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Judy Collins

Born Judith Marjorie Collins, May 1, 1939, Seattle, Washington, this fine lady of folk has been a stalwart for the genre since her emergence in the early 60s. In a similar vein to – and indeed, at times, in the shadow of – contemporary counterpart, JOAN BAEZ, Judy has weaved her sweet soprano interpretations over a plethora of popular songs of all genres.
At the age of ten and encouraged by her father (radio presenter, Chuck Collins) to follow a musical career, Judy studied classical piano under the wing of female composer Antonia Brica. A career as a young concert pianist was well within her grasp (having performed Mozart upon her live debut at the age of thirteen – the family had now relocated to L.A. and subsequently Denver), but COLLINS chose instead the revolutionary music of WOODY GUTHRIE as she soon deserted the piano for the more portable (and trendy) acoustic guitar. By the age of sixteen she was wowing them in the Colorado folk scene and had her sights set on Greenwich Village in New York.
Arriving in the city in 1961, she was immediately signed by Elektra’s Jac Holzman, who was impressed by her crystal-pure vocals and recognised her innate talent for sympathetic interpretation of trad folk material. Her relationship with the label was to endure over three decades, while her recordings brought the raw material of such composers as BOB DYLAN, LEONARD COHEN, JONI MITCHELL, SANDY DENNY and many others to a professional polish.
With exactly a dozen traditional and sea-shanty songs in tow (including `The Prickle Bush’, `Wild Mountain Thyme’, `The Rising Of The Moon’, `John Riley’ and `Pretty Saro’), A MAID OF CONSTANT SORROW (1961) {*6} wasn’t particularly outstanding, but what it lacked in intimacy it gained in enthusiasm; a pity about her mellow interpretations of `Tim Evans’, `Bold Fenian Men’ and `Wars Of Germany’.
GOLDEN APPLES OF THE SUN (1962) {*6}, followed with the same formula, although this time she was accompanied by Bill Lee (father of Spike Lee) on bass and Walter Raim on second guitar. Alongside works by Sidney Lee Carter (`Crow On The Cradle’) and MIKE SETTLE (`Sing Hallelujah’), there were light refreshments from over the seas like `Lark In The Morning’, `Bonnie Ship The Diamond’ and `Fannerio’.
By 1963’s JUDY COLLINS 3 {*6}, COLLINS was adapting more contemporary stuff from a host of providers such as PETE SEEGER (on `The Bells Of Rhymney’ and `Turn! Turn! Turn! – To Everything There Is A Season’ – both featuring the strumming debut of one Jim/ROGER McGUINN), EWAN MacCOLL (`The Dove’), WOODY GUTHRIE (`Deportee’), The WEAVERS (`Come Away Melinda’), BOB DYLAN (`Masters Of War’), SHEL SILVERSTEIN (`Hey, Nelly Nelly’ and `In The Hills Of Shiloh’), MIKE SETTLE (`Settle Down’), etc.
To promote further sales of her previous set (which was bubbling under the Top 100), COLLINS played her first major/theatre gig at New York City’s Town Hall on March 21, 1964. An album of her appearance, THE JUDY COLLINS CONCERT {*6}, was in the shops by October, a record that didn’t chart although it housed many recent songwriting acquisitions: BILLY EDD WHEELER (`Winter Sky’, `Red-Winged Blackbird’ and `Coal Tattoo’), TOM PAXTON (`The Last Thing On My Mind’, `My Ramblin’ Boy’ and `Bottle Of Wine’), FRED NEIL (`Tear Down The Walls’), JOHN PHILLIPS (`Me And My Uncle’), DICK WEISMMAN (`Medgar Evers Lullaby’), plus MacCOLL’s `Cruel Mother’, DYLAN’s `The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll’ and public-domain cue, `Bonnie Boy Is Young’.
FIFTH ALBUM (1965) {*7}, reached a wider audience and a deserved Top 75 placing; folk-rock music was also in full swing with the advent of The BYRDS and DYLAN. She took the well-advised option of covering three of the latter bard’s songs by way of `Mr. Tambourine Man’, `Tomorrow Is A Long Time’ and `Daddy You’ve Been On My Mind’, while others were procured via GORDON LIGHTFOOT (`Early Morning Rain’), dulcimer-playing guest RICHARD FARINA (`Pack Up Your Sorrows’), ERIC ANDERSEN (`Thirsty Boots’), PHIL OCHS (`In The Heat Of The Summer’), BILLY EDD WHEELER (`The Coming Of The Roads’), GIL TURNER (`Carry It On’), BARBARA DANE & MALVINA REYNOLDS (`It Isn’t Nice’) and trad fare `So Early, Early In The Spring’ and `Lord Gregory’.
