Wednesday, December 15, 2021

50 Years Ago - Joni and James

Joni Mitchell’s relationship with James Taylor, while brief (six months if you listen to Joni; a year according to James), inspired a myriad of songs on Joni’s first real venture into jazz, For the Roses. With Joni in the studio (A&M), by December 1971, Taylor was already immersed in his relationship with Carly Simon. While we tend to look more fondly and intently on Joni’s affair with Graham Nash, the “Our House” era, it was James with whom Joni felt she’d found her pair-bond. With the relationship’s demise, Joni put the Lookout Mountain house in Laurel Canyon up for sale and fled to British Columbia.

For recovering addicts, moving to another locale to escape the confines of substance abuse is called a "geographic cure," and that's what James Taylor, battling an addiction to heroin, was looking for when he moved to London in 1968. His debut LP on Apple Records, while critically acclaimed, went unnoticed and James moved back to L.A. a year later, sleeping on Peter Asher’s couch (he was only 21 years old). Upon her return to L.A. from Crete, Joni started seeing James and in that time, the couple accentuated each other’s work, their lyrics and vocals intertwining as Taylor played on Joni's "California," "All I Want" and "A Case of You," and Mitchell provided vocal backup for Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon.
For the Roses' most telling song is “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire,” Joni’s lament on James’ addiction. Some speculate that “A Case of You” from Blue was also written about James (or Leonard Cohen) alongside “Blue” and “All I Want.” (Taylor plays guitar on “California,” “All I Want” and interestingly “A Case of You.”) The James tracks on For the Roses include “See You Sometime,” the title song, and “Woman of Heart and Mind.” The next year, Mitchell would pen “Just Like This Train” for Court and Spark, a painstaking portrayal of their relationship. James in turn would write “You Can Close Your Eyes” for Mud Slide Slim. The couple would record a version that’s been released on The Reprise Years Vol. 2, from the Joni Michell Archives.

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