Back in 2021, we were treated to the closest thing we’ll ever get to a Jimi Hendrix-Joni Mitchell collaboration. While this particular recording doesn’t feature Hendrix sliding up and down the fretboard while Mitchell’s voice floats above, it holds something much more familiar: a fan-recording of Joni Mitchell performing in 1968. However, this recording is unusual in one key respect: It was recorded from the front row by none other than Hendrix himself.
In 1968, Mitchell had just released her first studio album, Song To A Seagull. Since leaving Saskatoon, the folk singer-songwriter had spent time in both New York and Europe. However, it was in Mitchell’s native Canada that Hendrix first had the opportunity to meet the singer in the flesh. In a 1988 interview, Mitchell recalled the meeting: “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”.
Hendrix was performing on the other side of town, but was keen to catch Joni Mitchell’s set and gave her a call to get more details. From his diary entry that day, it’s clear he was excited by the idea of meeting his label-mate: “Talked with Joni Mitchell on the phone,” he wrote. “I think I’ll record her tonight with my excellent tape recorder (knock on wood)…hmmm… can’t find any wood… everything’s plastic.”
That night, March 19th, Hendrix arrived with his tape recorder. As Mitchell recalled: “They came and told me, ‘Jimi Hendrix is here, and he’s at the front door.’ I went to meet him. He had a large box. He said to me, ‘My name is Jimi Hendrix. I’m on the same label as you. Reprise Records.’ We were both signed about the same time. He said, ‘I’d like to record your show. Do you mind?’ I said, ‘no, not at all.’ There was a large reel-to-reel tape recorder in the box.”
She continued, “The stage was only about a foot off the ground. He knelt at edge of the stage, with a microphone, at my feet. All during the show, he kept twisting knobs. He was engineering it, I don’t know what he was controlling, volume? He was watching the needles or something, messing with knobs. He beautifully recorded this tape. Of course I played part of the show to him. He was right below me.”
The 22-song set Hendrix captured on his tape recorder was lost for years until it was unearthed and released on “Joni Mitchell Archives Vol. 2: The Reprise Years (1968-1971),” which was released in October 2021. It is a fantastically vivid piece of field-recording, which manages to capture the intimate atmosphere Mitchell could conjure up so effortlessly.
You can listen to one of the highlights of that recording, a performance of ‘Dawntreader’, below.