LIBRARY: Articles    

WMMR Retrospective Transcription   Print

January 29, 1974

Note: This is a transcription of the 2-hour retrospective on Joni that was broadcast on WMMR radio - January 29, 1974. It has been transcribed by the amazing Lindsay Moon.

ED Sciaky: ... in Philadelphia. I'm Ed Sciaky and here we have Gene Shay. Gene, say hello.

GENE SHAY: Yes, hello.

ES: It's unusual --

GS: Yes, we can thank David Dye for this, for the loan of his hours.

ES: Yes. People are probably saying that's Gene Shay. He's from Sunday night. But we're here tonight to unveil one more time, and for a lot of the material the first time ever, some of the old tapes of Joni Mitchell.

GS: Yes. And in case you just tuned into Philadelphia, Joni Mitchell is going to be here in concert tomorrow night at the Academy. I think this concert was announced months ago and sold out immediately. A lot of people are disappointed they can't get tickets. We might be able to help out a bit and assuage those feelings or heal those wounds -- no, no, no, we're not giving away tickets, but with a lot of Joni Mitchell music --

ES: And kind words --

GS: And lore. Or something like that.

ES: Right. I guess I should begin with the lore. The first time that we know that Joni Mitchell visited Philadelphia was in October of 1966, or rather November of '66.

She was with her husband Chuck, who not many people have ever heard of, but Joni was married for about two years or so.

GS: Right. And they were both playing the Second Fret. Chuck Mitchell is on that. They weren't singing together, but in this particular selection on tape from an early broadcast with Joni Mitchell, Chuck Mitchell sings along on the chorus of "Circle Game." It's not the best quality recording, but it's historic.

ES: Right. And before that we do a brief interview with Chuck and Joni together in the dressing room of the Second Fret. And this was done by Barry Bird for his program on Temple University's radio station back in '66. And here is that historic interview:


BARRY BIRD: How did the two of you get together?

CHUCK MITCHELL: We met in Toronto, and Joni was working the same club as I was working. I'll let her finish the story.

JONI MITCHELL: (Laughs.) There's nothing really to finish.

CM: It's a great story.

JM: Well, Chuck was working at that time in a duo with a fellow named Loring James, and they walked into the club and I was singing. I had sung there the previous week. And Loring James was a classical guitar teacher at the time and was very impressed by the fact that I play with a perfect, almost classical guitar position. And he said, "Oh, look at that hand," and Charlie said, "Oh, look at those legs." (Laughs.) And that's the story. That's why the big pause. I didn't know whether I should tell it.

CM: I was very interested in her style and her technique and her class. And so I was the one who ended up marrying her. We spent eight hours in a place called High Park in Toronto out in the -- it's a beautiful, beautiful park -- looking at the ducks and sitting by the water and so on. And that was the beginning of the whole thing.

And that's a motorcycle, I think, for our listeners. It wasn't a hippopotamus.

What else? Oh, Joni came down to Detroit to -- I told her I could get her some work. And I did get her some work, and at the same time I got her the work, I proposed to her and she accepted and shocked me something awful. And that's all really, except we've been married a year and a half, and we are reasonably happy. There goes the motorcycle.

BB: Of the two of you, Joni seems to be the songwriter of the family. Tom Rush is recording one of your songs. I understand Ian & Sylvia are supposed to record another.

JM: Ian & Sylvia have recorded "The Circle Game," which Tom will also have on his new album, at least according to the last time I spoke to him. And Buffy St. Marie is recording one called "Song to a Seagull." And George Hamilton IV also is talking about recording "Urge for Going" on the Country Hit Parade.

BB: How did you get started writing?

JM: Well, in the beginning I had a soprano voice so everyone compared me to Baez. And I'd written a couple of songs. I think everybody writes a couple of songs. But I just decided that the only way I was going to be able to differentiate myself from any other of the singers was to have original material. Everytime I'd find a song, I'd find out afterwards that Judy Collins or somebody -- Joan Baez had recorded it. So then with my new material I thought I was fairly safe. And then I discovered some lower register tones that I didn't know that I could use before. And that's how everything has developed to what I am doing now.

BB: What do you use as source material for your music?

JM: The source of material for my music?

BB: Yeah. How do you decide what you're going to write about?

JM: Oh. I really don't decide. I just suddenly get an idea and write it.

BB: Do you get the words and the music at the same time and just sit down?

JM: I've only had two songs that way, where they sort of came together. In the beginning I wrote lyrics first and the music afterwards. Now most of the things I do come melody first and then I add the words.

The song that I'm working on right now is called "Love is Like a Big Brass Band," and that's coming with the words first, which is something that hasn't happened for a long time.


ED Sciaky: But that song was lost. I never heard that song "Love is Like a Brass Band." That was a Friday night, November 17 of '66. That Sunday evening, Chuck and Joni appeared on Gene's program and sang "The Circle Game":

(Joni and Chuck perform "The Circle Game.")

ES: "Circle Game" recorded on Gene Shay's radio program back in '66.

GS: Yes, and the first time she ever visited. That was the first visit to Philadelphia. Then like I think about a year later, was that when she was -- this recording?

ES: This would be around May '67. On the BBC concert, Joni Mitchell has explained that she wrote "The Circle Game" for her friend Neil Young, who was growing up at the time and got to the age of 21 and would not be allowed back in the folk club that he used to perform in.

GS: Right. It was under 21.

ES: And he decided to become a folk singer a la his idol Bob Dylan she said. Probably a lot of the folks have heard that recording on the BBC concert. We've played that quite a bit.

GS: Right.

ES: But this is -- this is an amazing performance. This is Joni Mitchell singing "Sugar Mountain" on Gene's program from May 28, 1967, and it's something that we didn't even know existed, but here it is. It's bad quality but I think you'll enjoy the performance.

(Joni performs "Sugar Mountain.")

ES: Joni Mitchell singing "Sugar Mountain" on Gene Shay's program back in May '67. Right after she sang it on the program, she said, "I hope they record that sometime," meaning the Buffalo Springfield, which Neil had just joined at the time. Gene?

GS: We have an interview now with Ed Sciaky talking with Joni. I think this is the Temple's radio station.

