The Road To ‘Paradise’

With a strong and typically adventurous new album, Judy Collins continues her transcendent aesthetic journey, even as nine reissues of her earlier work illuminate nearly a half-century of bold strokes and exciting discoveries

Appreciating and Reappraising an American Icon

By David McGee


judy-collinsPerhaps if she had done nothing more than persuade an insecure Leonard Cohen to sing his songs for her, Judy Collins would occupy an important place in the music of our time. Of course she’s done so much more than that—and Cohen is far from being the only major songwriter whose career was either launched or given a significant boost by having his or her songs covered by Judy Collins. To that list you would have to add Bob Dylan, Randy Newman, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Ian Tyson, Hugh Prestwood, Anna McGarrigle, Richard and Mimi Fariña—for starters. Owing to her musical ambitions embracing a wider vision than simply the traditional folk ballads and songs of social protest she introduced on her 1961 debut album, A Maid of Constant Sorrow and its 1962 followup, Golden Apples of the Sun, Collins also was largely responsible for the revival of interest in—or the introduction to a new generation of—the complex, intriguing and highly theatrical songs of Jacques Brel, and Brecht-Weill. On her third album, Judy Collins #3, released in 1963, she was covering Dylan’s “Masters of War,” Shel Silverstein’s “Hey, Nelly Nelly,” Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee,” Mike Settle’s “Settle Down,” and Pete Seeger’s “The Bells of Rhymney” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” (Interestiing factoid about Judy Collins #3 and its song selection: credited as the Musical Director on that album was her new friend, a then-struggling folk singer toiling in the Greenwich Village clubs and living in a $15 a week room at the Earl Hotel, James Roger McGuinn. What happened to McGuinn a couple of years later in Los Angeles is fairly well known now.)

Collins’s route to that first album, for the Elektra label, has been thoroughly documented, both by the music press, to which she has been fairly accessible during her career, and even more so by herself (in her 1987 memoir, Trust Your Heart; in its searing sequel, 1998’s Singing Lessons: A Memoir of Love, Loss, Hope and Healing; and in 2006’s Sanity and Grace: A Journey of Suicide, Survival and Strength. The latter two books deal in typically blunt fashion with the pain, guilt and suffering she overcame in surviving her 33-year-old son Clark’s 1992 suicide following a long bout with depression and substance abuse. She has since penned two other books—another aimed at readers dealing with the same issues she confronts on a daily basis, The Seven T’s: Finding Hope and Healing in the Wake of Tragedy [2007], and, before that, one offering tools for maximizing creativity, Morning, Noon and Night: Living the Creative Life [2005]).

antoniaThus basic narrative (unless otherwise noted, all quotes in this section are from Follow the Music: The Life and High Times of Elektra Records in the Great Years of American Pop Culture, by Jac Holzman and Gavan Davis, FirstMedia Books, 1998): Born in Seattle on May 1, 1939, her blind father was a radio host and music was ever-present in the Collins household. A childhood piano prodigy, she studied classical piano with the pioneering female conductor and pianist Antonia Brico (the first woman to conduct the New York Philharmonic, in 1938, and later invited by Jean Sibelius to conduct the Helsinki Symphony Orchestra; Collins documented her teacher’s life in an Academy Award nominated short film in 1974, Antonia: Portrait of a Woman, made with filmmaker Jill Godmilow). At age 14, however, Collins discovered folk music, and, taken by its topicality and directness, notably in the songs of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, and abandoned piano for the guitar. She married, had a child, Clark, and relocated to Denver, where her husband, Peter, a student at Colorado U. and part-time paperboy for the Rocky Mountain News, urged her to start playing out, sure that her voice was so alluring that Judy could make more money s a troubadour than he was hefting newspapers; in return, he would stay home with their baby while she was out singing for their supper.             

“Clark was fast asleep in my arms. I tucked him into his crib and called Michael’s Pub. Michael said, “Sure, come down tomorrow and sing for the Friday night crowd. Let’s see if they like folk music any better than I do.” They did, and by Saturday morning I had a job. Five nights a week, a hundred dollars a week. It was a fortune to us. Peter quit his paper route and we moved out of the basement into a house above ground beside a little river in a woodsy neighborhood in Boulder. The circus, and my career, had begun.” (by Judy Collins, from her liner notes for her 1977 anthology, So Early In The Spring: The First 15 Years.)

holzmanEventually she wound up doing in Greenwich Village what she had been doing in Denver and in Connecticut, at a considerably faster pace owing to the multitude of clubs then welcoming folk artists in downtown Manhattan. Jac Holzman, founder of Elektra Records, was searching for an artist who could be Elektra’s Joan Baez because, as he put it in his book Follow the Music, “Not having an artist as exquisite as Joan rankled me.” Folk singer Bob Gibson, “an uncanny judge of talent as well as a terrific guitar player and banjo picker,” per Holzman, took Holzman to see Judy Collins, ‘because,” Gibson says in Follow the Music, “good as Joan was, I thought Judy had more depth and life, and I told Jac so.”

Holzman first listened to a tape of Collins singing “The Great Silkie” live at the Exodus coffee house in Denver, where she had been a regular.

“It was a dark and stormy night in the basement of the Village Gate, Art D’Lugoff’s wonderful place,” Collins recalled in Follow the Music. “Jac loomed up, a tall, slender, attractive, very clearly businesslike man, put his hand on my arm, and said with absolute conviction, ‘Dear’—which he continues to call me even today—‘you’re ready to make your record.’ And I said, ‘What are you talking about?’

“He seemed to know what he wanted, and he seemed to know what I was doing. But I didn’t know him. And making records wasn’t foremost on my mind. I was very involved in my own family situation, a personal life that was very different from the folk scene. I had a husband who was teaching literature, I had a baby, I had a life in Connecticut in the countryside to which I was very devoted but from which I had to out into other places and make a living doing my work.

‘I don’t know how Jac heard what he heard. A storyteller, yes. He heard the stories, most definitely, and I think he heard the eclecticism of the material even then, roaming in a lot of directions. I think he saw that it was very commercial and viable, and he might have heard the singer through whatever else was going on.’

“I don’t know how Jac heard what he heard. A storyteller, yes. He heard the stories, most definitely, and I think he heard the eclecticism of the material even then, roaming in a lot of directions. Gutsy songs like ‘The Bullgine Run,’ and sea songs, which were a real passion of mine. Railroading songs—I loved railroad songs. Truckdrivers—give me a truckdriver song and I’ll sing it. I think Jac liked the choice of material, and I think he saw this twenty-one-year-old with a guitar singing ‘The Greenland Fisheries’ and thought, ‘This is what I want to do next.’ I think he saw that it was very commercial and viable, and he might have heard the singer through whatever else was going on.

