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Joni Mitchell Biography

Last updated: 10/22/2014 07:12:55 PM

Born in Fort MacLeod, Alberta a young Joan Anderson moved to North Battleford, Saskatchewan with her parents shortly after Word War II.

Inspired by her older friend Frankie McKitrick, she begged her parents at age 7 to allow her to take piano lessons which lasted for a year and a half. She also took up drawing and after moving to Saskatoon at age 9, she contracted polio which she forunately recovered from with the love of her family and art.

In Grade 7, one of her teachers, Mr. Kratzman encouraged her to craft the written word and she holds him as one of her many influences. By her teens she scraped together enough money to buy a ukele (a guitar being too expensive at the time) and entertained at parties and coffehouses in Saskatoon.

Following high school, in 1964, she went to the Alberta College Of Art in Calgary for only one year. Instead, she preferred to be a regular performer at a coffeehouse called The Depression in Calgary. She abandoned her love for painting (at least as a career) and moved to Toronto in search of success as a folksinger. Howver, playing clubs in Toronto in the '60's required a union card, which she couldn't afford immediately and she found herself working days for Simpsons-Sears. She was also pregnant with the child of her former boyfriend back home and gave birth to a girl in February 1965.

Fellow folk-singer Chuck Mitchell offered to take the two in, marrying Anderson, but the allure of success and Anderson's age convinced Mitchell to give the girl up for adoption. By the summer of '65 The Mitchells had moved to Detroit. The new Joni Mitchell played the Newport Folk Festival in 1966 and her marriage to Chuck Mitchell fell apart by early 1967. With nothing to tie her down, she moved to Chelsea in New York to be closer to venues up and down the eastern seaboard.

With the recording of "The Urge For Going" by legend Tom Rush and other cover versions by a variety of artists she was able to get bookings west to Chicago and south to Florida. New York was still quite elusive and with the help of manager Elliot Roberts she landed gigs in town.

While performing in Florida she met David Crosby (The Byrds) who was impressed enough with her talent to convince Reprise Records to record and release the 'Joni Mitchell' album in 1968. By the time of the album's release she was garnering favourable press and was now living in California with David Crosby.

The remainder of 1968 saw her playing larger venues including the Miami Pop Festival with Graham Nash (The Hollies). Judy Collins also had a substantial hit with "Both Sides Now" which helped supplement Mitchell's expanding salary.

In 1969, Mitchell released 'Clouds' which included her versions of previous hit material she had donated to other artists. She recorded a live album (which was subsequently scrapped) and moved to Laurel Canyon with Graham Nash. She opened tours for Crosby, Stills & Nash and was invited to Woodstock that summer. But an appearance on the Dick Cavett show following the festival convinced her that she shouldn't risk getting stuck in the massive traffic jams. Instead, she played the Equinox Festival in Big Sur that September which would be filmed for release.

'Clouds' won a Grammy in 1970 which dovetailed nicely into the Reprise release of album #3 'Ladies Of The Canyon' eventually selling gold. She decided to take some time off with one, ill-fated, appearance at the disastrous Isle Of Wight Festival. Throughout the remainder of the year she travelled, painted and wrote material for her next album 'Blue'.

The album was released in 1971 and became a critical and commercial success with a trip to Billboard's Top-20. By then, she had moved back to British Columbia, Canada to seek solitude on a piece of forested property. With frequent commutes to visit friend David Geffen, Mitchell was able to go back to the stage opening for the likes of Geffen's Asylum records success story Jackson Browne and onward to her own tours of Europe and playing benefit concerts for presidential hopeful George McGovern.

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 in light of her stance as a pure 'artiste'. Mitchell soon began seeking out musicians who could help her grow musically and speak the musical language that her odd guitar tunings and eccentric rhythms.

She hooked up with Tom Scott & LA Express for her next album 'Court And Spark' and even recorded tunes for their albums as well. 'Court And Spark' was released in January 1974 hot on the heals of her pre-Xmas single "Raised On Robbery". A second single, "Help Me", followed pushing the album to #2 over the course of the first half of the year.

She embarked on a 50 date tour with LA Express which resulted in the November '74 album 'Miles Of Aisles'. The live version of "Big Yellow Taxi" was also released as a single and again put Mitchell high on the charts. She bought a new house in Bel Air, California, moved in with LA Express drummer John Guerin and settled in as half a dozen year-end awards came her way including 4 Grammy nominations. Mitchell and Tom Scott would share one award for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocals.

Recording commenced in 1975 and after a series of successive demo sessions, Mitchell re-assembled most of the key players from 'Court And Spark' for the November release 'The Hissing Of Summer Lawns'. Bad reviews followed based on some of Mitchell's societal lyrics but the album still hit #4 on the Billboard charts. She hopped aboard Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue to finish out the year with plans for a return tour featuring LA Express again.

The tour began in January 1976 and took her all across the US and Canada. As the tour wound down, she split up with John Guerin and instead spent time hanging around with Neil Young. Some friends convinced her to take a cross country journey, which she did and she returned from the road trip with a suitcase full of tunes for her next album 'Hejira' which as recorded that summer and released in November.

November was also Mitchell's guest appearance on The Band's "Last Waltz" concert and film for Martin Scorsese. Meanwhile, 'Hejira' was climbing the charts, went gold in December and lingered on the charts through the beginning of 1977.

Mitchell continues releasing solo album after solo album and was asked in 1996 to go back through her extensive catalogue and chose the best of her repertoire according to their hit status and then assemble a second disc with tunes she felt were overlooked. The result was Reprise's "Hits & Misses" collection

In 1997, Mitchell made frontpage news once again after tracking down her daughter whom she had given up for adoption some 30 years before.