Grammy-winning album showcases a young Joni Mitchell’s ‘Elven’ voice

Joni Mitchell won her 10th Grammy Award on Sunday night: Best Historical Album for Joni Mitchell Archives – Vol. 1: The Early Years (1963-1967).

The album features songs originally recorded in the summer of 1963 on the second floor of the former CFQC building, which is now CTV Saskatoon.

Former CFQC employee Barry Bowman met and befriended Mitchell, who was Joni Anderson at the time, and invited her to the studio for what would be her first-ever recordings.

“I said ‘You know, if you want to do an audition tape, I’m very happy to help you out,'” Bowman said.

“So we went over two nights at CFQC radio in one of the studios, we recorded the tapes, I gave her copies, I kept the masters.”

Bowman says more than 50 years passed until he saw the tapes again — when his daughter brought him a box of belongings from his old house.

“I even just jokingly said, ‘You know you’ve heard me mention to you about the Joni tapes, I wonder if those tapes might be there,'” he said.

“And lo and behold, talk about serendipity, I look through a couple of cassettes and old tapes and there were two reel to reel tapes, Joni Anderson 1963 audition. After I got up off the floor, then it was a question of what are we going to do with the tapes.”

Years later, Bowman would get in touch with Mitchell’s personal assistant, who arranged a weekend visit in Los Angeles for the old friends.

“We were invited down first-class with Joni and we spent the weekend visiting and catching up as much as we could,” he said.

“She was very, very delighted to have the copies of the tape.”

Musical historian Vesti Hanson says you can hear the difference in style between the recordings and Mitchell’s later music.

“What’s really interesting, from a musician’s point of view, is those nine recordings she did downtown Saskatoon when she was 19-years-old, just with a ukulele, you can hear that she’s accompanying herself on the ukulele and she’s singing and her voice is beautiful, like Elven, you know it’s just fantastic,” she said.

“But then you listen to the later recordings of the next say four years that are also part of this collection, the way she accompanies her voice, the relationship in what she’s playing and what she’s singing gets wider and more diverse and sort of like augmented chords and unresolved chords.”

Hanson says downtown Saskatoon is where Mitchell first formed her musical identity.

“She used to trip over the Broadway Bridge and go down to the rough part of town and listen to music because she said that’s where music was better,” said Hanson.

“She’s like 14 right, she’s got gloves on and everything and she goes to listen in the rougher bars to where the music was more interesting, and she tells a story of this woman coming up to her and going, ‘You look too young. Smoke.’ So she gave her a cigarette and that was where she started smoking, was so that she looks slightly older in these bars downtown Saskatoon.”

Bowman says Mitchell’s assistant asked him to write notes on the inside jacket of one of the albums.

“The honor that was even greater for me was to be able to express my thoughts, which you can read on that the back of that particular disk,” he said.

“And she said ‘We’ll put your picture on it too,’ so there’s my 18, 19-year-old self at the control rooms of CFQC.”

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