Like many 60s artists, COLLINS began to experiment with different types of music and her repertoire expanded to encompass material by cult European composers like Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill (`Pirate Jenny’), JACQUES BREL (`La Colombe’) and the relatively unknown Richard Peaslee (`Marat / Sade’). Judy also moved towards stage and film work, which she adopted with the same enthusiasm as her pop music career. Taking a song and its title from a BEATLES track, her inaugural Top 50 entry, IN MY LIFE {*7}, highlighted her increasing diversity, while one could examine her eclectic range through DYLAN’s `Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’, FARINA’s `Hard Lovin’ Loser’, DONOVAN’s `Sunny Goodge Street’, to LEONARD COHEN’s `Suzanne’ and `Dress Rehearsal Rag’ to RANDY NEWMAN’s `I Think It’s Going To Rain Today’ and STAN KELLY’s tearjerker, `Liverpool Lullaby’.
WILDFLOWERS (1967) {*6} marked her first foray into singer-songwriting – three songs `Since You Asked’, `Sky Fell’ and `Albatross’ – and it broke free from her previous set’s arrangements by classic ragtime producer, Joshua Rifkin. It saw her break into the Top 5 for the first time while spawning a rare Top 10 hit in the shape of JONI MITCHELL’s `Both Sides Now’; the latter’s `Michael From Mountains’ also opened the set. COLLINS’ readings of three further COHEN cues (`Sisters Of Mercy’, `Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye’ and `Priests’) best suited her sombre, dulcet tones, while the BREL factor was not overlooked by order of `La Chanson Des Vieux Amants’.
Taking its title and song from a classic SANDY DENNY cut and with only one lonely COLLINS original on show (`My Father’), WHO KNOWS WHERE THE TIME GOES (1968) {*7}, was basically another covers album. Raiding more repertoire from COHEN in the shape of `Story Of Isaac’ and `Bird On The Wire’, plus DYLAN’s `I Pity The Poor Immigrant’, IAN & SYLVIA’s `Someday Soon’, ROBIN WILLIAMSON’s `First Girl I Loved’ (as `First Boy I Loved’) and Rolf Kempf’s `Hello, Hooray’ (better known to ALICE COOPER fans), the set was also graced by the presence of guitarist boyfriend STEPHEN STILLS, bassist Chris Etheridge and drummer Jim Gordon. In his time with CROSBY, STILLS & NASH, the former penned `Suite: Judy Blues Eyes’, an obvious ode to COLLINS.
Towards the end of 1970, Judy scored her biggest hit (US Top 5/UK Top 20) with an unaccompanied version of John Newton’s `Amazing Grace’, the finale track from her ninth set, WHALES & NIGHTINGALES {*6} – it remained in the British charts for over a year.
The album itself reaped rewards through her readings of JOAN BAEZ’s `Song For David’, DYLAN’s `Time Passes Slowly’, SEEGER’s `Oh, Had I A Golden Thread’, DOMINIC BEHAN’s `The Patriot Game’ and two by BREL: `Sons Of’ & `Marieke’; her a cappella trad gem, `Farewell To Tarwathie’, was augmented only by humpback whales!
LIVING (1971) {*5} expanded her broad horizons even further, although for too many of her loyal folk fanbase, it was a patchy half-live affair, albeit in similar vein to a few of her previous efforts. An album with no COHEN or DYLAN songs would’ve surprised many, and this set was no exception, delivering as it did with two from the former: `Famous Blue Raincoat’ and `Joan Of Arc’ and from the latter, her live take of `…Tom Thumb’s Blues’ (other concert pieces included `Chelsea Morning’, another from MITCHELL, and her own `Open The Door (Song For Judith)’); HAMILTON CAMP’s `Innisfree’, IAN TYSON’s `Four Strong Winds’ and her stark reading of Eric Bentley-Arnold Black’s `Vietnam Love Song’, made up the numbers.
TRUE STORIES AND OTHER DREAMS (1973) {*5}, saw COLLINS for the first time writing the bulk of her own material (the politically-motivated `Che’ – Guevara – among them), while, of course, she had the pick of new tunes from TOM PAXTON (`The Hostage’), STEPHEN STILLS (`So Begins The Task’), Valerie Carter/Howdy Moon (`Cook With Honey’) and Bob Ruzicka’s `The Dealer (Down And Losin’).
