Judy Collins Talks 50 Years of Music

Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll? Judy was there

By Susan Toepfer
Photograph: Photo courtesy of Wildflower Records

 It was my idea to group these songs together. Peter Yarrow had asked me to do the kids’ book. Since he had the CD on the book, I thought, why not put it on the LP and gather all these songs I’ve done in concert?

The CD bookends ideas of paradise—“Over the Rainbow” and Jimmy Webb’s “Gauguin.”  In the Tim Buckley song, “Once I Was,” and Joan Baez’s “Diamonds and Rust,” paradise is not so great. “Dens of Yarrow” is paradise lost. In “Emilio,” his paradise is a little bit more narrow. I had been performing these songs in concert, but now I felt comfortable recording them. It takes a while to get them right.

In the new Broadway show, Sondheim on Sondheim, the great Broadway composer credits you with giving him his only pop hit. He says when you recorded “Send in the Clowns,” then Sinatra and everyone else did.

I’m not sure about that—I think Sinatra may have recorded it first. But I did get a nice note from Stephen Sondheim saying thank you for giving me my first hit.

You’re working on another book—how many is this?

This will be my tenth book—it’s shocking, actually. But I like writing them. This one is called Suite Judy Blue Eyes: Sex , Drugs, Rock & Roll and the Music that Changed a Civilization.

 

You’ve written memoirs before. How is this different?

This has more in-depth, articulate portraits of people I worked with. Joan Baez, Stephen Stills, Mary Travers [of Peter, Paul and Mary]. It covers the Chicago Convention, the trips to Mississippi. I talk about the business, explain it, the role of the club owners, the producers, the rock writers, who were much more influential then.

When Mary Travers died a few months ago, what went through your mind? What do you think about when you look back at your life?

I feel very lucky. I have a life that’s unusual and privileged. Getting to do what you love and make a living doing it—it’s very rare. How many people would love to do what we do?

I don’t think careers nowadays can be built like ours were. Back then, there were lots of footholds that were friendly to artists. Now, everything has to be friendly to money.

You now have your own label, Wildflower Records. How did that come about?

 Out of necessity. Ten years ago, I made a few LPs that were not working. I thought, “Let me put my money into my own business.” The Canadians caught on first. Gordon Lightfoot already had his own label. They saw this coming. They saw that we weren’t getting the kind of support we needed from the traditional labels. It’s better for me to manage myself.

Who do you listen to?

I’m broad in my musical tastes. Classical, new talent…I’m always thinking about getting talent on my label.  I think Susan Boyle has done a lot for music. I very much like her.

When did you first hear Susan Boyle?

I saw her online—like everybody else!

 You have written extensively about your son Clark’s suicide, and I know you are very close to your granddaughter.

 Oh, yes! Very close! She’s 22, in college. She’s very musical and very smart—so smart, I don’t think she’ll go into the music business. She’s an awfully good writer and a poet.

 

Do you talk about her father?

We always talk about her father. I’ve always told her the truth. She’s been privy to every aspect of her heritage, the good and the bad. She’s very intuitive and very realistic.

I’ve read that when you met your husband, Louis, you were the one who pursued him.

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