“A week after Jac, John Hammond of Columbia came to see me and said, ‘You’re ready to make a record.’ And I said, ‘Well, you’re a week too late, because I’ve already made a verbal agreement with Jac Holzman.’ We often laughed about that, John and I. He was another great music man. Perhaps John and Jac had a singular gift in that they saw the artist and the talent and they said, ‘I want to work with that.’ They didn’t say, ‘I wanna lay such and such on this artist.’”

“What I saw in Judy,” Holzman says, “was a captivating voice, a good story sense, but still unsure of herself and lacking authority.”

“What I saw was a man who could float around as many clubs in the Village as he wanted, and he would never lose the look of somebody who was thinking and filtering everything through that brain of his. He was not a hanging-out kind of laid-back kind of drifting mindless folkie by any means. There was no vagueness around him. He was very, very clear; always articulate, very determined about what he wanted to do. No ambivalence. And I need that and I want that from people. It was just a meeting of the minds.”


Judy Collins, ‘Daddy, You’ve Been On My Mind,’ by Bob Dylan; from Rainbow Quest, Pete Seeger’s short-lived TV show from 1965 that aired on only seven stations

Following the release of the first two albums, and growing notice of her artistry in and even a bit beyond the folk community, Collins hit something more than a speed bump; she pretty much went flying off the road and into oblivion. Her marriage was collapsing and she was fighting for custody of her son. Then, inexplicably, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. While she was in treatment at the Jewish National Hospital in Denver, Holzman came calling, with live albums in tow, recorded by Jacques Brel at the Paris Olympia.

“What attracted me to Brel, one, he was writing his own songs, and two, he graduated from a guitar to working with a symphony,” Collins says.

Holzman: “Judy was a classical pianist, and she appreciated the progression. The Brel records were what started Judy moving beyond the boundaries of conventional ‘folk.’ On her next album, Judy Collins #3, she began her interpretations of new songs written by her contemporaries. … Judy Collins #3 is where it starts to show for the first time. Judy was back and in better vocal shape than ever. Her interpretation of Dylan’s ‘Masters of War’ was edgy and unsettling, a mother’s lament over man-made stupidities that murdered the young. Everyone involved with the making of that record was rooting for her. The gods smiled. It was a knockout album.

“Bill Harvey did the art work,” Collins says of the staking cover head shot. “I did all my covers with him. We sweated, we argued, we had scenes, we tore our hair out—you know, we really cared about how the album was going to look.”

“The 12-inch LP was a great format visually,” says Holzman. “You could do a lot with its size. Compared to the limited five-inch square of the CD, it had grandeur.


‘A knockout.’

“Bill Harvey knew how to present an artist. For Elektra, compelling covers were essential to capture the eye of the browser and convey the drama of the music to people forced to buy on faith, because we had very little radio support, and retailers no longer provided listening booths. Elektra graphics—by intention and hard work—were a key part of our identity.

“I always thought that Vanguard’s graphics for Joan Baez failed to do her justice. With the album cover for Judy’s #3 we hit a home run. A whole square foot, 144 square inches of four-color—it just leaped out of the rack at you. It was a simple close-up, but with those challenging, intensely piercing blue eyes staring directly into yours. A knockout.”




‘I Think It’s Going To Rain Today,’ Judy Collins on The Smother Brothers Comedy Hour. Hers was the first recorded version of this beautiful Randy Newman classic, from Collins’s 1966 In My Life album, newly reissued by Collector’s Choice. Note the quizzical phrasing of “today” at the end of the song.

We arrive at this moment with an unusual opportunity to reflect on and appraise Judy Collins anew. Forty-nine years have passed since A Maid of Constant Sorrow introduced her, and her resume shows close to 50 albums, seven books, an Academy Award nomination as a filmmaker and honors both academic and cultural. She brought Stephen Sondheim to the mainstream of popular culture with her stunning interpretation of “Send In the Clowns,” which was an even bigger hit (#19) upon its re-release in 1977 than when it was initially issued as a single in 1975 and peaked at #39. She has acted in and been the subject of films. She won a Grammy in 1968 for her transcendent recording of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” In May 2009, Pratt Institute awarded her an honorary doctorate in Fine Arts.

Here in mid-summer of 2010, Judy Collins has both a powerful new album, Paradise, newly released, and, via the Collector’s Choice label, nine reissues of albums reflecting highlights from four decades of her recording career. She’s touring, both in the States and in Europe (where, surprisingly, she says she hasn’t much of a presence—she’s been so busy working in the States that she’s never focused diligently on Europe, but that’s all changing now), and she has much to talk and to sing about.

judy-paradiseParadise is a reckoning of sorts. Its only original Collins tune is potent indeed: “Kingdom Come,” a reflection on the events and aftermath of 9/11 inspired by the exploits of the first responder firefighters who died trying to save others on that horrific day, first appeared in slightly different form in her Wildflower Festival appearance with Arlo Guthrie, Tom Rush and Eric Anderson (now available on DVD) but has been updated and dramatically rethought both sonically and vocally and ranks with the most affecting and emotionally resonant songs she has ever recorded, whether those be her own or others’. Ever diligent in her career-long quest to support the work of gifted young artists, she stays on the topical path with a moving rendition of a new anti-war song, “Weight of the World,” by Amy Speace, who is signed to Collins’s Wildflower label and was profiled in the August 2009 issue of this publication. Jimmy Webb’s complex, orchestrated “Gaugin,” as evocative as an art song, finds Collins at her most nuanced in exploring the songwriter’s impressionistic take Gaugin’s move to Tahiti and search for a personal place of peace. Songs such as these indicate her continuing passion for exploring new ground, taking some risks, hearkening back to the breakthrough of Judy Collins #3. Yet she also summons the memory of her earliest years by returning to the traditional fold of yore, whether it’s in choosing to perform a touching piano-and-vocal treatment of Arlen-Harburg’s timeless “Over the Rainbow,” not attempting to wrest it from Judy Garland or Eva Cassidy but successfully finding her own, stirring point of reference in the tune; or taking the subtle measure of the ancient “Dens of Yarrow,” hers being an abridged version of the original Child Ballad, “The Braes o Yarrow,” a Scottish border ballad replete with no less than 18 lengthy, detailed verses and is likely several ballads collected under one title, all telling a similar tale, as was Child’s practice if he came across a number of songs containing variations on a common theme. Not least of all, she summons some familiar names who comprise vital parts of her biography—with Joan Baez she duets on the Baez’s song to Dylan, “Diamonds and Rust,” and in dueting with Stephen Stills, he of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and a famous romance with Collins, on an emotional “The Last Thing On My Mind,” written by her former Elektra labelmate and Greenwich Village contemporary Tom Paxton, she links her past to her present in stirring fashion.