COLLINS extended her vocal reach even further in 1975 with a Top 10 reading of the Stephen Sondheim Broadway weepie, `Send In The Clowns’, while the accompanying album, JUDITH {*5}, confirmed her increasing tendency toward contemporary ballads in the form as always of both cover material and her own compositions. Of the latter, one could probably pick out `Song For Duke’ (marking out the funeral of Duke Ellington) and `Born To The Breed’ as her most poignant, but it was the choice of mainstream covers (bar `Pat & Victoria Garvey’s `Lovin’ Of The Game’) that set this LP aside from her previous recordings. Melting down past rock nuggets to steely country cuts, these comprised: The ROLLING STONES’ `Salt Of The Earth’, STEVE GOODMAN’s `City Of New Orleans’, Wendy Waldman’s `Pirate Ships’, JIMMY WEBB’s `The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress’, Danny O’Keefe’s `Angel, Spread Your Wings’ and nostalgia nuggets `Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?’ and `I’ll Be Seeing You’.
Although it trailed its predecessor into the Top 30, BREAD & ROSES (1976) {*4}, once again took COLLINS beyond the confines of folk, although her political messages from beyond the grave (i.e. VICTOR JARA’s `Prayer For The Laborer’ for one, another possibly the MIMI FARINA/James Oppenheim title track) were wedged behind pop/AOR cover fodder such as ELTON JOHN’s `Come Down In Time’, ANDREW GOLD’s `Love Hurts’ and COHEN’s `Take This Longing’, among others.
1979’s HARD TIMES FOR LOVERS {*3} found Judy in theatrical (stage & screen) mode, alienating her ardant folk contingent with revamps of posh drivel from such as Sondheim, Rodgers & Hart, Marvin Hamlisch/Carole Bayer Sager, Alan Bergman/David Shire, Henry Gaffney and Hugh Prestwood. One saviour of sorts was its inclination to cover the odd pop song: `Desperado’ (EAGLES), `Marie’ (RANDY NEWMAN) and Sager’s `Starmaker’.
Pitched to the same conservative crowd, RUNNING FOR MY LIFE (1980) {*3}, skated between two camps, the musical/operatic Sondheim (both from Sweeney Todd) and her own self-penned or Prestwood cues, of which the title track stands out; and why another version of Brel’s `Marieke’?
Taking a firmer grip on her subsequent output, both COLLINS and Prestwood were behind 80% of the mushy material on TIMES OF OUR LIVES (1982) {*3}, another record that proved why the 80s were just so dire – the 20% was made up from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s `Memory’ (yes, that one!) and ANNA McGARRIGLE’s `Sun Son’. Believe it or not, there were glimpses of Celtic fare through her own `Grandaddy’ and Prestwood’s `Drink A Round To Ireland’.
Complete with synth-pop drums, JC was indeed far from HOME AGAIN (1984) {*4} – yes, another 80s-styled contemporary set for ageing folkies. From YAZOO’s `Only You’ (penned by Vince Clarke) to CLIFFORD T. WARD’s `The Best Is Yet To Come’, via two self-penned numbers, ELTON JOHN’s `Sweetheart On Parade’, Henry Gross’s `Everybody Works In China’, GRAHAM LYLE’s `Yellow Kimono’, Amanda McBroom’s `From Where I Stand’, Randy Goodrum’s `Don’t Say Love’ and CAROLE KING’s title track, this appealed to a fading audience.
Needless to say, the failure both critically and commercially of her previous sets led to her departure from Elektra. TRUST YOUR HEART (1987) {*3} did little to re-enthuse her ageing public, while SANITY & GRACE (1989) {*4}, followed it into bargain bins.
At the dawn of a new decade and now on Columbia Records, COLLINS made a comeback of sorts, FIRES OF EDEN (1990) {*6}, a record which relied more heavily on her own partly collaborative songs than many previous collections had done and included her own self-penned opening epic, `The Blizzard’. Made famous by The HOLLIES, but penned by Albert Hammond & Mike Hazlewood, `The Air That I Breathe’ was one of the highpoints here, as were McBroom’s `Dreaming’, Julie Gold’s `From A Distance’ and Kit Hain’s title track.
