A lost concert recording of a young Joni Mitchell taped by Jimi Hendrix at an Ottawa coffee house more than a half-century ago has finally turned up. The Dawntreader, a song from the live recording, was released by the Rhino label on Thursday. More of the tracks are set to be part of the boxset Joni Mitchell Archives Vol. 2: The Reprise Years (1968-1971), which comes out Oct. 29.
On March 19, 1968, the flamboyant rock virtuoso Hendrix gave a pair of concerts at Ottawa’s Capitol Theatre. Afterward he dropped by the nearby Café Le Hibou to catch a late set by the nascent Mitchell.
According to Hendrix’s tour diary, he had called Mitchell upon arrival at the city’s Château Laurier hotel, where Mitchell was also staying. In his diary entry for March 19 he noted, “Beautiful hotel … Strange people … Talked with Joni Mitchell on the phone … fantastic girl with heaven words.”
But, as recounted in David Yaffe’s Mitchell biography Reckless Daughter, Mitchell’s initial exchange with Hendrix seems to have happened when the Foxy Lady guitarist shyly approached her at the club that night, carrying a portable (but clunky) Sony tape recorder:
“My name is Jimi Hendrix and I was just signed to Reprise, the same label that you’re on,” he said, according to Mitchell. “Could I tape your show?”
“Sure,” said Mitchell.
Hendrix then situated himself close to the stage, set up the reel-to-reel recorder, put on a pair of headphones and taped the solo-acoustic performance. “He didn’t put [the tape recorder] there and back off,” Michell recalled. “He engineered it all the way through.”
The club was partly owned by Harvey Glatt, who also co-promoted the Hendrix concerts at the Capitol. The lone photo of Hendrix taping Mitchell shows him wearing a floppy leather hat that he almost lost earlier in the night. “He had leaned over into the crowd while he was playing at the Capitol, and a woman took it off his head,” Glatt told The Globe and Mail.
Luckily, the hat thief was easily identifiable because of the yellow raincoat she wore. She was stopped in the lobby after the show and forced to return the groovy chapeau. “Jimi was very upset when he lost the hat, but thrilled when I got it back for him,” Glatt said.
The performance by the 25-year-old Mitchell included some of the material that would be released on her debut album, Songs to a Seagull, just days later. I Don’t Know Where I Stand would appear on 1969′s Clouds, while Ladies of the Canyon was the title song of Mitchell’s third album, released in 1970.
One song Hendrix recorded, The Way It Is, never made it onto a Mitchell studio album.
Unfortunately, as the Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell recalled in his memoir, Jimi Hendrix: Inside the Experience, the tape recorder and tapes were stolen the next day. “End of story on that,” he wrote.
A decade ago, however, the recording was discovered by Ottawa native Ian McLeish, a Canadian music archivist. He was looking through an extensive stash of tapes belonging to his late friend Richard Patterson, a CBC radio producer and a former drummer in the band the Esquires who collected recordings of local artists.
In 2002, McLeish had begun digitizing Patterson’s tapes, some for release on McLeish’s small reissue label, Mousehole Music. After Patterson died in 2011, McLeish took a second look at the reel-to-reel tapes. One of them was labelled “Joni Mitchell Recorded Live At Le Hibou Mar/68.”
“I don’t know how Richard got his hand on the tape,” McLeish told The Globe.
The 1968 Hendrix-Mitchell summit continued after the latter’s show, when the two musicians and a large entourage hit the Motel de Ville in nearby Vanier, site of one of the area’s first discos. Later, the party moved to the Château Laurier for the night.
In his March 20 diary entry, Hendrix mentioned his departure from Ottawa: “I kissed Joni goodbye, slept in the car awhile.”
When Rhino released Joni Mitchell Archives Vol. 1: The Early Years (1963-1967) last year, McLeish contacted Mitchell’s management about the unearthed Ottawa recording. “Joni was overjoyed,” said McLeish, who actually had attended one of the Hendrix concerts at the Capitol Theatre. “She thought the tapes were lost forever.”
The one track released this week, The Dawntreader, is a courtly poetic ballad with glittering lyrics about “peridots and periwinkle blue medallions” and “gilded galleons spilled across the ocean floor.”
It was a different time, 1968.
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