Judy Collins and Stephen Stills, Sag Harbor, NY, 1969. Photo by Graham Nash.

Though not chronological, the nine titles reissued by Collector’s Choice do have some connections and milestones of note. Two are from the ‘60s, three are from the ‘70s, two are from the ‘80s, and from the ‘90s is a lone representative, Christmas At the Biltmore Estate, a live performance recorded at the Biltmore Estate (reputed to be the largest private home ever built) in Asheville, NC, and broadcast as a holiday special on the A&E network (it’s also available as a DVD that is not part of the Collector’s Choice release).

The nine reissues:

judy-fifth-album*Fifth Album (1965)—features three Bob Dylan tunes as well as songs by Eric Anderson, Tom Paxton, Richard Fariña and Gordon Lightfoot (“Early Morning Rain”). John Sebastian sits in on a harmonica, Danny Kalb and Eric Weissberg are on guitars. Anderson’s classic “Thirsty Boots” is given a treatment many regard as definitive.




judy-in-my-life*In My Life (1966)—second only to her towering 1967 album, Who Knows Where the Time Goes (not included in this reissue series), as her most important work of the decade. With 22-year-old arranger-conductor Joshua Rifkin blending classical and folk ideas in a visionary way, Collins made a great leap forward in every way, singing with impressive authority and greater subtlety, as she assayed a breathtaking range of material from not only Dylan and Donovan (“Sunny Goodge Street,” one of Donovan’s most underrated tunes), but also took on Lennon-McCartney in a tender interpretation of the title tune, and introduced the work of Randy Newman (a deeply nuanced reading of “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today”) and Leonard Cohen (“Suzanne” and “Dress Rehearsal Rag”), and went way out on a limb with highly theatrical stagings of Brecht-Weill-Blitzstein’s “Pirate Jenny,” Brel’s “La Colombe,” and, especially, Richard Peaslee’s “Marat/Sade,” in an arrangement of spectacular vividness sonically that Collins met head-on with an impassioned reading that revealed a natural actress within.

judy-whales*Whales & Nightingales (1970)—Recorded in a variety of settings chosen to match the songs’ emotional ambience, this long player includes Collins’s towering rendition of the traditional “Farewell to Tarwathie,” featuring atmospheric enhancement by the actual songs of humpback whales as captured by Roger Payne, well in advance of the greater public awareness of the secret life of whales and the perilous nature of their existence, plus a couple more Brel songs, Brendan Behan’s “The Patriot Game,” a memorable balladic take on Dylan’s “Time Passes Slowly,” and the onset of her emergence as a songwriter with the two-part “Nightingale.”


‘Farewell to Tarwathie’—a traditional whaling song dating back to 1850 arranged and adapted by Judy Collins for her Whales & Nightingales album in 1970. Her recording featured atmospheric enhancement by the actual songs of humpback whales as captured by Roger Payne, well in advance of the greater public awareness of the secret life of whales and the perilous nature of their existence.

judy-true*True Stories And Other Dreams (1973)—Continuing to exert herself as a songwriter, Collins contributed five originals to this nine-song long player, the key tune being the album closing, seven-and-a-half-minute opus to Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, titled “Che.” An album of rich textures, True Stories opens with a bubbling take on Valeria Carter’s “Cook With Honey,” and also features a thoughtful reading of Stills’s “So Begins the Task,” and a continuation of her own fascination with sea tales in a delightful, spirited original, “Fisherman Song,” with its subtly inserted message in the middle of the singsong chorus—one of the best she’s ever written—about the title character never catching “more than he can sell in a day,” a sentiment that certainly rang true then and does even more so today when the earth’s natural resources have been so plundered. Beautiful in every way, this album’s #17 peak chart position is almost irrelevant in light of its undiminished timeliness and captivating artistry from behind the board to behind the mikes.

Judy, on autoharp, joins the Muppets on Sesame Street for a rousing rendition of her ‘Fisherman Song,’ a subtle message song with an infectious chorus, one of the best she’s ever written. Rang true then, even more so today. This song is on her 1973 album, True Stories And Other Dreams.

judy-bread*Bread & Roses (1976)—One of two albums produced back-to-back for Collins by the daunting Arif Mardin (who had already made the Bee Gees the kings of disco with is production of the Aussie brothers’ Main Course album and was one year away from making them the biggest band in the world with their Saturday Night Fever tracks), Bread & Roses (so named for the title song by Mimi Fariña, which was originally a poem and became the name for her humanitarian organization) has been too easily overlooked in Collins’s catalogue. It ranks with the most nuanced album-length performances she’s given, and Mardin’s arrangements are completely attuned to the singer’s emotions. Songs range from the title tune to Leonard Cohen’s “Take This Longing,” to Elton John & Bernie Taupin’s “Come Down in Time,” to “Plegarai A Un Labrador” by the Chilean singer-songwriter-activist Victor Jara (whose grisly, very public execution was documented in Arlo Guthrie’s chilling song “Victor Jara”), to a tune by an emerging new Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter, Andrew Gold, who would subsequently be championed by Linda Ronstadt.

judy-running*Running For My Life (1980)—After working most all of her career with Elektra staff producer Mark Abramson—the most significant of her musical partnerships by far—Collins became her sole producer, although she insists she was involved to such a degree in all her recordings that she was, in effect, her own producer all along. Be that as it may, this interesting outing includes a couple more swings at Sondheim in “Gren Finch and Linnet Bird” and “Pretty Women,” both from Sweeney Todd; a revisiting of Brel’s “Marieke,” which she had recorded ten years earlier on Whales & Nightingales; a wrenching love ballad by way of Larry Gatlin’s “I’ve Done Enough Dyin’ Today”; and a droll rendition of “Rainbow Connection,” which may have inspired Willie Nelson’s later version but was certainly appropriate for this artist, who was no stranger to guest star spots on The Muppet Show and obviously had a close relationship with the song’s originator, Kermit the Frog, who had introduced it only a year earlier.

judy-times*Times of Our Lives (1982)—Dominated by the songs of country hitmaker Hugh Prestwood and Collins herself, Times of Our Lives features banjo master Bill Keith for some added atmosphere on her own “Don’t Say Goodbye to Love,” but centered her studio band on solid R&B and jazz veterans such as guitarist Hugh McCracken, bassist Tony Levin and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. The advance here is in the personal nature Collins’s songwriting had taken. Never before had she revealed herself on record in such a vulnerable, raw state as she does in original songs addressing her grandfather (“Grandaddy”), her mother (“Mama Mama”), her own fears of abandonment (“Angel On My Side”), and in expressing doubts about her mothering nature along with soaring hopes for her child in a frank epistle, “The Rest of Your Life.” It closes with her blunt but earnest pleading for reconciliation in “Don’t Say Goodbye to Love,” in which she bares heart and soul in practically begging a lover’s return, concluding with: “I want to hide in the past/Where I thought that I’d found love at last/Love that would suffer my sins/Love that would let me begin to live/Don’t say goodbye to love/Don’t say goodbye to love/It’s what I’ve always feared!” Always bright, upbeat, good humored and sharp witted on stage, Collins here offered the first unalloyed look inside her soul, the initial unveiling of an unsettled, perhaps tumultuous, personal life outside the public sphere. Five years after this album’s release she would publish her first memoir, in which she revealed her battle with alcoholism and conflicted family situation, and from there things only got more complicated for awhile.

