So it's very unbalanced.

Wally: Who have you recruited as far as males go?

Julie: Elvis Costello, that's it.

Wally: No Sting or Seal?

Julie: No. Sting and I made a deal about three months ago and his manager Miles Copeland is really brutal and first thing he just flat out denied me. I had a conversation with him at the Don Henley Walden Woods benefit and then I talked to Miles. Sting was doing the soundtrack for a new movie, or some movie that was out that didn't do too well and so basically I went to Joan and said "If you do his album, he'll do your album on the same terms because we're talking about no money." But it wasn't for a tribute album. It was just her rendition of one of his songs. It was an even trade and she felt it was very fair. The problem was that we had a two week window to do this and she was preparing for the tour and editing the TV special, so it would have been impossible for her to go into the studio and do the song, so they cut me down and said, "Well, since you didn't come up with the track within the couple of weeks, we're not doing it."

Wally: Oh, too bad!

Julie: So Sting is not available. We're really working on the Rolling Stones, but it's very difficult with their busy schedules.

Wally: Joni wants them to cut "Cold Blue Steel And Sweet Fire."

Julie: Yes.

Wally: Have you talked to them at all about it?

Julie: I've talked to Jane Rose. We want to start with Keith Richards and work with the Dust Brothers on this. And have Keith do the track with them and then send the tape to Mick and if that doesn't work, I may have Steven Tyler sing the lead. So I'm mixing and matching and doing things with people that Joni appreciates and admires, but again with all of the dissention in those camps, it's been close to impossible. I'm very close to signing Vince Gill and Stevie Wonder at this point.

Wally: Good!

Julie: And it's been difficult because as I told Joni "This is a tribute to you and you can't have control over everything. If people want to pay tribute to you, you should just sit back and take it."

Wally: Oh, absolutely! I think the saluted artists in these cases should stay out of it. Van Morrison got too deeply involved with his tribute album and I think that it suffered because of it.

Julie: Well, Joni's very involved in it. But as I said, the female contributions are very heavy and there's still more female tracks to come. I'm waiting for 2 tracks from Bjork to arrive. And Madonna may do something. Really the only female artist that Joan likes right now is Sheryl Crow.

Wally: Really?! Because I've heard Joni slag Sheryl. (Laughs)

Julie: She did slag her, and they got into a big fight. And then Sheryl sent Joni a letter and Joni appreciated that. Now she has a renewed admiration for her music. It settled their differences, and as far as new music goes, Joni feels Sheryl is probably the best of the bunch.

Wally: Well, Sheryl's kind of from the old guard anyway. I mean, she could be a songwriter from the 70s.

Julie: Yes, exactly.

Wally: Unfortunately, Joni probably hasn't heard a lot of the younger groups who might very well do a good version and also, like the company wants, help sell the album.

Julie: I tried desperately to get Eric Clapton but he wasn't available. It's difficult when you're dealing with other companies. So, if we get Warner Bros/Reprise artists, it's easier. I've been dealing with Seal for the past year.

Wally: What's happening with him?

Julie: Well, everybody's trying to do what's best for their artist and the company felt like since Joni has already sung on his record and he sang on hers that that should be the end of their association. And so it's really not his decision but management. They feel that it might be too much exposure or it might conflict with his album. But at this point his album is already out, so the timing might be better now to approach him. It's very challenging to negotiate these deals.

Wally: So you have not only the problem of getting the artists but you have problems with Joni not wanting certain people on the album?

Julie: Yeah, that really more than getting the artists. Let me tell you, I've turned down so many artists.

Wally: What artists have you already recorded? Do you remember?

Julie: Yes. There's Janet Jackson. Do you want the song titles?

Wally: Yes, please!

Julie: Janet Jackson: "The Beat Of Black Wings." k.d. lang: "Help Me." Sarah McLachlan: "Blue."

Wally: The version that's on one of her B-sides?

Julie: Yes. The exact same version. Then there's Elvis Costello doing "Edith And the Kingpin."

Wally: Oh my!

Julie: We also have Etta James doing "Amelia." Chaka Kahn doing "Hejira." Let me think, I'm missing a woman somewhere! Anyway, I do anticipate Vince Gill, I do anticipate Seal, and also the All Star Jazz Band with Stevie Wonder. There's a possibility of Neil Young doing a track. Bob Dylan. We've gone through list after list after list after list. I tried desperately to get James Brown and Chuck Berry because Joni really admires black artists. Ray Charles is also someone we may use. I wanted him to do "A Case Of You." We had difficulties, but the door hasn't been completely closed on that deal.

Wally: So it sounds like you have six or seven cuts finished?

Julie: I have seven. Six cuts finished and Bjork is doing two. She's doing "Jericho" and "The Boho Dance," and we'll probably only use one of the songs.

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Added to Library on January 12, 2006. (8087)


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