ES: No, this is at the Second Fret but when I was --

GS: Backstage? Or upstairs at the Second Fret.

ES: Right.

GS: This one goes back to the same year, around the same time that Joni visited me on my program.

ES: This was the second time Joni visited Philadelphia and this is the first time therefore without her husband Chuck:

(MARCH 17, 1967 INTERVIEW WITH ED Sciaky):

ED Sciaky: You kind of draw the line, then, between what you want for yourself in the way of promoting yourself as a singer and the idea of getting your song pushed and played and more or less the commercial end of the record business.

JM: It's two different hats. You see, I have my own publishing company so from a publisher's point of view, I'm excited that one of the songs in the catalog is doing well, you know. They're going to do what they call a crossover, when a song changes fields, like, I don't know, there have been some songs like "Running Bear Loved Little White Dove." Do you remember that crazy thing?

ES: Yeah, yeah.

JM: Well, that was a country song that jumped over into the pop charts. And they're hoping they can do the same thing with this recording, and I think with the proper promotion that RCA can give it that it will do that.

ES: But that's RCA's decision now what they want to do, is that it?

JM: As soon as it's in the Top 10, they begin a new campaign with ads and billboards that says things like "Just in From the Country" or "Those Nashville Cats are at it Again" (laughs) or something tricky like that, you know.

ES: I noticed -- I was looking at a lead sheet of "The Circle Game," I believe, and the lyric didn't exactly match what you were singing. Do you change your songs?

JM: The way I sing "Circle Game," it has evolved. The way Tom sings it and the way Ian & Sylvia sing it is the same as it is on the lead sheet. Now I changed it because I at one point went to Chicago and cut it as a single. And I was going to, you know, try and have somebody buy up the rights and promote it. And it didn't work out well because "Circle Game" is not ever going to be a rock and roll song. Ian & Sylvia found that out with their version, and I tried to do the same thing. It has to be kept down. It has to be a ballad. It's very tempting.

So in the process of rocking it up, we had to eliminate a couple of choruses, and when you put a verse back to back then the melody became tedious, so I did that (sings) "So the ladaladalada" -- "so the years spin by and now the child is 20 -- now the boy is 20."

ES: What was it in the original?

JM: Oh, I can't even remember. I've been singing it that way now for half a year. I can't remember the words. Listen to the Ian & Sylvia record and the way Tom does it. That's how it used to be.

My favorite club to work when I go off to Detroit is a place called The Sipping Lizard in Flint, Michigan. And it's just a small town and it's just a small coffeehouse that began with this family's sons being interested in folk music and having friends over on the weekends. And soon they had about 150 kids in their basement, and Jackie the mother had to start charging them admission, because they were eating her out of house and home. (Laughs.)

So they moved the club into a pool hall, and it's marvelous, it really is, the enthusiasm. And the thing that's great about it is the age breakdown, because you get college professors, and you get young kids, and you get whole families. I had one little girl come toddling up to me one night, and she was part of a family that ranged from five years -- there was a five-year-old girl, and a seven-year-old girl, and a nine-year-old girl and then the mother and the father. She said, "Would you play "The Urge for Going"? And I looked at her and I said, "Well, how do you know that song?" She said, "Oh, well, I'm learning it on the guitar."

So the whole family is taking guitar lessons and the fellow who's teaching them guitar is a friend of mine, the son of the club owner, and he's teaching them how to play all my songs and the open tunings and things the way I do it. So I have a following from seven to seventy in Flint.

ES: That's great. That's a great way to spread your fame, have little kids --

JM: Oh, I love that town.

ES: -- playing your songs.

JM: Yeah, it's really fun.

ES: Tremendous. How would you rate -- you said you rated Philadelphia audiences as good but not really responsive. How do they compare to other audiences throughout the country? Are other audiences more responsive than Philadelphians?

JM: Every town is different. Fayetteville, of course, because I'm a girl and the audience is mostly all army types, is a very enthusiastic audience, you know. We had people -- my husband Chuck too. They were also very enthused about him and they used to give us standing ovations after every song and things after we'd been there for a while. But that was, you know, very openly responsive.

Here I think that the people are just as appreciative, and you're always warned before you come to Philadelphia that Philadelphia audiences are really hard to play to. I don't think that it's that. It's just that you have to set a different standard, because they really aren't as a rule as responsive as audiences in other cities. And yet someone will come up who sat deadpan all the way through your show after the show and say, "Wow, I really enjoyed it." So you just have to take it into stride.


GENE SHAY: That was Ed Sciaky talking with Joni Mitchell in -- was it March?

ED Sciaky: March '67.

GS: March of 1967.

ES: On the 17th. Five days earlier is this next part.

GS: Yeah, this recording was made in the studio with a young lady from the Boston area at the time named Lionda (phonetic) who used to sing around the area and recorded an album and was popular in the folk movement. I haven't heard about Lionda, her whereabouts or her talent for a couple of years now. But the other voice, the girl talking with Joni Mitchell and me, is Lionda just for identification purposes:

(MARCH 12, 1967 INTERVIEW WITH ED Sciaky):

ED Sciaky: Want to do some of the requested songs?

JONI MITCHELL: Let's see. What have we got here? "Night in the City," "Circle Game" -- oh, "From Both Sides, Now." I'm really glad somebody requested that, because that's a very new song, and I've been driving everybody crazy by playing it --

ES: Which one? Which one?

JM: -- twice and three times a night. It's called "From Both Sides, Now."

ES: I haven't heard that one.

JM: I'll play that one first. It -- I should tell people a little bit about it. I was reading a book, and I haven't finished it yet, called "Henderson the Rain King." And there's a line in it that I especially got hung up on that was about when he was flying to Africa and searching for something, he said that in an age when people could look up and down at clouds, they shouldn't be afraid to die. And so I got this idea 'from both sides now.' There are a lot of sides to everything, and so the song is called "From Both Sides, Now."

(Joni performs "Both Sides, Now.")

ES: It's nice. That's a new one.

JM: Very new.

ES: How new is it?

JM: Well, three days.

ES: Well, Philadelphia, you heard it first on -- no, we won't do any of this schtick. I notice you're using that glottal thing that you use --

JM: On "Night in the City."

