James Taylor and Joni Mitchell are two folkies that lit up the world with their beautiful work, soundtracked the lives of millions in the process. They’ve shared the stage an array of times together, and the duo have covered each other’s delectable work, solidifying an unyielding and everlasting bond that is built out of stone.
The most illustrious moment in their shared history arrived when they famously put on a spectacle together at London’s Paris Theatre in 1970. The chemistry between Mitchell and Taylor filled the room as they performed a wondrous set for the BBC. The scintillating evening is unquestionably one of the most iconic John Peel sessions. Also, the footage offers a spellbinding insight into both Mitchell’s work and the touching friendship and love that she shared with her counterpart Taylor.
In recent years, since Mitchell has become reclusive after suffering a brain aneurysm in 2015, Taylor is one of the few people in the limelight with access to her, and he regularly keeps her fans in the loop with how she’s coping. In 2020, he even hinted that new music might be on the way from his old friend, but sadly it’s still yet to come to avail.
Earlier this year, Joni’s seminal masterpiece Blue turned 50, and to celebrate the grand occasion, Taylor reflected upon that special time to The Guardian. “Joni had succeeded in music,” he noted. “She had a house and an automobile and wanted to have fun and see the world. After a year or two travelling in Europe with her portable dulcimer, she came back with lots of songs and ideas. We moved in the same circles and ended up together. I’m not saying I was sober, but my then addiction to heroin was relatively quiet.”
He continued: “It was a calm, peaceful, amazing, creative time. She quit smoking and her voice was excellent. She was at the height of her powers. It felt natural and easy for me to play on the album. There were very few people in the sessions. Blue’s brilliance lies in its minimalism. It thrives on her voice, melody and personality. It’s pure Joni.”
Taylor then delved into detail about his love for ‘California’, which is his favourite song that Mithcell has ever written and inhabits the spirit of the album. In truth, the track goes beyond just Blue. It perfectly epitomises the scene which Taylor also spouted from, which is now steeped in legend.
“‘California’, which she wrote in Paris, is a coming home song,” Taylor said. “After travelling, your home has a different context within the world and California captures that. It’s delightful, personal and genuine. When I was taking her to meet my family in North Carolina, between flights she suddenly said she had to return to California and left me at the airport – at the altar, so to speak.
He added: “Maybe she sensed the wreckage of my next 15 years and didn’t want to be tied down. She is totally real and self-invented and it’s one of the best things in my life that I’ve known her.”
Those heady days that Mitchell and Taylor lived through were fragile, but that’s one word that can’t be used to describe their friendship. They are wearing the scars that a life driven by hedonism can create, and somehow they survived, with songs like ‘California’ offering a poignant reminder of those buzzy days.