The Roots Report: An Interview with Judy Collins

Okee dokee folks… The other day I spoke with Judy Collins by phone about her upcoming show with Stephen Stills at the Park Theatre in Cranston on Satursday, October 7th. It took about twenty back and forth phone calls to have a conversation. I called. She called. We were cut off; we couldn’t hear each other. It sounded like a “Can you hear me know?” mobile phone commercial for a bit. Finally we connected and we able to have a short conversation before the phones went wonky again!

John Fuzek: Hello?
Judy Collins: Oh, I think I have finally gotten through, the phone was not working for a while! So here I am!
JF: Hi! thanks for calling back!
JC: Hi!
JF: How are you?
JC: Good!
JF: Where are you calling from?
JC: On the way somewhere
JF: You’re on your way to a gig right now?
JC: Of course
JF: Where are you playing tonight?
JC: I don’t know…but let’s talk, shall we?
JF: So, how was this tour put together?
JC: Well, let’s see…first of all, we have been talking about if for a couple of years and finally we found the time to do it, so that is how it was put together, by GENIUSES!… (phone cuts out again…)
JF: Hello?… Hello? Are you there?
(static for a bit then Judy’s voice returns)
JC: Hello?
JF: I missed most of what you said after “geniuses”
JC: It was put together by geniuses and we are very lucky to have a good agent and a great manager
JF: You and Stephen met in the 60’s…
JC: Yes
JF: …did you shows together back then?
JC: No, no, no we’ve never worked together on stage, we’ve never sung together in public
JF: Really?
JC: No, this is something that we’ve never done, we’ve thought about it a couple of times but finally it happened, what else can I tell you?
JF: What does the set list look like for the shows?
JC: We have a new album called Stills-Collins and we do songs from out repertoires and some other covers, it’s exciting, the new album is out, you can get it anywhere…and we sing a lot of the songs from the album and we recorded it in time to get it out, September 22nd, which is now last week. So it’s very exciting to have it out and soon there will be a vinyl which is the first time I have had a vinyl in many years!
JF: So, do you two perform “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” during the show?
JC: Oh, yeah, Oh, yeah!
JF: Does that feel kind of strange for you?
JC: Not at all, it’s quite wonderful in fact
JF: Do you sing on it as well?
JC: Of course!
JF: Can folks expect your most well known songs at the show as well?
JC: Each of us has a sort of solo turn and turning my solo turn i do “Both Sides Now”
JF: So you each take a solo turn and then perform together?
JC: We perform together the whole show but we each take a solo turn
JF: What do you have for a backing band?
JC: A wonderful trio: Russell Walden, my musical director (piano); Tony Beard, wonderful drummer; and Jeff Cash, wonderful bass player
JF: So the entire band is the five of you?
JC: Yeah! It’s pretty good!
JF: I am curious, why do you always play a 12 string guitar?
JC: I really was seduced into playing a 12 string by listening to so much Pete Seeger material, it really always occurred to me that with a 12 string you got a big, sort of orchestral sound, so that is where I have stayed
JF: Does it bother your hands now that you are a bit older? I know a lot of folks that won’t play a 12 string because it is tough on their hands!
JC: I’m not older I’m younger! I’m Younger so let’s skip that last question! (laughs) It may be true for some people though
JF: Do you ever play a 6-string?
JC: I don’t play a 6-string anymore although I used to be a hell of a travis picker and I could certainly hold my own but after I picked up the 12 string there was no going back and I never play a 6-string anymore
JF: What do you do for fun on the road? Do you have any down time?
JC: I work and have a wonderful time on the shows
JF: How long are you out on the road for with this tour?
JC: This tour began, I think, June 25th and this particular tour is 50 dates or a little more than that, and we are probably finished sometime in early November, and I think we have completed 28 by now so we have a handful more to do
JF: Has it been successful so far?
JC: Well, it’s mostly sold out, wildly enthusiastic audiences and everybody wants us back of course because a sold out show is a sold out show, and  we’ll probably come back next year to do a reprise
JF: I hope so! I have my own gig that night and can’t get to the show!
JC: There will probably be another opportunity
JF: Have you and Stephen ever written any material together? For the new album?
JC: No, but there is a new song of mine that I haven’t recorded before which we do together called “River Of Gold” and and we are doing one of his songs from (Stills’ band) The Rides, but we have not written together
JF: I recently read an article that mentioned that Stephen Stills’ hearing is almost completely gone, is this true?
