A club date from Joni Mitchell tonight – recorded at Club 47 in Cambridge Mass. from January 1968.
Folk singer Tom Rush had met Mitchell in Toronto and was impressed with her songwriting ability. He took “Urge for Going” to the popular folk artist Judy Collins, but she was not interested in the song at the time, so Rush recorded it himself. Country singer George Hamilton IV heard Rush performing it and recorded a hit country version. Other artists who recorded Mitchell’s songs in the early years were Buffy Sainte-Marie (“The Circle Game”), Dave Van Ronk (“Both Sides Now”), and eventually Judy Collins (“Both Sides Now”, a top ten hit for her, and “Michael from Mountains”, both included on her 1967 album Wildflowers). Collins also covered “Chelsea Morning”, another recording that eclipsed Mitchell’s own commercial success early on.
While Mitchell was playing one night in the Gaslight South, a club in Coconut Grove, Florida, David Crosby walked in and was immediately struck by her ability and her appeal as an artist. He took her back to Los Angeles, where he set about introducing her and her music to his friends. Soon she was being managed by Elliot Roberts, who, after being urged by Buffy Sainte-Marie, had first seen her play in a Greenwich Village coffee house. He had a close business association with David Geffen. Roberts and Geffen were to have important influences on her career. Eventually she was signed to the Warners-affiliated Reprise label by talent scout Andy Wickham. Crosby convinced Reprise to let Mitchell record a solo acoustic album without the folk-rock overdubs in vogue at that time, and his clout earned him a producer’s credit in March 1968, when Reprise released her debut album, known either as Joni Mitchell or Song to a Seagull.
Mitchell toured steadily to promote the LP. The tour helped create eager anticipation for Mitchell’s second LP, Clouds, which was released in April 1969. This album contained Mitchell’s own versions of some of her songs already recorded and performed by other artists: “Chelsea Morning”, “Both Sides, Now”, and “Tin Angel”. The covers of both LPs, including a self-portrait on Clouds, were designed and painted by Mitchell, a blending of her painting and music that she continued throughout her career.
As a reminder of the early days, just prior to the release of her debut album, here is her Club 47 show from January 1968.