By way of JUDY COLLINS SINGS DYLAN: JUST LIKE A WOMAN (1993) (*4), JC fulfilled a lifelong ambition by releasing a covers album of her hero’s best-loved tracks, now somewhat pasteurised and diluted by a lady who’d seen better days. The plaintive, piano-led arrangements of Zimmerman’s classics hit a low point through `Like A Rolling Stone’, `It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ and `Just Like A Woman’, while her highlights stemmed from the a cappella take of `With God On Our Side’ and `Bob Dylan’s Dream’. It was at least a return to folk fare. One thing one can’t say for the festive COME REJOICE! (1994) (*5), a record on closer inspection housing a handful of COLLINS originals, `Song For Sarajevo’, `All On A Wintry Night’ and the title track; the latter was also part of her follow-up set, SHAMELESS (1995) {*4} – a book of the same name was published later in the year.
As she moved into her sixtieth year, her appetite for work hardly abated, with punishing concert tours and TV/stage work still featuring prominently in her busy schedule. COLLINS’ commitment to the underprivileged continues unswervingly, the singer undertaking anti-landmine tours as a UNICEF representative in the former Yugoslavia. Her autobiography, Singing Lessons, was released in 1999 to critical and popular acclaim, while she continued to explore new avenues in music with CLASSIC BROADWAY {*4}, a stage and screen hits album.
Not withstanding a magical live set in 2003 with ARLO GUTHRIE, ERIC ANDERSEN and TOM RUSH (`Wildflower Festival’), the 00s have produced no less than three solo sets, LIVE AT THE WOLF TRAP (2000) {*5}, the half-penned PORTRAIT OF AN AMERICAN GIRL (2005) {*5} and her BEATLES homage, JUDY COLLINS SINGS LENNON & McCARTNEY (2007) {*4}. Not one to rest on her laurels, Judy reeled off three further sets of grace and charm via PARADISE (2010) {*5}, BOHEMIAN (2011) {*6} and the concert set, LIVE FROM THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART AT THE TEMPLE OF DENDUR (2012) {*6}, the latter helped along by duets alongside SHAWN COLVIN, ANI DIFRANCO, JIMMY WEBB and Kenny White.
On the back of a LIVE IN IRELAND (2014) {*6} – recorded at Dromoland Castle on September 29, 2013 and featuring nostalgic trad nuggets from `Wild Mountain Thyme’ and `Gypsy Rover’ to `She Moved Through The Fair’ (with MARY BLACK) and `Danny Boy’ – 2015 saw her umpteenth studio solo album, STRANGERS AGAIN {*7}. Echoing her duets set from not so long ago, COLLINS integrated with iconic names such as MICHAEL McDONALD, MARC COHN, WILLIE NELSON, JACKSON BROWNE, JIMMY BUFFET, DON McLEAN, Aled Jones and actor Jeff Bridges, while bookending the record by way of a title track featuring its composer ARI HEST and `Races’ by/with GLEN HANSARD.
Fresh from her contribution to long-time friend JOAN BAEZ’s “75th Birthday Celebrations” live double album, COLLINS teamed up once again with contemporary singer-songwriter HEST on full set, SILVER SKIES BLUE (2016) {*7}. Simply sensational in their kindred collaborative chemistry, the folk pair were awe-inspiring on the beautiful `I Choose Love’, while the universal themes of dark romance and longing were represented on highlights `Secret Harbor’, `Slow Burn’ and the searching title track.
Hot on the heels of her revisionist nostalgia tribute set, A LOVE LETTER TO STEPHEN SONDHEIM (2017) {*6} – a CD or DVD (take your pick) – JUDY COLLINS was also in reminiscing modus operandi on an album shared with STEPHEN STILLS: “Everybody Knows”. While the former solo outing resurrected one of her most famous pieces, `Send In The Clowns’, there was no space on the latter collaboration for one of the CSN’s homage to the lady: `Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’.
An octogenarian, but still cool enough to breeze through songs with apparent ease (she’d recently published no-holds-barred book, Cravings: How I Conquered Food), COLLINS added to her considerable canon of sets by way of a collaborative effort, WINTER STORIES (2019) {*6}, with Norwegian singer-songwriter Jonas Fjeld (and North Carolina bluegrass band, Chatham County Line, as special guests). Besides excellent readings of JONI MITCHELL’s `River’, JIMMY WEBB’s `Highwayman’ and STAN ROGERS’ `Northwest Passage’, the silver-haired national treasure combed her back catalogue for re-treads of `The Blizzard’, `The Fallow Way’ and `Mountain Girl’.
© MC Strong 1994-2010/GRD-GFD // rev-up MCS Aug2013-Jan2020

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