ES: Yeah. That's a great way to make a song your own. Like nobody else can do it quite that way, right? I don't know how anybody -- well, they'd have to change the melody somewhat, I would imagine.

JM: Well, Lionda could do it because you have sort of two registers, like you can sort of feel two different voices in your throat, can't you?

LIONDA: Mm-hmm.

JM: That's all you have to do. It's a split range.

ES: Have you heard "Night in the City"?

LIONDA: Yeah, I saw it in (inaudible) but I haven't heard it.

ES: Well, you'll have to hear what Joni does with the vocal part. There's a --

JM: It's just two different singing --

LIONDA: Like a falsetto?

JM: Yeah, it is a falsetto thing.

ES: It's not an octave difference, though. What is the difference in key, do you know, from one to the other?

JM: I really don't know. It really isn't as much as it sounds. It's just that one has more husk and the other one is much more clear. And so when you go from husk to clear, it sounds -- it sounds -- like a tenor and a soprano.

ES: From husk to clear sound. From husk to clear.

JM: The huskiness disguises it. Like I can sing the same note two different ways and it's really the same note, but it sounds much lower with all the husks in it.

ES: So it's really more of a quality thing --

JM: Uh-huh.

ES: -- than it is tonal.

JM: Yeah. It's very deceptive.

ES: A woman called earlier this evening and said she heard a singer do "Circle Game" and where can she get ahold of this song?

JM: Oh, well all my songs are available --

ES: She didn't hear you sing it nor did she hear Ian & Sylvia, and I want to ask you about their recording of it, because it didn't flip me when I heard their recording of it, what they did with it, you know.

JM: You didn't like what they did?

ES: No. As a matter of fact I played it -- I got the album -- usually I have a chance to program the albums, and I listen to them at home before I put them on the air. I got the album about an hour before I went on the air, and we just played without listening to it, and I was really disappointed.

JM: It's a very difficult song, you know. You want to combine something that it has with a rock rhythm, and sort of double the mileage on it. It's a very tempting thing to do. And I made the mistake once of orchestrating it and getting a blues band called the (inaudible) who are also fine classical musicians to do an arrangement that it had sort of a rhythmic thing. And I tried to do a rock version of it and I lost everything. It's strictly a ballad. But it's very tempting, because it does have a certain thing, like people who do the song from amateurs to professionals find that it has a funny thing that happens, like in their repertoire, that does --

ES: Like an undercurrent? You mean in the song?

JM: Well, it's a very requested song no matter -- I've heard it done well and I've heard it done badly. And it seems to be a good song in their repertoire. And so you're tempted to say well, people seem to like it, it's sort of catchy. If you put a rock beat to it, it would really, really be a hit, but it doesn't work.

ES: Did Ian & Sylvia -- didn't they speed up the tempo somewhat?

JM: They did. I think originally --

ES: Did you hear that, Ed? Where you try to sing, you know, thinking you got to keep in mind the way you perform the song.

JM: Yeah. They do it much faster --

ES: On "The Circle Game" --

JM: They tried to get it under three minutes --

ES: -- they do speed it up.

JM: I think at one time they toyed with the idea of it being a single; otherwise, I don't see why they would have tried to push it under the three-minute mark.

ES: They didn't edit any verses then?

JM: Nope, just choruses.

ES: They took out some choruses?

JM: Uh-huh.

ES: Do you have to make a conscious effort to keep your songs from sounding alike, or do you? Or do you just sort of let them -- do you know what I mean?

JM: Um --

ES: Do you find yourself getting into certain patterns and chord changes that --

JM: I do. I find that my songs within a tuning, like I play mostly in tunings. The only song I don't play in a tuning is "Urge for Going," and I find that unless there's a rhythmic change that, like certain songs back to back are different to me that are probably quite similar to the audience even though they're different in subject matter or something because of the tuning, because of the constant modal changes that I'm using and because of the drone strings that I'm using.

They have a similar -- the only way that I can avoid that in a set and it would be no difficulty at all on an album is to -- like to do maybe two songs in one tuning and then two songs in another tuning and then two songs in another tuning, which means that I'm tuning up and tuning down all the way through my set. It's only lately that I'm beginning to get enough variety within one tuning that I can play the whole set in a tuning. I have certain songs that I use as alternate, you know, because they're very similar and I wouldn't dare put them side by side or they would be lost.

ES: It seems the more you write, the more prolific you are.

JM: I think my songs, some of them, are recognizable.

ES: As a Joni Mitchell-type song? Is there a song -- do you think there is a Tom Paxton-type song? Do you recognize one, do you think?

JM: I think he has a writing style -- I think all of us have a certain amount of style --

ES: Which they want to retain -- I asked this question of Paxton, I said --

JM: Even Beatles songs like if you were to take away the orchestration which makes them different and the arranging which makes them different and play them all back to back, there's very much a sameness. They use funny modal changes and things too, and isolating them onto one instrument, I think you would find a lot of similarity between -- you know, it's Martin that takes them and says, "Okay, this one's going to be fire released (inaudible) and it's going to have sitars and groovy things like that, and the next one's going to have French horns and that sort of thing.

ES: What's that guy's name?

JM: George Martin.

LIONDA: How long have you been writing?

JM: Oh, let's see. About two years altogether, but I did write before I started songwriting. I was very active in an extracurricular writers' club in high school.

ES: Creative --

JM: It was a creative writing club where we all got together and were critics of each other's works and we just ripped it apart (laughs.) I used to write in prose. I never wrote within a rhyme scheme, blank verse and things, just rhythmic things. So it was different. But in the beginning, you know, when you first start writing there's great gaps from the time you write your first song 'til your second song, and gradually they start getting closer and closer together. It's a whole thing -- I know I wrote my first song was half a year before I wrote another one or even thought about writing another one.

ES: How do you put your songs down? On tape recorders or do you notate music?

JM: No, I don't do that.

ES: You just remember?

JM: I remember them. And then when I have them all worked out and the lines all worked out and the words all satisfactory, then I take them to somebody who -- I either take a tape or I take myself and we sit down and run through it and he puts it all down. And the only trouble is the fellow who used to do my lead sheets got most of them wrong (laughs), and I think "Night in the City" is in the last magazine --

ES: The Broadside?

