The great Joni Mitchell turns 70 today.
As an avid and longtime collector of “bootlegs” (LPs, cassettes, CDs, VHS, DVD or now torrent files) I can tell you that the #1 major artist who it used to be difficult for me to find bootlegs of—especially video bootlegs, which is what I mainly look for—is Joni Mitchell. I used to religiously hit collectors fairs, record conventions, and the monthly “record collector” parking lot area at the Pasadena Flea Market (which used to be THE BEST) but I could never find any Joni Mitchell boots. As in nothing. Ever. I can’t help but to think that there was some level of sexism that saw the likes of Dylan, Zappa, Beatles, Dead, Stones, Zeppelin, Tull, etc, etc get bootlegged like crazy, when so little Joni Mitchell was making it into the video trading pipeline? Even on eBay there was next to nothing. What gives?
In any case, this imbalance eventually got redressed on YouTube and now there are many hundred delightful examples of Mitchell singing live for her fans to enjoy. What I find especially noteworthy about clips of Joni Mitchell in her 60s/70s prime is how she could absolutely command an audience with just her voice and an acoustic guitar or piano. For such a seemingly frail young woman—her between song patter was often so nervous that it seemed like she was about to cry—she was an exceptionally powerful performer.
One hallmark of any live Joni Mitchell live performance was the tuning up between songs. There was a reason for it. Again, I’m sorry to report that rock snobs and guitar aficionados of my gender—some, not all—have never fully appreciated what a brilliant, world-beating guitarist Joni Mitchell really is. The reason she was always tuning up for so long between songs is that she was often completely re-tuning the guitar to an alternate tuning. She is known to have created at least 50 harmonically innovative open tuning patterns. Apparently, she required them to be able to physically play the music she heard in her head. Due to a bout of childhood polio, her hand became slightly palsied and she basically had to come up with her own way of playing guitar. Her style is completely original, keep all of this in mind as you watch some of these clips. (In 2003 Rolling Stone ranked Mitchell as the 72nd on their list “greatest guitarist of all time.” She was the was the highest-ranking female and she wuz STILL robbed!).
Below, a selection of some of the finest Joni Mitchell performances that YouTube has on offer…
First up, this is the best Joni Mitchell thing, period, a September 1970 solo appearance on BBC In Concert:
A very young and VERY lovely Joni Mitchell sings “Urge for Going,” late 1966. The men seem absolutely stunned here. What man wouldn’t be?
More after the jump…