judy-home-again*Home Again (1984)—After all these years of showing her beautiful face in striking head shots on the covers of her albums, Collins is pictured on the dark cover of Home Again with her features partially obscured by a black cloak, although the lone visible and legendary blue eye does tend to get one’s attention nevertheless. Produced by jazz man Dave Grusin, Home Again is a hit-and-miss affair—the burbling electronics on “Don’t Say Love” simply don’t make it, and the multi-tracking on her voice disconnects her emotionally from the song, as could be said for the album opening “Only You.” When it works—on the lush, orchestrated, tear-stained ballad, “From Where I Stand” and on the piano-and-vocal-dominated arrangement of “Sweetheart On Parade,” a cataloguing of the desolation left in the wake of love’s departure—it produces a memorable, lasting effect. Maybe that’s why she’s only peeking out at us from the cover—the whole artist rarely emerges here, as the photo seems to suggest. This is the least of the nine reissues.

judy-christmas*Christmas At the Biltmore Estate (1997)—Marking her temporary return to the Eleketra fold (Jac Holzman was long since retired by this time), Collins does what she does as well as any singer around, and that’s to make these songs, some as ancient as the 15th Century (“I Saw Three Ships”), seem fresh again. The delicate joy of “The Holly and the Ivy,” the triumph of “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” the wonder of “What Child Is This?” and the soaring hope of “The First Noel” are fully realized in arrangements both spare and grand, as the approach demands. Exemplary holiday fare, uplifting and reverent all at once, resonant throughout and beautifully engaged vocally—a Yuletide gift for all seasons.

(Note: On the import front, this past March, 101 Distribution released a box set of five vintage Judy Collins. These include Fifth Album and In My Life, with the other three being Judith (the second of the Arif Mardin productions), the fabled Who Knows Where the Time Goes, and Wildflowers. These reissues were not available for review but can be purchased at www.amazon.com.)



‘I Was Always In Transition, From The Very Beginning Of My Life’

TheBluegrassSpecial.com Intervivew With Judy Collins

The heat was on in New York City in early August when Judy Collins called (picking up the phone and hearing the voice on the other end of the line say, “Hi, this is Judy Collins and I have an interview with you,” is definitely a career highlight for your faithful friend and narrator). Only a few seconds into our chat, she excused herself and turned away from the receiver to say to someone near her, “No, that’s not it. I want cool air coming from that, not hot air! It’s blowing hot air. I want cool air!” It was as if she was speaking for all of Gotham’s sweltering residents, the ever ripening eight million.

But an interview it was, ranging over the entire course of her extraordinary, important career, settling in at key junctures for a revisit and reconsideration of a certain project, fast forwarding to other milestones represented by the nine reissues brought to market in late July by Collector’s Choice, and then honing in one her new album, Paradise, to put it all in perspective and bring our chat full circle. Judy Collins then and now were part of the discussion, and she freely reflected on some of the issues raised by the song selections and her own writing as collected in the reissues. She also had time to take a dig at Stephen Sondheim, rake the major labels over the coals, and speak frankly about her thoughts on a proposed mosque approved for a site near where the World Trade Center towers once stood—a heated controversy that erupted long after she wrote “Kingdom Come,” a song inspired by firefighters’ heroism on 9/11 and included on Paradise along with a new anti-war song penned by young Amy Speace, who records for Collins’s Wildflower label. At 71, Judy Collins is as beautiful as ever, as fearless as ever, and clearly energized by the response to her new album. As Rhett Butler said of Scarlett O’Hara: “What a woman!”

Paradise. It was released in June, just ahead of these nine reissues from Collector’s Choice. it’s almost like a bookend to the older albums—

How interesting!

It’s like you’ve come full circle on the new album, returning to the folk singer of your youth, a point that’s emphasized on the duet with Joan Baez on “Diamonds & Rust,” a song she wrote for Dylan, whose songs you were so instrumental in exposing in your early career. There’s a duet with Stephen Stills, with whom you have a famous history. And you’re embracing topical fare, as usual, and, also as usual, introducing the work of another impressive young songwriter, Amy Speace, who was profiled in this publication last year—her anti-war song “Weight Of the World” is incredibly moving, and you do it more than justice.

It’s incredible, isn’t it?

And your own song, “Kingdom Come,” paying poetic tribute to the heroism of the firefighters on 9/11. I’m not sure I can articulate how this hit me, because I worked as a volunteer at Ground Zero for nearly five months, starting two days after the attack.

Oh, my God.

All I can say is you really captured something that was in the air down there, and I don’t mean the asbestos floating around. Something about the feeling, the spirit that bound all of us together in our work there.

I can’t imagine. It breaks me up now even to think about it. I had gone to an event at the Roxy club for all these firefighters. When 9/11 happened, all of a sudden we got to know this incredible community of firefighters and all these people down there doing this work and the enormity of their loss of 343 people that day. That night at the Roxy I got to know some of these people, and I’m still friends with a couple of those guys. Jim McGrath is one of my friends, and he lost 92 of his friends that day. It’s inconceivable. The event is so fundamental in our history, it has everything to do with what’s going on in the world, in this country and in this absolutely altered vision of ourselves. Try getting on an airplane today. It has altered our sense of one another, our sense of civil rights; thanks to the lies of the Bush administration it has drawn us into the most grotesque and disgusting wars. So after I kept talking about it my husband said, “I think you better sit down and write something about this.” I was friends with somebody who had begun to have events at firehouses, where people would go and hang out. So I got to do that. When I finished the song I premiered it at our local firehouse in New York. And sang it in a number of other firehouses, and got to know these guys. They’re just amazing—it is a brotherhood of an extraordinary kind, with its own prejudices and its own positive outlook and its own ambivalence about one thing or another, but in its strength it’s just an amazing community.

You couldn’t have known about the timing of this, but your album comes out in June, just as we in New York City are in this heated debate about whether it’s appropriate for a mosque to be built near Ground Zero.