JM: -- The Broadside.

ES: New York Broadside?

JM: The Boston Broadside. And it's, I believe, in 4/4 time rather than in waltz time which is going to be difficult for people that are trying to learn it from that. And he'd messed up the chords in "Urge for Going" so that I tried to play it and they didn't work somehow. So I'm having them all done over again, and they're all going to be accurate.


ED Sciaky: Joni on Folk Lore on March 12th of 1967.

And this is from the same time recorded at the Second Fret:

JONI MITCHELL: ... somewhere in some kind of rock and roll magazine, "True Confessions of Bob Dylan," and I discovered a very interesting thing as he confessed for about five pages. One of the things that he confessed to was that a song of his called "Hard Rain," which was recorded by a lot of people and made him a lot of little royalty pennies was a song that he composed from leftover lines from about a dozen songs that he never finished. And he just sort of took all these leftover lines and threw them altogether into one big song.

So I kind of dug through my songwriting portfolio and found out that I had about 12 songs lying around that probably would never get finished, and I thought that would be a good way to use them up. Just to sort of pull out all of the best lines and weld them all together, and maybe it would be recorded by lots of people and bring in lots of those little royalty pennies (laughs).

Well, as it turned out, the song hasn't been recorded by anyone. As a matter of fact, I had a lot of trouble with some of the lines, and I had to build them around a rock and roll rhythm. That's what you do to save a rotten lyric. (Laughs.) And to give you an idea of how some of the things that I borrowed from unfinished songs evolved, there was one song that I started that was about a gambler, and it was called "The Gambler Song," and it went (sings) "in a day or two / I'll be laying you / odds." Well, my manager and my mother said that I shouldn't finish that song. So I still had that line just kind of lying around and not doing anything, and so that's one that I used. And I incorporated them all around a very basic kind of rock and roll-y plot. It's a story of a fellow named Mr. Blue who had a girlfriend who he treated very badly, and so eventually she left him and it served him right, and that's the plot. It goes like this.

(Performs "Mr. Blue.")

JM: This is a song about a carnival in a place called Kenora, which really does exist. Kenora is in the province of Ontario. And I was inspired to write it when I really didn't know anything about the town. And I used to give all this folklore on stage, and it used to be all completely inaccurate, because I really didn't know anything about the town. All I ever saw of it was from a train window and I happened to be looking out of the side of the train that the town wasn't actually on, so all I saw was a sign that said "Kenora" and a big lake and big rocks and big trees and the lake was covered with pontoon planes. So I thought that was all that was there, you know. And I also thought that Kenora was an Indian word, and I used to tell people that it meant 'lake of many pontoon planes.' (Laughs.) That wasn't true either. And it turns out there actually is a town of Kenora. It has a population of 10,000 people and most important of all is that there is actually a carnival in Kenora which I didn't believe when I wrote the song either.

And I did a very strange thing. Well, not so strange, but I set a girl at this carnival, I gave her the carnival. I said you're going to be in this carnival, right? But you're going to be there alone, which is a very sad thing to be alone at a carnival because it's really a couples affair. Actually, it's sort of a trios affair because there's always the girl and the guy and the huge purple teddy bear, right? With a sign around its neck that says, "I Was Won at Dorothy's" or something for $35 (laughs) when I cost $7.95 at Kresgee's or Woolworth's.

So here was this poor girl wandering around at a carnival in Kenora all alone in my song, and I had to get her out of there so it has a happy ending. Maybe it's true even. If you'd like to go to the Carnival in Kenora, it's up there on Labor Day weekend and this being Expo year in Canada, they would probably be very glad to see you.

(Sings "Carnival in Kenora").


ED Sciaky: There were about ten people there clapping. You couldn't quite hear all of them. Joni Mitchell at the Second Fret in 1967. We'll be back with Joni's third appearance on Gene's program in just a minute. WMMR in Philadelphia.

ED Sciaky: And we continue reviewing the musical career of Joni Mitchell in anticipation of her concert at the Academy tomorrow night.

This next recording was made in 1967 on March 19th, and seated across from Joni was Gordon Lightfoot. Both of them hailed from Canada, knew each other, worked together. In fact, they did a couple of shows at the -- what turned out to be Expo. It was actually a centennial or bicentennial celebration for the Canadian government. So two old friends getting together in Philadelphia. Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot. Here it is:


(Joni sings "Just Like Me.")

GENE SHAY: That's Joni Mitchell with the first -- were you going down -- you just happened to be in that tuning.

JM: "Just Like Me."

GS: I know that. I know. I know the song, but I mean it just happened to be the top of our request list.

JM: Right.

GS: I guess it was the first one called in around 9:30 or so. Have you ever heard Joni sing with a cookie in her mouth? (Laughs.)

GORDON LIGHTFOOT: No, how does it go?

GENE SHAY: It's called "The Bagel Game."

JM: (Laughs.) Oh, wow.

GL: Now I don't feel bad.

GS: You were telling me about writing a new verse to a song. I just heard a tape that was recorded at the Second Fret and Joni was talking about some songs. You know the one you wrote a little bit about a gambler?

JM: "What's the Story Mr. Blue"? Yeah.

GS: And you wrote a line in there that you said that you didn't want to use because your mother and some other people told you not to use that line --

JM: Well, the whole --

GS: -- and they say to you put all these little fragments together into one --

JM: The song --

GL: Thank you. I don't mind if I do.

JM: This isn't really true. I say a lot of things on stage that aren't really true. But the way I introduce the song is that I decided that since Bob Dylan could put songs together from leftover lines, then I should be able to too. So I threw this whole song together and one of the -- to give them an example of how the line sounded, you know, in the original form before they were transcribed into the new song, you know, as I borrowed one from unfinished things all over the place. I wrote one song about a gambler which went (sings) "in a day or two / I'll be laying you / odds." (Laughs).

GL: Uh-oh.

JM: Uh-oh.

GS: Joan, could you sing "Blue on Blue"? I've never heard "Blue on Blue" I don't believe.

JM: Haven't you?

GS: Well, maybe I did. I don't think you sang it last week but you --

JM: What else is on that list?

