Mitchell, like Dylan, an edgy groundbreaker

by Rock Cesario
Daily Sentinel (Grand Junction CO)
March 25, 2006

I believe Joni Mitchell will be judged as one of the finest singer-songwriters of all time. She is the fairer sex's version of Bob Dylan in the sense that both are edgy, groundbreaking singer-songwriters unafraid of taking changes or offending someone by stating their views.

Mitchell's music evolved from the original folk sound into pop, rock, jazz, and world music, almost 10 years before artists such as Paul Simon, David Byrne and others began to popularize the genre.

Born Roberta Joan Anderson in Fort McLeod, Alberta, Canada on Nov. 7. 1943, she begged her parents at age 7 to allow her to take piano lessons, which lasted a year and a half. She also took up drawing. After moving to Saskatoon at age 9, she contracted polio, from which she fortunately recovered with the love of her family and art.

While recovering in a children's hospital, Mitchell began her performing career by singing to other patients.

After teaching herself to play guitar with the help of a Pete Seeger instruction book, she went off to art school and became a fixture on the folk-music scene around Alberta. After relocating to Toronto, she married folk singer Chuck Mitchell in 1965, and began performing under the name Joni Mitchell.

The new Joni Mitchell played the Newport Folk Festival in 1966 and her marriage to Chuck Mitchell fell apart by early 1967. While performing in Florida, she met David Crosby, who was impressed enough with her talent to persuade Reprise Records to record and release the "Joni Mitchell" album, a self-title acoustic effort in 1968.

Her songs seemed to find more success with other singers. Judy Collins scored a major kit with "Both Sides Now," while Fairport Convention covered "Eastern Rain" and Tom Rush recorded "The Circle Game."

Thanks to all the outside exposure, Mitchell began to earn a strong cult following. Her 1969 sophomore effort, "Clouds," reached the Top 40, eventually going gold and winning a Grammy in 1970, which dovetailed nicely into the release of "Ladies of the Canyon."

"Canyon" sold even better than "Clouds" based on the strength of the single "Big Yellow Taxi." It also included the stunning composition "Woodstock," a major hit for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

Throughout the remainder of 1970, Mitchell traveled, painted and wrote material for her next album, "Blue." The album was released in 1971 and became a critical and commercial success. "Blue - a unprecedented luminous, starkly confessional set written primarily during a European vacation - firmly established Mitchell as one of pop music's most remarkable and perceptive talents.

1972 saw the release of "For the Roses" and her first legit radio hit, "You Turn Me On (I'm A Radio)," making her a true commercial success.

Mitchell soon began seeing out musicians who could help her grow musically and speak the musical language of her odd guitar tunings and eccentric rhythms. She hooked up with Tom Scott & LA Express for her next album, "Court and Spark," released in January 1974, hot on the heels of her pre-Christmas single "Raised on Robbery." That was followed by "Help Me," pushing the album to No. 2 over the course of the first half of the year. "Court and Spark," a dazzling jazz-influenced recording, became her most commercially successful outing based on the strength of those three singles.

While Joni Mitchell's records never sold as well as some of her contemporaries such as Carole King, Janis Joplin or Aretha Franklin, she was and still is the single most influential female singer-songwriter of all, paving the way and making it easier for artists including Shawn Colvin, Chrissie Hynde, Eliza Gilkyson, Madonna, Patti Smith, Norah Jones and many others to find success.

Printed from the official Joni Mitchell website. Permanent link:

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