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Music

The first time Joni Mitchell met Jimi Hendrix

@jackwhatley89

There are a few legends around the realms of rock and roll that deserve some brevity. While much of what we would shroud in musical mystique can usually be found down the back alley of any city in the world, the icon of Jimi Hendrix is one legend that deserves all the respect and attention it is offered. For, truly, there was simply nobody like Hendrix when he got up on stage. As such, countless artists over the years have been asked about their first moments with the legend, including the wondrous talent of Joni Mitchell.

Mitchell was an avid songwriter before she ever stepped up to the mic. As part of a travelling TV show, Mitchell would perform on stage, but during the early 1960s, she felt happiest when penning songs for others. While not in the limelight, Mitchell was a lover of music and was quickly swept up in the otherworldly talents of Jimi Hendrix like everybody else was. By the time she first got to meet the guitar hero, she was already enamoured with his electric ambience and beginning to take the stage more readily.

Despite being such a worldly songwriter, having spent time in New York and Europe, it was in Mitchell’s native Canada that the singer first laid eyes on the late, great Jimi Hendrix. Speaking during a TV interview in 1988, Mitchell remembered: “I met Jimi Hendrix in Canada, Ottawa. There, there were two clubs: the Capitol Theatre, where rock and roll played and Le Hibou, where folk music played.” It’s already a fascinating insight into the lost tribalism of music.

It would appear that Hendrix was performing one night across the city and, given a chance for more music, set his sights on the folk club as a haunt for the evening. Mitchell picks the story back up: “The rock concerts ended at 10:30pm, but the folk singers had to do five sets a night. So we went on into the wee hours,” it provided Mitchell with a perfect platform to keep rock and roll networking alive.

It would seem that Hendrix was equally excited to meet Mitchell. Writing in his diary: “Talked with Joni Mitchell on the phone. I think I’ll record her tonight with my excellent tape recorder (knock on wood)…hmmm… can’t find any wood… everything’s plastic,” Hendrix said, before referring to Mitchell as a “fantastic girl with heaven words.”

The ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ singer confirms the club was a great place to meet such stars, “I met Graham Nash there and I met Jimi Hendrix there. The night I met Jimi, he came after his show with a reel-to-reel tape recorder because there weren’t cassettes. It was a big box with a reel-to-reel, and he said to me, very shyly ‘do you mind if I record your show?’ and he set it up on stage.”

Perhaps realising the potential for a moment in history, Mitchell was sure to help out with the recording as best she could. “So I played most of the evening, you know down to Jimi. So he’s there doing tape reversal and all sort of technical stuff, because we played it back that night at the hotel. We all stayed at the same hotel,” Mitchell confirms.

“That night he told,” she continues, “Something that I found very touching when it came to his death because it’s very difficult for an artist to survive, especially his first change, which is inevitable. You can go on being the same as you started but you’ll die inside. The time you make your first change, like when Dylan went electric at Forest Lawn, you’ll lose a raft of your fans. They want you to stay the same but they don’t know that if you don’t change they’ll get tired of you — you have to change.”

It’s clear that Hendrix was experiencing this artistic death when he crossed paths with Mitchell. “Hendrix was getting tired, at that point, of playing guitar with his teeth. He was tired of being phallic. It embarrassed him. He was shy by nature and he had a very sweet side. He wanted to do big band arrangements and stand still — just stand and play and cut the theatrics. But every time he tried to do it, they would boo him and say Jimi’s not himself. I always thought, in a way, it was a shame that he never made the change, because he was one of the great innovators and geniuses of this business.”

It’s a profound thought, considering Hendrix’s wasted potential. But for all those who were entranced by the idea of a Jimi Hendrix bootleg of a classic Joni Mitchell concert and where they might find it, look no further. Mitchell will be releasing the iconic recording very soon, already sharing Hendrix’s recording of ‘The Dawntreader’ which you can listen to below.

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