GS: On that list. Let me see.

JM: There must be something that I haven't done on the show. I could do my new song that isn't finished yet, "Eastern Rain."

GS: Okay. Whatever you want to do.

JM: Let me do that one. That wasn't even requested, but --

GS: What's that?

JM: "Eastern Rain."

GS: All right.

(Joni re-tunes her guitar.)

GS: Are you ever in a straight tuning? I mean, how often are you?

JM: Only one song, "Urge for Going." That's the only one that's in standard. This is my one Eastern-flavored song.

(Joni performs "Eastern Rain.")

GL: You're just makin' notes there, huh?

GS: Yeah, how did you -- you just worked out those chords?

JM: That's with a full bar (strums).

GL: Yeah.

JM: But also I like treble drone strings a lot. There's really funny versions and things.

GL: That's very interesting. There's a lot of things you can do with a guitar.

GS: We have time for about one more song. Joni?

JM: I'm tempted to play that new thing.

GL: That certainly is a beautiful guitar.

JM: It's not really ready. It needs another verse, but I really -- I get so excited when I write something.

GS: We could work out a verse here maybe.

JM: Get Gordon to write the other one? Well, we decided that my dress is made of mithral.

GS: Mithral. I don't know what mithral is.

GL: Mithral is a chain-like material that the dwarves make armor out of. (Inaudible.)

GS: Is that from "Lord of the Rings"?

GL: Right. Dwarves were excellent at making armor. They used to make these coats out of mithral --

JM: It's very lightweight --

GL: Right.

JM: -- and very serviceable and very sturdy.

GL: Right. And they used to wear it under their shirts all the time so nobody would know that they wore -- so they used to be able to stick out arrows and things.

JM: So this is sort of a lavender and light green and dark green and orange and pink and white mithral in an art nouveau paisley (laughs). Almost ready.

GS: What are you going to do?

JM: Well, we've got another request for "Blue on Blue" so I guess that has the most checks, does it?

GS: I would think so.

JM: I think so.

GS: Have you heard "Blue on Blue"?

GL: No. Maybe I did.

JM: I think you've heard this one.

GL: I probably have.

JM: I think so.

(Joni performs "Blue on Blue".)

GL: Very nice.


ED Sciaky: Joni Mitchell with Gordon Lightfoot on Gene Shay's program back in March 1967.

GENE SHAY: Now, the other voice we heard was that of Chuck Klein, a fellow who plays dulcimer and who's played at the Philadelphia Folk Festivals.

We're reviewing Joni Mitchell's musical career here at 93.3, we're WMMR Philadelphia radio station and we will continue with more from Joni after this.

ED Sciaky: I'm Ed Sciaky here with Gene Shay at WMMR reviewing the music of Joni Mitchell and her at least five visits to Philadelphia to perform. This is the third time still at Second Fret, a couple of songs from Joni Mitchell:

JM: This is a travel song. It's the only travel song that I've written. And it's what you might call a very idealistic kind of travel song and the reason for that is that I wrote it before I ever traveled anyplace.

It has a very idealistic kind of sing-along chorus that I would like to invite you to sing with if you would like and it goes like this: (Sings) "See the stretch and sun at dawn and wipe the stardust from these eyes / feel the morning breezes yawning / telling me it's time to rise / telling me it's time to rise / I was born to take the highway / I was born to chase a dream / any road at all is my way / anyplace is where I've been / anything is what I've seen."

Now the last part of that was the chorus. And the part that I would like you to remember if you don't know the chorus at all, which you probably don't, is a line that goes like this (sings) "anything is what I've seen."

And the cue word that you should look for comes just before that is "bean" and that's Canadian for "been" in case you're wondering. (Sings the remainder of "Born to Take the Highway").

ED Sciaky: WMMR-Philadelphia.

JM: This is a love song that actually was intended for a man to sing to a woman. I wrote it that way. And then I decided I like to sing it anyway. It goes like this:

(Sings "Winter Lady.")

Speaking of London, we were somewhere there while I was over there -- oh, I don't need that one. While I was over there I picked up a little song about London and a little information about London. Apparently, London Bridge is actually falling down. It's not, you know, just a nursery rhyme. It really is falling into rack and ruin. And what they do with their points of historic interest when they're falling into rack and ruin is to rent them out to people and all they have to do is keep it reasonably clean, you know, the castle or whatever it is that they're renting and memorize like who sent the silverware and who belonged to the drapes and Louis-that and Henry-that and take people through their living rooms on Sunday afternoons.

So now London Bridge is now truly falling down and they've put it up for sale. And I got to thinking a whole lot about who should buy it and what would happen if certain people bought it and certain things would be drastic. But if the Beatles bought it and painted it bright fuchsia and had the same people who painted their Rolls Royce with flowers all over it and also their gypsy caravan with the little steps up the back and the two fine matched Clydesdale horses, or it's painted, just the caravan is, they paint the bridge, it might be kind of fun in London.

(Sings "London Bridge.")


ED Sciaky: Joni's version of "London Bridge," which Michael Pierson is quick to point out is now a tourist trap in Arizona, and that certainly dates the song back to 1967. Joni Mitchell and "Born to Take the Highway." All of this music so far, the last few songs before that also, "Just Like Me," "Eastern Rain" and "Blue on Blue" are songs that Joni Mitchell never recorded and are -- they're among the lost songs.

GENE SHAY: Yeah, around the time that Joni was coming to the Second Fret where these recordings were made, she made a close friendship with a young lady by the name of Joy Flevins (phonetic) who married Larry Schriber (phonetic) and lived in Center City and eventually after a number of appearances at the Second Fret, Joni would always stay with the Schribers'. Later on in an interview, you'll hear her refer to a seance she attended and some tarot card readings. These were done in Joy and Larry's apartment. In that same apartment, Joni wrote -- what was the song? Yes, "Clouds" or "Both Sides, Now."

ED Sciaky: Right.

GENE SHAY: I think earlier when she mentioned she had just written it three days ago, she was staying for a whole week in Philadelphia at the Schribers'.

We'll be back with more Joni Mitchell lore and music and some songs you may not have heard, never recorded, after this.