Oh, my God! I can’t stand it! I can’t stand it. I can’t stand it. I’m of about nine minds about this. I loathe the idea. I am very prejudiced, deeply, deeply prejudiced on all kinds of levels. However, I can’t argue with what (New York City Mayor Michael) Bloomberg said. He reminded us that this terrible act was committed in the face of the fact that there were people from 82 countries in those towers, and what we have always fought for is religious freedom. Tell that to some of the conservatives in the country, but that’s what we’ve always fought for. But I can see it from about nine perspectives.

It’s the most horrifying, devastating thing that one can imagine. I was talking to my musical director the other day and he said, “Of course. Look at what was going on in the ninth, tenth, eleventh centuries between the Protestants and the Catholics. Look at the people hanging on spikes with their gizzards hanging out of their bodies. Look at what we were doing to each other. And then we had a Reformation.” Well, there has not been a Reformation in the Muslim community. There was an article yesterday about a group of Muslims from different sects in the United States who are putting together ways to gather people to speak out against the radicals in the Arabic community. That’s where the Reformation starts. We can’t look at this war in which we’re participating without disgust and we also can’t lookwithout disgust at the Iranians stoning a woman to death for adultery. Go up on Google Earth and look down at the Earth and say, “Well, let’s see. What’s the timetable for somebody getting sane about these things? How long will that take?” I don’t know, but we’re certainly in the midst of something historic.

Amy Speace, who records for Judy Colins’s Wildflower label, performs her anti-war song, ‘Weight of the World.’ Says Collins: ‘The first time I heard the song I just went nuts, and I said, ‘I gotta sing that song.’’

In a career in which you’ve been so instrumental in introducing us to the songs of artists who have become important voices in their time, your latest discovery is Amy Speace. How did you find her?

Amy’s on my label, and I found her a couple of years ago. This is her second album and this song is on it. The first time I heard the song I just went nuts, and I said, “I gotta sing that song.”

When you planned Paradise, did you intend to give the impression of a reckoning going on? Mixing traditional fare with topical songs, one of those being by a relatively new artist who’s at the beginning of what looks like a promising career? It’s like a map of your career.

There were things about it that were very predictable. I have a book out called Over the Rainbow, it’s a best seller on the Times list. I recorded “Over the Rainbow” for a book for Peter Yarrow, for his imprint. His publisher had done a book on Puff the Magic Dragon and sold a million copies.

I had learned, at great personal risk, I must say, the new Jimmy Webb song, a marvelous, extraordinary song, “Gaugin.” I think it’s something that has to grow on you. And it took me a long time to learn it. But I was ready—I had spent a year performing the “Gaugin” song and finally got it to the place where I wanted it to be. So I recorded both of those songs on the session for which I did “Over the Rainbow” for Peter Yarrow’s imprint, and I had a few other things in my pocket. Like I knew I wanted to do a duet with Stephen—I didn’t know what or when, but I knew I did. Then I started cogitating about what other things I would put on the album, and realized I had to do “Kingdom Come” again, because I had never done it justice. I had put it on a little live album, the Judy Collins Wildflower Festival, with Eric Anderson, Arlo Guthrie and Tom Rush on it. But it was sort of a throwaway, and also I hadn’t gotten the words down properly. I felt I had to get back to that song. I’ve been singing it a lot lately and I find it to be very important to sing. So I knew I would do that.

Judy Collins and Joan Baez, reunited at the 2009 Newport Folk Festival and on Collins’s new album, Paradise, singing Baez’s song to Bob Dylan, ‘Diamonds & Rust.’

Then somebody asked me last year if I was interested in singing “Diamonds & Rust,” and I immediately called Joan and said, “Why don’t we do it as a duet?” I knew I was going to do Amy’s song, “Weight of the World,” because I had already started to do that in concert. “Dens of Yarrow” I had known since about 1963, but I had never recorded it. It sort of popped into my mind in the studio one day, and I said, “It’s time for me to do this.” I was saying to somebody earlier today, I have never heard anybody else sing that song. It’s a Child ballad, the authentic real deal, Irish-Celtic-English-Scottish song, but I’ve never heard anybody else do it. I only knew it from this little tape that the guy who runs the Denver Folklore Center gave to me a hundred years ago.

What’s on your schedule for the rest of the year?

I’m supporting the album and the book all over the map, doing book signings, going to Europe—we’ve already been there twice this year. We were there in January for two weeks and now we’re going back. The record’s doing well in England and in France, so we’re going back this time and see if we can stir the pot up there. I have never had a touring presence in Italy, or in Europe—isn’t that odd?

How is that possible?

Weellll…because, frankly, there was always so much work in the States. We’ve planted the seeds, we’ve done the work over the past five years, and now we’re reaching into the Continent, and it’s very exciting what’s going on. The record’s getting great reviews, it’s showing up nicely on Amazon, and we’ve done some promotion, but not much. We’ll really hit that in the next four months.

The new Collector’s Choice reissues comprise nine albums spanning a time from basically from 1965, with Fifth Album, to 1984’s Home Again, with a live Christmas album from 1997, which marked your return to the Elektra fold. Two from the ‘60s, three from the ‘70s, three from the ‘80s, one from the ‘90s. Other than representing four decades of your recording career, is there a greater meaning in the selection of these titles for the reissue? Did you have a hand in selecting the titles for reissue?

No, I had nothing to do with it. They didn’t re-release the first four because I had had the rights to release them on my label, Wildflower Records. I think they probably thought it was better to release things that hadn’t been reissued. Fifth Album was a good place to start, actually. The fourth album was a concert album, and has some wonderful things on it. Fifth Album really took into account the writing of Eric Anderson, Richard and Mimi Fariña, it was a very interesting and strong album. So I think they started there for maybe continuity reasons. The first two were traditional, the third I was breaking into Dylan and Pete Seeger and so on, then the concert album. So it was probably a good place to start.

Fifth Album does have a quality of looking back and looking ahead. As you pointed out you had songs from Dylan and Eric Anderson, but also from Gordon Lightfoot, Phil Ochs, a new generation of songwriters coming of age in the rock ‘n’ roll era.

That’s right. That was the crop I was involved with. I lived in the Village, I was very much involved with these writers, knew them all very well, and loved their music. So I chose what I hoped were the best songs and did them.


Did you regard Fifth Album at the time as kind of a transition for you?

I was always in transition, from the very beginning of my life. I was a pianist for the first 14 years of my life, played with an orchestra, played Mozart, studied Chopin and Beethoven and Rachmaninoff, and was a ferociously devoted pianist. Then came age 14 when I found folk music on the radio and got a guitar and started singing traditional songs mostly; then got signed in ’61 to Elektra. The first two albums were traditional songs for the most part, then I broke into the singer-songwriter tradition on the third album, and then I was in New York, where there was just a flurry of this kind of material. The first real recording transition was going from the traditional to the written songs—written songs were controversial then. Even though Pete Seeger had been writing songs forever, there was still a sort of something that made people wince a little bit when you sang written songs. But all these musicians and writers were breaking out, and I didn’t write songs, so I got to be there to catch them when they fell out of the windows. And the Fifth Album, as you said, was kind of a profound change. But that’s my nature.

