22 November 2009

Happy Belated Birthday, Eh?

Fellow Canadians and musicians Neil Young and Joni Mitchell both celebrated birthdays this month. Neil Percival Young was born on 12 November 1945 in Toronto while Roberta Joan Anderson (Mitchell was the surname of her first husband Chuck) entered the world two years earlier on 7 November in Fort Macleod, Alberta. The two met and became friends in their early days of playing small clubs in Winnipeg; besides sharing country and music, Young and Mitchell both contracted polio as children. The two intersected in at least two other ways: Young and his sometime bandmates David Crosby (whom Joni dated at one time), Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash (whom Joni was dating at the time of Woodstock) had a huge hit with their cover of Mitchell's tune "Woodstock", which she wrote after watching news reports and hearing Nash's firsthand descriptions of the 1969 music festival (while Mitchell was not in attendance, CSN was there playing "a medley of our hit," as they put it, "Suite: Judy Blues"); and Joni and Neil both played at "The Last Waltz" on Thanksgiving 1976, which was the last hurrah of The Band.

Some trivia:
Both of Neil Young's sons have cerebral palsy while Young himself is an epileptic. In fact, one of his working pseudonyms is Bernard Shakey.

Joni Mitchell had a daughter that she gave up for adoption. Even though it was not public knowledge throughout most of her career, she often made passing references to her daughter in her songs (in fact the tune "Little Green" is all about her daughter). Mitchell's daughter found her once she grew up and they still enjoy a relationship.

Martin Scorsese directed the concert film The Last Waltz. It is rumored that the footage had to be altered in order to remove white powder around Young's nose (I have a feeling that he wasn't grinding up his epilepsy meds and snorting them, but hey that's probably just me).

Mitchell's song "Free Man in Paris" from the album Court and Spark is about music mogul/producer David Geffen.

Young played in a Toronto-based band in the mid-60s called The Mynah Birds. They signed with Motown Records in 1966 and started recording an album that was never released because one of the group members was arrested for going AWOL from the US Navy. That musician's name? Rick James, bitch!

Janet Jackson sampled Mitchell's song "Big Yellow Taxi" for the tune "Got 'Til It's Gone" on the Velvet Rope album. Jackson's song also featured Q-Tip and I can recall that Mitchell participated in an MTV commercial (back when the channel played music videos and didn't suck) about older musicians listening to younger musicians, such as Isaac Hayes declaring that he liked Maxwell, and Mitchell enthusiastically praised Jackson's song and how the sample was used.

Joni Mitchell performing "Free Man in Paris"

CSN&Y doing Young's tune "Down By The River"

If you liked "Down By The River" here is the cover by Buddy Miles, former drummer for Jimi Hendrix's post-Experience band, The Band of Gypsys.

Janet Jackson's "Got 'Til It's Gone"

Lynyrd Skynyrd's hit "Sweet Home Alabama" was written in response to Young's scathing songs "Southern Man" and "Alabama". Skynyrd's lead singer Ronnie Van Zant remained a fan and a friend of Young's though, wearing a Neil Young T-shirt on the cover of Street Survivors, the album released three days before the 20 October 1977 plane crash that killed Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, backup singer and Steve's sister Cassie Gaines, the assistant road manager, and the pilot and co-pilot. And legend has it that Van Zant was buried in a Neil Young T-shirt.

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