ED Sciaky: Ed Sciaky here with Gene Shay at WMMR. This brings us to an interview that Gene did with Joni Mitchell and in the studio at the time although you won't hear much of them is Dave van Ronk and Chris Smither. And actually Dave Van Ronk doesn't arrive in this portion I think. Chris Smither is heard talking in the background though. This was from sometime in the fall of 1968 and as far as we can recall that was the last time that Joni played at a small club in Philadelphia.

GENE SHAY: After that it was concerts.

ED Sciaky: Right.

GENE SHAY: Only concerts.

ES: And this is that tape.


GENE SHAY: There are so many calls that came in this evening when I told our listeners that you'd be here. One of them, I hope -- did you remember about your publisher? Do you remember it?

JM: It's SIQUOMB, S-i-q-u-o-m-b. That means She Is Queen Undisputedly Of Mind Beauty, and that's the queen of this mythology that I'm writing.

GS: Is there a song that you've written about a fife and drum or something like that?

JM: It's called "The Fiddle and the Drum."

GS: "The Fiddle and the Drum."

JM: It's my song for America.

GS: Okay. And what is this question? Somebody jotted this down, 'record of "Circle Game"'? What is that?

(Unidentified speaker): Is there going to be a record?

GS: Oh, is there going to be a recording of "Circle Game"?

JM: I'm going to record it I think on my next album. I'm almost positive. You know, things might happen different in the studio, but I plan to record it for the record.

GS: You know what I've been meaning to ask you: "(From) Both Sides, Now," that was your original title and I always call it that and then Dave van Ronk -- was Dave Van Ronk the first one to call it "Clouds"?

JM: He called it "Clouds," mm-hmm.

GS: Now, what do you call it? Or does it matter?

JM: Well, I sort of move back and forth between the two. Dave said -- he said to me when I first wrote the song when he decided he wanted to sing it that the name of it wasn't "Both Sides, Now" at all. It was called "Clouds." (Laughs.) He insisted. You know how Dave is. I mean, he's very definite about it that it was called "Clouds." And I said okay and it was kind of confusing. I thought that "Both Sides, Now" was a better title. Lately, I've been thinking that "Clouds" not only is, you know, is a nice title but it's shorter (laughs) for one thing. And it does apply all the way through. I wanted something that had continuity. I like continuity. And I thought "Both Sides, Now" applied because it was a repeated line. And -- but "Clouds" applies because it's really a repeated thought. I think it's a nicer title.

GS: Can you play Chris's guitar? I mean is it your --

JM: I think so.

GS: Is that all right with you?

CHRIS SMITHER: That's fine with me.

GS: I'll tell you, there are so many requests, you couldn't possibly get to them all, but maybe you could just select one or two, you know.

JM: Well, let me see.

GS: We're especially interested in your new songs, and I'm especially interested in your whole mythology thing that you started as a novel, I guess or as a --

JM: Oh, I haven't really started it as a novel. I have all sorts of unfinished --

GS: Did you just sort of outline this --

JM: -- projects. No, I just -- I don't really set out to work on something very often. I just sort of let it work on me. Do you know what I mean?

GS: Yeah.

JM: And the mythology began that way. It began with a drawing of a little woman creature petal thing, sort of like a mermaid but it didn't have a fish's tail. It had more like seaweed at the bottom of it and leaves that came down the shoulders and all around the breasts. And sort of a skull cap of leaves and things. And they looked like the bottom of them might be made out of long petals or seaweeds or something.

GS: Mm-hmm.

JM: And they're about the same size -- big enough to float out of the guitar sound hole. And I called them -- I did the drawing and then I wrote "perhaps our souls are little ladies," which I realized is POSALL. So I said aha, this is a race of tiny women called the POSALL. Now I must have a race of tiny men so that the race continues, you know. I thought they should be mortals rather than immortals. They should have about the life span of a flower and -- and rather than bees, I thought it would be interesting to create the men to go along with it. So I called the men MOSALM, which is "maybe our souls are little men." But I haven't -- I haven't drawn them yet. I haven't really figured out what they will look like yet.

GS: You're doing a lot of painting now, a lot more painting than writing songs in the last few months?

JM: No. No more than -- I've always drawn a lot. I carry drawing books with me on the road and I fill them out and I haven't really developed a style yet, you know?

GS: Are the drawings you're doing now concerned with this mythological kingdom or whatever?

JM: I don't really work it that way, Gene, you know I --

GS: Just whatever happens?

JM: Yes. Right now I'm working on -- I read a book on Renaissance art, and I got all hung up with that sort of three-dimensional detail, and I said, oh, I must try this. And I said if I believe that I can paint that way, I will be able to. It really takes ten million times more patience than I have. I get -- I say, oh, I just can't be bothered and it gets sort of Impressionistic, and it's mixed in with things that are very realistic. And so it really must have taken a phenomenal amount of drive and energy for those men to paint that way. Golly.

So I've done this sort of Norman Rockwell near high school portrait of myself, and I'm losing interest in it very quickly and thinking -- wishing that I could run back to my colored ink and washes, things like the last album cover, which is the kind of thing I like to do. That's the style that's -- in a way that's the style that the POSALL and all these drawings I told you about are written. And I like to do drawings and then sort of like mythical drawing and then figure out what it is, like write a poem after I've done the drawing. It was from the drawings that I got the idea -- I wrote the sentence "perhaps our souls are little ladies" and realized that it spelled POSALL. And then I realized that you could make just wonderful words by making sentences, you know, by raising them that way.

"Sisotowbell Lane" means "somehow in spite of trouble ours will be everlasting love." And I just took a thought and then kept working it until the vowels made a nice-sounding word, you know.

And what are some of the other ones? Oh, yes, I have a king in the mythology whose name is HWIEFOB, "he who is especially fond of birds." And a cat named SIOFA, "she is our favorite animal." But it's not pulled together. I mean that's all I have is bits of poetry, bits of drawings and things. There's no real story. I have these characters but I have no story. So I'm waiting for that to happen. I'm hoping that either through a poem they will unify themselves.