Profound change is a calling card.


The breakthrough hinted at by the selection of songs on Fifth Album was realized a year later in 1966 with the In My Life album in daring fashion, at a time rock was becoming more ambitious in its musical aspirations, due largely to the Beatles. But you were coming out of a folk tradition, with a track record as a premier folk interpreter. On In My Life you completely stretched the boundaries of what was possible or acceptable by covering Blitzstein-Brecht-Weill (“Pirate Jenny”), Brel (“La Colombe”) and a breathtaking arrangement of a song from “Marat/Sade” that you very consciously assembled. How did “Marat/Sade” come together?

(laughs) I had gone to see the play, and one of the most famous record people in the business in New York was giving me a ride home one day from something, and he said, “What are you doing?” He’d been to see everything on Broadway and he had great artists on his label. I said, “I’m going to record the music from Marat/Sade.” There was a long pause and he said, “Well, I saw that and I didn’t hear any music.” (laughs) So I guess that was dramatic in itself, that I heard it and he didn’t.

So I got a reel-to-reel tape made. I was used to cutting and pasting, because when we were making records we were using quarter-inch tape and we would cut and paste and edit. So I knew how to do that. And Jac Holzman had given me this beautiful tape record that I could work with, and I was cutting and pasting that piece of music together. I had everything from the music, and I wanted to make something of a song out of it. So I did that. Now nobody ever complained—I mean, Richard Peaslee, who wrote that music, never complained. I guess they were glad to see it on an album. And the chorus remains intact: “Marat, we’re poor and the poor stay poor.” It was daring, but we didn’t know how daring it was. My producer, Mark Abramson, and I, we were always trying to push the envelope, we were always trying to be more creative, have more fun, do things that were different, find some excitement here.

You had to be among the first, if not the first, to bring Brecht-Weill to the mainstream for that generation, with “Pirate Jenny.” It was a year later that the Doors covered “Alabama Song” on their debut album, but you were onto the Brecht-Weill catalogue much earlier.

I’ll tell you about the source of that. My producer, Mark Abramson, and I were listening to everything and thinking about everything. Also we had Mark’s protégé and associate on some of the Nonesuch album, Josh Rifkin, on that album doing orchestrations. So we all put our minds together and found what we thought would work best. Making In My Life, when I had just found Leonard Cohen—in fact I didn’t find Leonard Cohen until we were almost through making that album. I believe we had already been to England and recorded the “Marat/Sade” music, and I had already done “Pirate Jenny,” and I had already gotten back to playing piano because I had to play piano to find my way around “Pirate Jenny.” And it was then that I found Leonard, and of course I fell in love with these songs. It was a breathtaking departure, really, and had we known how risky it was I don’t know what we would have done. We certainly didn’t think of it as risky; we thought of it as exciting and challenging.

Leonard Cohen and Judy Collins, ‘Suzanne,’ 1976

But you had actually met Leonard at that time, correct? And he was aspiring to be a recording artist.

He was a poet, he wrote poems and read them in obscure, smoky little clubs in Canada—that was the extent of his fame. However, he had gotten it into his head that he wanted to write songs. He and I had a mutual friend who lived in town and she said, “He wants to come to town and sing you his songs.” You know, I’m always up for that. It was 1966, and he came to the house some time in the spring of that year. He walked in the door and didn’t sing anything that night, which I always found very amusing. He sang nothing, he went away very late at night, we’d all had a lot of wine to drink, but he hadn’t sung a thing. I said, “If you write songs and you’d like me to hear them, why don’t you come back tomorrow and try playing them? That would be a good first step.” I think he thought he could talk his way through this evening and he wouldn’t even have to sing them! (laughs) So he came back the next day and sang me “Dress Rehearsal Rag,” which was perfect—it fit the rest of the material. It was a dark song about a suicide, a possible suicide attempt. I was all for it. It was dark—that was what I loved about it; it was dark and dramatic and different. And extremely vivid. I loved it. Then I fell in love with “Suzanne,” which I also think is a great song, so I recorded both of those on that album, there among the Brecht, the Weill, the Richard Peaslee; the Beatles, of course, “In My Life”—that was risky. In a way it was the most risky thing to do. So that was another sign that this was not going to be a smooth, predictable career by any means.

Do you say the Beatles’ song was risky to do because of the magnitude of their popularity?

No, the peer pressure within the community, the “folk community” that constituted my audience. There are a lot of snobs in the music business, and crossing over was not popular. People were not doing it.

There are actually multiple storylines on that album. Obviously the material is one. The way the material is presented is another, because that album’s blending of classical and folk so seamlessly was unlike anything we were hearing at that time. You’ve already pointed out and given credit to Joshua Rifkin.


He would later singlehandedly rescue Scott Joplin from complete obscurity with two exciting albums of Joplin’s music—

Brilliant! Brilliant!

But that was after In My Life. He was very young at that time—

He was a child! (laughs)

How did you all work together in the studio to fashion the arrangements?

He was a doll. Very, very meticulous, and he was a good sport. Nothing offputting about him in any way. He wasn’t a rigid, cold, classical highbrow. He was a kid! He had studied conducting and composing, and he was excited. For him, this was a big deal. He was doing adventurous things.

Joshua Rifkin (photo: Michael Robert Williams)

Jac Holzman, whom I adore, had started this label called Nonesuch. Jac and I have always been very close friends, and he always came to me with his good ideas. When I came to Elektra, there was Josh White, there was Ed McCurdy, there was Oscar Brand, there was Cynthia Gooding, there was Theodore Bikel, and after I got there and we started making waves and making history. He would bring me the Doors’ songs and play them, and say, “What do you think?” And I’d say, “I love it! I love it!” He was branching out—The Doors, Carly Simon, all kinds of incredible artists. But he also started his own classical label called Nonesuch, which to me was a classical oddball label. He had things on there like the Scott Joplin, but he also had Mendelssohn and Handel, and orchestrations and new productions of things that Josh Rifkin would conduct. He found Josh; I don’t know how he found him. But he found him up in Boston and he put him together with Tracey Stern of Nonesuch. Tracey was the president of Nonesuch—I don’t know that he called her that. But she did was. She did all the work, she found all the material, she found everybody to play, she booked the halls, she did the budgets. And she had worked with Josh. So we knew him. And that was where the brainstorm came of “Why don’t we get together with Josh Rifkin and do some of these exciting things that we want to do?”

How did you react to what he did or wanted to do? I don’t know what you heard first, or how you heard it, but what was your reaction to his ideas?

