Pink Floyd leader David Gilmour was raised during the early days of rock ‘n’ roll, his infatuation blossoming after the first time he heard Bill Haley song ‘Rock Around The Clock’. Later though, he moved into the sphere of folk music and, to this day, Gilmour can’t live without the work of Joni Mitchell.
While his love of folk isn’t noticeable from his prog-rock output with and without Pink Floyd, the genre took a stranglehold on him during the 1960s, and its grip on his life has only grown more powerful with each passing year. There are several musicians from the folk boom that Gilmour still admires, but none more so than Joni Mitchell.
Mitchell made her breakthrough shortly after Gilmour joined Pink Floyd following Syd Barrett’s deteriorating mental health and heavy drug use, a situation that had left his bandmates with no choice but to recruit an additional member. Soon though, his role in the band soon became more significant, and Gilmour eventually became an indispensable cog in the Pink Floyd machine. It was a change in pace compared to his previous band, Jokers Wild, who he busked with across Europe, but he slotted in effortlessly.
Mitchell has been a source of inspiration for Gilmour’s musicianship for most of his life, and intriguingly, the Pink Floyd member gushes more over her guitar playing than her divine brand of lyricism.
Many years ago, Gilmour took part in the largest auction of guitars in history, giving away the majority of his collection for a good cause. As part of the auction, he was asked a series of questions, including: “Who inspired you and how did you manage to grow out of their shadow to sound so original?” Pausing for a moment, he replied: “So many players inspired me. I learned from Pete Seeger, Hank Marvin, Lead Belly, Joni Mitchell, John Fahey, Roy Buchanon, Jeff [Beck] and Eric [Clapton] and dozens more. I copied – don’t be afraid to copy – and eventually something that I suppose that I would call my own appeared.”
During a discussion with NPR, Gilmour namechecked Mitchell once more and said: “There are a thousand other influences that have sort of gone together — folk music, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Big Bill Broonzy, John Fahey, Joni Mitchell — there are thousands of players and singers who have directly influenced the music that I make and who have sort of created the bedrock of what you might call my style”.
Gilmour added: “It’s so deeply embedded in me that I have no idea where it comes from now or where it’s gonna go. But the influences that I had as a child are still very deeply embedded in me.”
During his appearance on the BBC institution Desert Island Discs, Mitchell also received a mention when he revealed her track ‘For Free’ was one of his favourite songs of all time. About the track, he said: “This is Joni Mitchell’s struggle with her wall, if you like. The struggle with her conscience, with being a rich person but still being an artist.”
Watch the footage below of Mitchell performing the track during a live session at the BBC in 1970.