It's like my songs. Like even though I write each song individually, like gradually, it's like laying in pieces everytime I write a new song, they keep falling -- you know how I tried to do it chronologically on the first album so it told a story. Well, I wish that I had some of those songs now to work with because things I've written since then, like, fall into the story line that's just -- you know, I mean it really takes you through all the (inaudible). That's what I mean about letting it write me instead of me write it. Just let the pieces fall into place.

If I remember that tuning. Do you mind if I tune this up?

GS: How long ago was this written?

JM: Last February, I think. Just about -- no, let's see.

GS: Right after --

JM: No, while I was doing the album I wrote it. So it must have been January or February. Keep talking.

GS: Somebody also asked -- if you can think about this while you're tuning, do you remember the chord changes in -- let me see now -- in "Marcie"?

JM: I remember them.

GS: Do you know them? Can you give this young lady who called the first few chords?

JM: Oh, I have no idea. It's in a tuning and I just --

GS: It's in a special tuning?

JM: Oh, yeah. I only play two songs in standard tuning and I don't know the names of the chords for them either because they're not completed chords.

(Sings partial "Sisotowbell Lane.")

GS: That's such a lovely song. That's the kind of song sort of like Tolkein where you want the story to go on, you know? Just go on and on and on. Your chorus, I guess it is, Sisotowbell Lane, is so lush and lovely and melodic. So Joni Mitchell-ish. In the old Mitchell tradition.

The most requests we received tonight were for Circle -- you may be interested, you know, we sort of check things off as they come in. "Circle Game" is by and large the all-time favorite here on our Top 64 here. "Circle Game." "Chelsea Morning" is probably next. And then in this order "Clouds" or "Both Sides, Now" depending on what part of the country you come from, "Marcie," and then we have requests for "Midnight Cowboy" and "London Bridge" and "Cactus Tree" and "I Don't Know Where I Stand."

JM: "London Bridge." God, that's years ago that I did that.

GS: Yeah, a lot of people called and said, yeah, what about the old songs? How come --

JM: Well, they're like old paintings. It's like if you're an art student, you have a portfolio full of paintings and you look back over it and you say, "my God, when did I do that? How did I do that?" And you can't identify with it after a while. Some songs -- some songs that are -- I'm afraid are lost until I reidentify with them.

GS: Isn't it a shame that a lot of contemporary singer-songwriters, they write -- say you write 20 songs, just to use any number and they record their first album and they leave off some of the songs that everybody liked, and then they sort of move on to new things and feel the same way about their old songs, but people still, you know, never heard -- for instance, you're going to record a second album, and you're not sure at this point I don't think if you're going to record "From Both Sides, Now" which you haven't recorded.

JM: Oh, I think I'll record that.

GS: But you may never record "London Bridge" or --

JM: I don't even remember how I did that. That was really strange the way I used to do that.

GS: Or "Eastern Rain."

JM: I wrote -- that was just after I got back from London. It was pure nonsense and I can't remember anything about it now.

GS: Someone asked if you could give a little report on London and some of the people there such as Darryl Adams and -- did you meet many of the singers?

JM: No. I've had such a bad bout. Last spring Larry and Joy read my tarot cards, and Larry said to me, he said, "uh-oh" -- he just sort of thumbed over, and I said, "Wait a minute. What's that?" He said, "There's going to be a lot of sickness," and, well, I've just sort of been, you know how -- I just say uh-oh, here it comes again, you know. And as soon as I got off the plane in England, I stepped off into the worst flood weather in recorded English history, and with my resistance and my health being kind of low in the first place, both Elliott, my manager, and I got dreadful colds since we stepped off the plane so it was all business.

And when we weren't doing TV shows or whatever, we were recuperating in this little tiny hotel with steam things. Oh, it was awful. So I really didn't get a chance to do much socializing. I did go out into the country one day and I missed a wonderful chance. You know the film that was on of The Beatles singing "Hey, Jude"? You know that portion that was on TV here?

GS: Yeah, right.

JM: Well, I was invited to go to that show and in England there was a portion of the show that The Hollies were on. Graham Nash is a very good friend of mine. The Hollies were there and he said, "Come on down. It should be fun," you know. And I couldn't go. I couldn't go out because it was --

GS: Were you just so weak or you were just coughing, sneezing and miserable?

JM: Yeah, I thought it was just -- I didn't want to meet all of those wonderful people with a runny nose (giggles) so I didn't go --

GS: Do you know a song --

JM -- but Mary Hopkins was on it. It was a beautiful show. I watched it on TV anyway.

CHRIS SMITHER: It was really good.

JM: Well, you just saw The Beatles portion of it, "Hey, Jude," didn't you?

CS: Yeah.

JM: You should have seen the rest of it.

CS: They showed all the other people that were there too.

JM: Oh, did they?

CS: Yeah.

JM: Oh, Mary Hopkins sang that beautiful song, you know.

CS: Well, they didn't show anyone else singing. They showed "Hey, Jude."

GS: "Those Were the Days."

JM: And The Hollies sang. Oh, there were all sorts of good people.

GS: Drink your soda while I ask you some questions. You've been trying to get to that bottle -- of soda.

You wrote a song called "Doctor Junk," that was about that dentist?

JM: Yeah.

GS: And the Ian Campbell Group recorded that, do you know that?

JM: Mm-hmm.

GS: Okay.

JM: They recorded "Circle Game" too, I think.

GS: Yeah, their new album is called "Circle Game."

JM: Is it really?

GS: Yeah. That's what I heard.

JM: You don't have it, do you?

GS: No. It's on Transatlantic label. It's a British label. They now call themselves the Ian Campbell Group as opposed to the Ian Campbell Folk Group.

What is that again? You're pointing at something. Oh, it's a request for "Doctor Junk." There are lots of requests. We just, you know, I'm just trying to get to some of the questions here.

At the Second Fret, Dave Van Ronk sang a song about an angel who tapes wings on. Do you know anything about that song?

JM: Yeah, that's called "The Song About the Midway," "That Song About the Midway."

GS: Got a few requests for that. And we've got a number of requests for "The Gallery," which I think is one of your --

JM: New ones.

GS: -- current. What is this? "What is your sign?"

JM: What is my sign? Partially with my moon in pliers. (Laughs.) I am a dreaded Scorpio with moon in Pisces and Sagittarius rising, born of Gemini and Virgo.