Oh, believe me—believe me—this was not a solo routine on his part. I work, and have always worked, intimately with my producers and orchestrators. They don’t do anything I don’t approve of. So you say, “Let’s do something more risky, let’s take that a little farther.” I’m not sitting down and writing the scores, but believe me, I approved of everything that happened, and had my total say-so. Although it doesn’t say “producer” on those early records, you bet I was.

The other person who had become a key member of your studio team from the beginning was Mark Abramson. This might be too broad a question, but can you pinpoint what you learned from him in terms of realizing your vision in the studio, understanding what was possible in the studio?

That’s another point. This was not anything I learned from anybody. This is something that was created out of my talent and the collaborative forces with my producers, with Mark. This was never somebody saying, “Oh, you should do this” or “You should do that.” That’s not how it works in my life, never has. So what did we all learn? We all learned that risk taking paid off. That’s what we intended to try and that’s what we learned, that the only way to go is to take a risk. Flo Kennedy, the wonderful activist, said a great thing. She said, “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room.” I think that’s true. That’s what we were doing; we were always doing that. You have to remember, at Elektra we were all learning together, we were doing things, Elektra and I and the other artists who were on that label, Jac and his incredible team of people who worked on that label, we were creating the marketing phenomenon that of course the big record companies now have forgotten all about. They have forgotten who put them in business, they have forgotten who made them all that money, they have forgotten everything about the essence of what the music business is about. And they’ve turned their backs on it entirely. That’s why I had to start my own label; Paradise is on Wildflower Records. But I’ll tell you I have never forgotten those things. I have never forgotten them. And I think that’s true for any of the artists who have lasted all these years and are still working and creating and producing and performing and making records. You don’t come by that easily; it’s a hard lesson, but we’ve learned it.

Was the sense at that time that you were making it up as you went along?

That’s what creativity is. What creativity is, if you’re lucky, is making it up as you go along. There aren’t any rules. It’s just like science. There aren’t any rules. You stumble on the formula that creates the next big thing, the most exciting, most wonderful, most successful thing—it was an accident; it always was an accident, because creativity is accidents, one after another, that get off the page and turn into something real. And if you don’t continue to be creative all your life you miss out on that. Did we know? We knew we had to keep working and challenging the status quo and doing what we wanted to do instead of listening to the B.S. around us. Yeah, we knew we were doing something different, but we knew we had to. We didn’t have a choice.

As you gained a better understanding of the studio, did it become tedious getting the albums completed?


Did you fret over them? Sweat minor details? Did you whiz through them?

You don’t fret, you agonize! With every single breath! Every single moment it was agony. It was triumphant, but it was also extremely hard work. Nobody’s going to come up with a genius project like that without moments of sheer terror. That’s part of the excitement, actually. My first recording experience was a wire recorder, when I was nine years old. My father was in show business and had access to all these things, brought one home and I remember all these knots of wire that nobody could get undone. That was my first experience with it. But there were moments of sheer pain and agony when a breath or an end note would get lost in the mix because somebody had cut it off and taped it up on the console and it had dropped on the floor. So you have to be involved in the minutiae. I was always involved in every second of the editing process, and I still am. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

There are two albums among these reissues that seem to represent the flowering of your own songwriting. The first is 1973’s True Stories and Other Dreams, and then 1982’s Times of Our Lives. The ’73 album, True Stories, contains an ambitious seven and a half minute song about Che Guevara (“Che”). The song is about this complex figure that has to weigh his revolutionary ambitions against basically the enemy within, the people who ultimately betrayed him. Were you less interested in Che the person and more in the dynamics of revolution or of a self-styled revolutionary?

I believe that the revolution is in itself the result of the minutiae, the result of the personalities, the result of the betrayals, the result of the ambitions and visions that individuals have. That’s why the chorus says “Continue with your work/continue with your…whatever/you have it in your hands to solve these problems.” The people have it in their hands to solve these problems. They may not always know it, but they always have it. And these revolutionaries, who are always going to turn on you, and if you are a revolutionary, then the audience is going to turn on you—they’re bound to, they’re bound to. It’s human nature. And revolution and the dynamics of politics are simply made up of human minutiae, human behaviors, human betrayal, ambition, greed, success and failures. Nothing short of that.

You really took his story away from being a biographical sketch and viewed it as a metaphor for a certain political dynamic that we continue to see today, in something like all these Obama supporters saying they won’t vote for him again.

You know, there’s a record of other artists singing my songs. It’s called Born To The Breed, and it came out on my label a couple of years ago. And on it, Chrissie Hynde sings “My Father” and Joan Baez and Leonard Cohen sing “Since You’ve Asked” and Rufus Wainwright sings “Albatross.” And a guy named James Mudriczki, who’s with a group called Puressence, out of Manchester in the U.K., sang the song “Che.” And he did in such a way that it’s kind of a throwback, almost a dance rhythm. And it’s wonderful. I happen to think it’s one of the best things on the album. He’s taken the song and done something entirely different to it. He sang it with me at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London a couple of years ago. It was brilliant.

Judy Collins and Johnny Cash, ‘Turn Turn Turn,’ The Johnny Cash Show, April 1970

True Stories also has one of my favorite of your own songs, “Fisherman.” One line in the chorus really intriguing, and that’s “never catching more than he can sell in a day.” It was 1973 when this appeared on record, Judy, more than 35 years ago. We’re much more conscious now than we were then of our relationship with the planet, of not wasting our natural resources by taking more than we need.

Boy, have we taken more than we need! We’ve taken it all. You know, there’s some lines in that song, too—“way out on the ocean the big ships hunt for whales/the Japanese have caught so many that now they hunt for snails/our fisherman’s not greedy, he seems content to wait for the sun and the sands and the tides to turn.” We have really demolished this planet, and we keep doing it every day. It’s so disgusting and outrageous. In every aspect we have overdone it all. So yeah, never catching more than he knows he needs in a day. Basically that’s how I would like to see my life; I try to do that.

We jump to ’82 and Times of Our Lives, with half of its songs being your originals. But the turn your writing takes here is very personal, more openly vulnerable than we had ever heard you to that point with lyrics such as —“don’t say goodbye to love/I couldn’t bear to hear it/Don’t say goodbye to love/it’s what I’ve always feared” from “Don’t Say Goodbye To Love” and  “I was lost like a child in the dark/Driftin’ away with the tide” on “Angel On My Side.” In addition, you wrote several songs directly appealing to family: your mother when the burdens of your own motherhood are bearing down on you in “Mama Mama”: a warm reminiscence of your grandfather’s comforting love in “Grandaddy”; and something every parent knows about, wishing all the good things in life—especially happiness and true love—for your child in that beautiful song “The Rest of Your Life.” Because of the openness and rawness of the emotions here, this album strikes me as being as daring in its own way as In My Life in 1966. Was it that way for you?

