Following the Greenwich Village folk revival, where old standards were endlessly covered, the genre quickly evolved into a candid style of introspective songwriting and quite often the subjects were fellow songsmiths.
In a rare interview as part of a virtual Grammys party, Joni Mitchell spoke about how her transition into a more personally reflectively style made many male musicians nervous.
The virtual Grammys party, which was hosted by the legendary Arista Records founder Clive Davis, was due to go ahead in March to coincide with the event but it was delayed following Davis being diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy.
Speaking to Davis, Mitchell nostalgically reflected on the evolution of her career, stating: “My early work is kind of fantasy, which is why I sort of rejected it,” she said. Many of Mitchell’s early songs were takes on traditional folk pieces which go back to time immemorial.
However, she quickly ditched the traditional for something a little closer to the heart, “I started scraping my own soul more and more and got more humanity in it. It scared the singer-songwriters around me; the men seemed to be nervous about it, almost like [Bob] Dylan plugging in and going electric. Like, ‘Does this mean we have to do this now?’ But over time, I think it did make an influence. It encouraged people to write more from their own experience.”
In its infancy the folk scene lived on covers and Mitchell was informed that nobody would cover her songs because they were too personal, “And yet, that’s not true, they’re getting a lot of covers,” Mitchell refuted. “It’s just humanness that I’m trying to describe. This generation is ready for what I had to say, I guess, and is not so nervous about it.”
There is also no doubting that many of the nervous musicians were worried that their shortcomings would be immortalised in song having spawned many of her heartfelt break-up songs themselves.
For Mitchell, it was a move that cemented her name amid the greatest singer-songwriters of all time and landed her a plethora of masterful records which are due for reissue in a remastered box set, due for release on June 25 to celebrate 50 years of the star’s seminal album Blue.
Alongside Blue, the set will comprise 1968’s Song To A Seagull, 1969’s Clouds and 1970’s Ladies Of The Canyon.