GS: To the books, everyone. When they ask me what sign I was born under, I usually say "for rent." (Laughs.)

JM: That's great.

GS: What is that question?

CS: "Give the tuning of each song."

GS: Give the tuning of each song. Well, you can't give the tuning of each song, can you?

JM: The one that I just played in?

GS: Yeah.

JM: That's California kitchen tuning.

GS: California kitchen tuning. Can you explain that to Philadelphia?

JM: Sure. It's -- the E string is natural. The second string is up a half-tone. The third string is down a whole tone. The fourth string is natural. The fifth string is down a whole tone, I believe. And I think the bass is down like two tones.

GS: How did it get California kitchen? Do you know, or is that what you call it?

JM: That's what I called it.

GS: Do you know that Joni Mitchell is going to be in a movie? She's going to be in Arlo Guthrie's movie.

JM: Oh. Yes.

GS: Is that right?

JM: Yes. It's still pending because -- well --

GS: It's pending.

JM: I would like to do it and they would like to have me do it but they're really -- oh, I shouldn't badmouth them on the air. (Laughs.)

GS: You can.

JM: Well, they wanted the song -- they wanted me to write a song first with one week's notice, but I couldn't -- you know, I just couldn't do it. And I had a song that is fine, I think, called -- I'm supposed to sing at a hippie funeral in the movie and sort of a little wakey thing. Well, rather than writing a funeral song, I have a song that sort of touches briefly on death. Do you remember "Songs to Aging Children Come"?

GS: Mm-hmm.

JM: And there's a line that goes: "Some come dark and strange like ..." -- referring to songs -- "some come dark and strange like dying / crows and ravens whistling / lines of weeping, strings of crying / so much said in listening / songs to aging children come / aging children, I am one / does the moon play only silver when it strums the galaxy? / dying roses, will they will their perfumed rhapsodies to me? / songs to aging children come ..."

So I wanted to do that but what they wanted to do, they wanted 50 percent of the song or something like that so Elliott hit the roof.

GS: Is that so they can put it on an album? Of the songs of the movie? Or, I mean, is that part of the package?

JM: So they're saying, well, either give us 50 percent of the song or you can't do the movie. Well, I'd rather not do the movie.

GS: Yeah, after all, it's 100 percent your song.

JM: Yeah.

GS: How is David Crosby as a producer?

JM: Oh, David's beautiful. He had some beautiful ideas. We had trouble with our engineer, and David -- David -- well, both of us were green at it, you know, like he had never -- he'd never produced an album independently before. We did have troubles. The fellow who engineered it died shortly afterwards. It sounds really morbid but it's true. And he was so patient and he was very sick, but he drank a lot and I know his wife had just left him. His whole luck had just turned rotten and everything and he finally just gave up.

But we were in a brand new studio, the first person to use it, a new room at Sunset Sound, and when we had completed the album, which sounded beautiful in the studio as far as the sound was concerned, it was very clear and everything, when we finished it and we took it out of the studio like there was a bit of noise on it but we thought it was in the speakers. And we took the tape off and we played it, and we found out that there was tape hiss, an incredible amount of tape hiss, so that when you came to the spaces on the bands, you know, when the tape was clean it was like silence. I mean there was all of this noise underneath the track, this sort of crackling and things that the engineer had insisted wasn't on the tape.

So in order to save it because we'd worked like all that time on it, this other engineer whose name I won't mention, is a really good engineer, took it and cleaned the tape hiss off. Well, in the process of clearing off the tape hiss, he took off a lot of the highs, which is the reason it sounds like it's sort of under glass, you know, and under a bell jar. That's what Judy said, it sounds like it's under a bell jar.

So you really need the words inside the book to follow my diction which is pretty good usually. But that's not David's fault. And he had some really beautiful ideas, you know? One of the things that we did that was kind of fun that because of what had to be done to clean up the tape, a lot of it was lost, was he had me sing a lot of it into a grand piano with the ringing pedal down. And so you got these incredible -- like every note I sang repeated itself in the strings so it was like, yeah. And if you sing into a grand piano, the notes on the strings reproduce the sound of your voice. That's the amazing thing. I mean if you sang a note, Chris, you would hear the note come back ringing in your voice.

GS: But wouldn't the --

CS: It sets the corresponding strings vibrating.

GS: Then you have a drone, too, don't you? Don't you have the drone of the note before that? Do you know what I mean? Do you know that?

JM: I don't know.

CS: That's really interesting.

JM: It was so beautiful and he had all sorts of ideas, and the idea too of doubling my guitar part on some of it. So some of the guitar sounds like 12-string and he also -- he was -- he was really good, you know.

GS: Could you do "The Gallery"? That's an interesting song. You also have an interesting introduction or, you know, explanation of it. Joni has been writing songs lately for piano.

Will that be the new trend or will there be any new trend at all? Or --

JM: I don't know.

GS: Will you just be getting on to the piano?

JM: There's no trend. It's just like whatever happens.

The way I introduce this song is because it's kind of a little play song you know what I mean? You know, like not a play song, but it's a soliloquy by a woman in a relationship -- let me start again.

GS: Okay.

JM: It's so late, Gene.

GS: I know.

JM: This is a song about an artist and his old lady. And I always introduce it by saying that like all artists, this man is a connoisseur of beauty. Only to his wife's dismay, to his old lady's dismay, he spends much too much time running around the country connoisseuring beauties. And she sings this to him from the left-hand side of the stage.

(Performs "The Gallery").

(End of segment.)

ED Sciaky: That's Joni Mitchell recorded on Gene Shay's program on -- well, sometime. We don't know the date on that.

GS: Fall of '68.

ES: With Chris Smither in the background. "Sisotowbell Lane" and "The Gallery" were the two songs. We have not too many more minutes. We'll be back in just a minute and play some more interesting songs from Joni.

(End of interview segment.)


Copyright protected material on this website is used in accordance with 'Fair Use', for the purpose
of study, review or critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of the copyright owner(s).

Notice and Procedure for Making Claims of Copyright Infringement.

This article has not yet been rated
Log in to rate this article

Comments on this article

» Log in and be the first to add a comment.