Oh, yes, it was. It was a period when I focusing on my own writing in a big way, and going through some personal changes that I was writing about. So you’re right—it was a revealing album, but that was when Elektra began to go south and pay literally zilch attention to me. It was taken over by a guy who wanted to absolutely forget and bury anything that Elektra was about. So the album got no attention whatsoever. That’s always disheartening to an artist, but you just have to keep going. So you keep writing, you keep struggling, try to figure out what to do next. And in all of this, by the way, throughout all these albums, remember that I have been a touring, performing artist, making a living in this business for fifty years. Only once in that time did I take any time off, which was in about 1978. But otherwise I’ve been going full-tilt all the time. So yeah, it was a pretty daring album, but nobody paid any attention to it. I did, but nobody else did.

Did you sit down with the intention of writing these songs directly addressing your family?

No, it’s what happens when I write. I can write things about events. Certainly “The Blizzard” is about an event, but it’s also very personal. “The Blizzard” came after that period of writing, and I think that was very good. It sort of set the tone, but it also allowed me to take off and tell a very complex story. Which I did in “Mama Mama,” which is a pretty complex story, actually. Some are not so complex, but “The Blizzard” is a big kind of portrait song, which allowed me to write things like “The Wall,” which is about the Korean wall that my husband designed in Washington, D.C., on the mall, to honor those who fought in the Korean War. Also it allowed me to write a song called “Beyond the Sky.” Actually, I was commissioned by NASA to write that song for Eileen Collins, the first woman to be the captain of a space shuttle. So I think all that storytelling writing in the ‘80s was very important to me. I’m actually going back to all those notebooks right now and pulling out things I never finished and put into songs. It’s good to have those, going back thirty years. Some kind of resource.

‘The Blizzard’—‘My Colorado song,’ in concert in Aspen, CO, 1989. ‘’The Blizzard’ allowed me to take off and tell a very complex story.’

Was any of this a prelude to you writing your own memoir? Is there a straight line from your writing these very personal songs to putting your story in prose?

Well, I started writing memoir in 1969, and my first songbook had a great deal of memoir, seven chapters of personal history in it. After that I wrote a big memoir in 1987, which was published by Houghton Mifflin, and ever since then I’ve been writing books, some of them about my personal history; I’ve even written a novel.  So the writing and the songwriting are sort of intertwined.

One of the other reissues in this collection is Bread & Roses, from 1976, which is one of two albums that Arif Mardin produced for you back to back. Now this is a man who had an expansive musical vocabulary, and at the time he was working with you he had already made the Bee Gees huge disco stars with the Main Course album and was a year away from making them the biggest group in the world with the Saturday Night Fever songs. But you’re a very different artist than the Bee Gees. Where did you find common ground with him in the studio?

Well, Arif was a staff producer for Atlantic, and I was in the Atlantic family—Warner/Elektra/Atlantic—and when David Geffen took over for Jac Holzman in 1972 I was sort of desperate. I didn’t know what to do next. I had written a number of things. I had found “Send In the Clowns”; I had written “Houses”; I had written “Born To the Breed.” I had a few songs in the bag. And then I heard a song by Danny O’Keefe called “Angel Spread Your Wings,” and Arif had produced it. I hadn’t a clue as to who Arif Mardin was. I wouldn’t have known him if he’d punched me in the nose. I had written a song about Duke Ellington, when I’d gone to Duke’s funeral in 1973. It was the disco era, Donna Summer was the hot thing and I was thinking, I better take some dance classes. You know? I didn’t know what to do. I went to see David Geffen and said, “You know who I want to have produce me? I want Arif Mardin to produce me. He did this great album for Danny O’Keefe, I love it.” I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know he had produced Aretha—I didn’t know any of that. So David said, “Well, he’s kind of tied up with Atlantic, but let me see what I can do.” Here’s what I did with David Geffen. He got Arif sprung from Atlantic so he could produce me at Elektra, and then I called Phil Ramone, who had produced me in the early years once or twice, and I said, “I want you to work with Arif. I want you to be the engineer.” Of course he was a full-fledged producer. So I said, “I want you to be the engineer, I want Arif to be the producer.” (laughs) And they did that, by God they did that! I made two albums with that pair. And both of them—I think Judith is really the extraordinary album. Bread & Roses, we did some wonderful things. Arif was a gentleman, a scholar, a darling man. I got very close to his family, and all the Turkish-Americans at Atlantic—Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun. So that was a wonderful experience for me in working with Arif and becoming a friend of his. After that I didn’t directly work with him in a producer capacity, but he always served as executive producer of my albums after that, a number of times. I always deferred to him. I knew I couldn’t use him anymore because he was too expensive for me with the situations that began to develop. But we were always friends. Wonderful man.

The Judith album you mentioned is one every Judy Collins fan I know loves, but over time Bread & Roses has increasingly become a fan favorite, regarded as a very underrated album. It slipped through the cracks upon its release—

Yeah, it slipped through the cracks but they’re finding it now through the Internet. It’s a great record, it was a great record. We never made albums for one song; we made a whole album. We made sure that every single thing on every single album was great. I mean there might be a couple of duds in all these years, but (laughs) I’ve yet to find them. And that’s the strength, that’s what shows up over the years, so when you go back to it you’re not hearing a hodgepodge of what was popular at the time, you’re hearing some risk taking.

I know what’s on Judith—a song called “King David” is on Judith. One of the most brilliant songs I have ever heard in my life. I have to start singing it again. “Take This Longing,” the Leonard Cohen song, is on that album, and also the “Bread & Roses” song is beautiful—Mimi’s melody is just breathtaking.

Judy Collins, ‘Send In the Clowns,’ in concert, 1991. Joseph Joubert, her musical director at the time, is on piano.

You know, you have also done more to popularize Stephen Sondheim to the general population beyond the Broadway crowd than any other artist, even if you had never recorded anything of his but ‘Send In the Clowns.’

Tell him that! Tell him that! Why don’t you write him a letter and tell him that?

Does he not know that you did this?

No, he’s very snotty about it. He doesn’t really care.

Judy Collins, Graham Nash and Stephen Stills perform ‘Someday Soon,’ the Ian Tyson song that Judy introduced on her 1969 album, Who Knows Where The Time Goes, after Stills had taught her the song during the recording sessions. The performance is preceded by a friendly reminiscence of the first time Judy heard Stills’s ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.’ A genuinely special moment here, with Nash’s harmonies, a terrific Stills guitar solo and, always, Judy’s voice, phrasing and commanding presence.

Judy Collins’s Paradise is available at www.amazon.com

The Collector’s Choice Judy Collins reissues are available at www.amazon.com

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