JONI MITCHELL – ” Coyote ” Rolling Thunder Revue Rehearsal

Posted: March 27, 2021 in MUSIC
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In 1976, after completing a North American tour with the LA Express in support of her album The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Joni Mitchell traveled with friends across the country to Maine. Returning back to the west coast she decided to take a road trip on her own, an ideal opportunity to reflect and meditate as she drove through highways and farm lands. During that trip she composed several songs that would be released later that year on her next album “Hejira”. The album title is a transliteration of the Arabic word hijra, which means “journey”, usually referring to the migration of the prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in 622. She stated that “This album was written mostly while I was travelling in the car.” No piano or keyboards were featured on that album, and many songs from it stayed in her live repertoire late into her career.

I had the privilege of seeing the film version “Rolling Thunder” in theatres, and it was an experience. I couldn’t think of a better venue. There were over a thousand people in the room, and you could feel every one of them. Some people yelled out, “Dylan!” enthusiastically, and they roared after each performance.

After Joni played this number, the crowd was silent for a few moments, then, to my surprise, gave her the biggest applause I heard during the film (yes, even bigger than “Hard Rain” and “One More Cup of Coffee”). I listened to the studio version when I got home, this performance is just wonderful, though it leaves out most of the lyrics.

 “The chords she played on the guitar were not standard. The guys would look at her left hand and go, ‘what?’ I remember this one quote from her: I said ‘What’s that chord?’ and she said ‘I don’t know the name of it. I tune my guitar this way, to make myself stupid’, in other words to not fall into predetermined patterns. I had to figure out what the chords were, then figure out some way for the guys to play something that meshed with her”.

“Coyote”, the first song on the album, describes her brief relationship with Sam Shepard, whom she met at the Rolling Thunder Revue, the concert tour that Bob Dylan assembled with a travelling caravan of musicians. Shepard was hired by Dylan to write a script for a movie based on the events in the Rolling Thunder Revue. That did not materialize, but Shepard did write a tour log that was later released as a book. Joni Mitchell joined the tour for a number of shows in late 1975 and it remained with her as a lingering memory of ego clashes infused by pharmaceuticals and cocaine. Not only as a spectator, mind you, because she started a cocaine habit during that tour.

The road trip that gave birth to the songs on Hejira also led to an acquaintance with Chögyam Trungpa, a teacher of Tibetan Buddhism. He snapped her out of her cocaine habit and she wrote the song Refugee of the Roads about him. In Coyote she references her memory of the sex, drugs and folk n’ roll experience that was the Rolling Thunder Revue:

Gordon Lighthoot, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Roger McGuinn in the same room together.

Watch the amazing documentary “Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese” for more of this incredible and rare footage!

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