Music icon Joni Mitchell is this week’s guest on Elton John’s Rocket Hour on Apple Music 1. In this special in-depth chat at Joni’s Los Angeles home, she reveals that she is releasing a new album following her surprise appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in July, which was her first full live performance since 2002.
In the interview she discusses her music not receiving the recognition it deserved at the time and how it upset the male singer-songwriters because her music was “intimate”. She also discusses how this generation is better equipped to deal with emotion, how rock ’n’ roll pioneer Chuck Berry is the “G.O.A.T.”, how war enrages her and how we should all be more concerned with the ecology of the planet, and how she didn’t rehearse for her Newport Folk Festival appearance. Elton also reveals his ambition for Joni to record an album at her house.
On releasing an album of her Newport Folk Festival performance and how she didn’t rehearse for that show...
Elton: I've seen you through music, and of course your incredible rehabilitation, but music has helped you so much and it's beautiful to watch you evolve. And people out there, you haven't heard things from the Newport Folk Festival yet, but I think there's going to be an album coming out of that one?
Joni: Yeah, we're trying to put that out.
Elton: It's extraordinary how good it is. And you didn't have much rehearsal, did you?
Joni: Didn't have any.
Elton: And you stood up and played guitar.
Joni: Yeah, that I had to figure out what I did. And I couldn't sing the key, I've become an alto, I'm not a soprano anymore, so I couldn't sing the song. And I thought people might feel lighted that if I just played the guitar part but I like the guitar part to that song. So anyway, it was very well received, much to my delight.
On her music not receiving the recognition it deserved at the time and upsetting male singer-songwriters, and how this generation is better equipped to deal with emotion...
Elton: You made ‘Blue', you made 'Court and Spark', 'Ladies of the Canyon', and then it seems to me as a musician, you wanted to investigate a deeper kind of music, a deeper kind of melody, and you began to make wonderful records like ‘Hejira', 'The Hissing of Summer Lawns', ‘Mingus', 'Don Juan's Reckless Daughter'. And it was just astonishing music to me, who's a piano player, and listening to you play the piano and the chords you played and the melodies you made for me was like heaven. No one did that except you. Do you think that work that you did then, which I think was really ground-breaking, ever got the recognition that it deserved?
Joni: At the time, no, it took a lot of flack if anything. People thought that it was too intimate. It was almost like Dylan going electric. I think it upset the male singer-songwriters. They'd go, "Oh, no. Do we have to bear our souls like this now?” I think it made people nervous. More nervous than... It took to this generation, they seem to be able to face those emotions more easily than my generation.
On how wars enrage her and we should be taking care of the planet’s ecology...
Joni: All wars kind of outrage me. I'm a war baby, I was born in the middle of World War II. But it just seems to me that, I guess it's an old hippie thought like make love, not war, kind of. But you'd think we'd wise up, and take care of the ecology situation instead of starting wars.
On Chuck Berry and his classic 1958 hit 'Johnny B. Goode’...
Joni: I used to go to the Avenue H swimming pool in Saskatoon [Canada]. They had a jukebox and a patio. And I would go, I didn't swim much, but I, not at that pool, but I danced on the patio to 'Johnny B. Goode', it was one of the main, most played records there … he was the best rock and roller, ever. He was a G.O.A.T. [Greatest of All Time]. The king of rock and roll.
Elton on his wish for Joni to record a new album in the room they were speaking in...
Elton: One day I want you to sit in this room, like we're doing now, but with some recording equipment, I want you to make an album in this room. Like Johnny Cash did with ‘Hurt', and he was on his death bed, you're not going to be on your death bed, I think you should make an album in this room because it's so magical. Every corner of this room is Joni. Everything about it is Joni. It's got the ambience of... I've been to a lot of places in my life, but this room is one of the most special rooms I've ever been to in my whole life. And I really want you to consider making a record, maybe new songs, the way you are going, you are tearing up the world at the moment.
Joni: We did some background vocals up in the balcony once. That's the only time we've recorded in this room.
Elton: That is my big ambition for you.
On her album 'Blue's' resurgence and Brandi Carlile...
Elton: I remember going to a concert at Disney Hall where Brandi Carlile sang the whole album [‘Blue'], without a teleprompter, and I said she was crazy. God, I wouldn't have had the courage to do that. How did that feel to you as someone singing that whole album, which is, from start to finish, it is one of the classic records of all time. And I was sitting next to you and the joy from your face was amazing.
Joni: Yeah, well she did such a good job. There have been a lot of covers of my songs but she's very true to the original. So it was kind of like going to my own concert.
Elton: There's only one person in the world that could have done that, and that's Brandi. Because your songs are so hard to sing … ‘Blue' is an astonishing album. And as I say, it has had its resurgence, which must have made you very, very happy.
Joni: Oh, God. Marcy came in and said to me, "Joni, you're Number 1”. I said, "What do you mean I'm Number 1?" And she told, that's how I learned that ‘Blue', 50 years after its release had gone to Number 1. That's just crazy. It was fun, though.