JC: He’s always had a an issue but he takes care of it and deals with it
JF: Do you take care of your hearing?
JC: You bet your ass I do! (then silence)
JF: Hello? Hello?
JC: Hello…
JF: You keep cutting in and out, are you riding on a tour bus now?
JC: No, I am in a car being driven
JF: What is the length of the show that you have been doing?
JC: It’s nearly a two hour show
JF: i have watched a few YouTube videos, there are quite a few that have popped up from the show, it looks like fun and a great show
JC: It is fun, believe me! (laughs) It is a lot of fun!
JF: This show seems much different than what you normally do
JC: I think it was always something that was an idea in somebody’s mind, people used to talk a lot, there was an idea of a concert with the three “J”s: Judy, Johnny, and Joan, but is never going to happen now as you can probably realize, but this was something that the promoters got EXTREMELY excited when they knew that it could be a possibility and when we did a fishing expedition last year to see how the response would be it was clear that it was something that was not only a good idea on our part because it’s so much fun and we’ve been friends for so many years but also the audiences were VERY up for it and you know these things take an enormous amount of work and planning and practicing and so many elements but hopefully you don’t know any of that when you see the show because it looks so easy and it winds up to be so much fun, but it’s been in the works for a long time
JF: Considering the current political climate will there be any activism involved in the show?
JC: Of course
JF: Would you like to talk about it a little bit?
JC: No, I don’t really want to talk about that right now
JF: Do you have any favorite causes that you are supporting right now?
JC: Many
JF: I read something about landmines?
JC: I have written ten books now and my most recent one is about eating disorders and it has a number of chapters about diet gurus through history, I have written a lot about mental health in the last forty years and ten books which are mostly memoirs or discussions of situations that are prevalent in our culture- suicide, alcoholism and basically mental health and a good deal of what I do now when I do speaking engagements I do fundraising for suicide prevention, support for mental health groups across the country and of course mental health means a lot of things-it’s the way you cope, the way you think, the way you act, what you do with your life and how you participate in the culture at large, mental health, you will find, I think, and I do, is at the bottom of a lot of issues in the world and it kind of incorporates when I think about what is going on and I have a chance to air my thoughts about how people live, what they do and how they act, that’s been something that has been very satisfying to me, very authenticating to me and a lot of people love to talk about it and think about it so, I hope that it brings some kind of answer to some people who need one at the moment
JF: How do you feel about performers voicing their opinions on stage?I have seen a lot about people giving performers flack for doing so and think that they should do their job and play their music, I am an advocate of performers using their stage time to promote what they feel strongly about, how do you feel about it?
JC: It has to happen, it has always happened, it’s part of the responsibility of being an entertainer, I don’t care where you stand, I was raised in a family where my father was a great singer and performer and radio personality and it was expected, and he of course was very political and very personal about his feelings about the world whether it was Joe McCarthy or the War in Vietnam, or whatever it was, but also the idea always comes with the territory, entertainers have always done performances to help causes whether it’s the USO or raising money for, one of the first fundraisers I ever went to my father was performing and I was about seven years old and it was a fundraiser for the Polio vaccine for the Salt vaccine, so, no matter what is is of course people speak their minds, it’s what would be expected otherwise
JF: I am totally for it
JC: Good! That’s good to hear!
JF: I have just seen a lot of people complaining about it lately
JC: Who cares! Who cares! (laughs)
JF: (laughs)
JC: I don’t care, let them complain! They have little to do with their time perhaps, of course it is something that comes with the territory and it’s important. I was raised in that culture in my own family and also I came through the 60’s… (dead air- cut off again)
(phone rings again)
JF: Hello?
JC: Oh, sorry, lost you, on the road
JF: yes, we got cut off again! I was wondering where you initially met Stephen Stills?
(dead air- cut off again)
JC: Hello, we have a couple of minutes, we should hurry so I don’t lose you again
JF: anyway, I was wondering where you initially met Stephen Stills? Where did all of this begin?
JC: We met, and started recording an album, I was making an album for Elektra Records in 1968 in Los Angeles and he was brought in to join the band, my producer David Anderle brought him in, and we dedicate this album to David Anderle because he really brought us together and we made and album called Who Knows Where The Time Goes, in 1968, that’s where we met
JF: So Stephen played on that album, I never knew that! Did you do any shows with Crosby, Stills and Nash (Young) back then?
JC: No, I made a recording at my home, of Stephen and I recording a Tom Paxton song, partly to see how that would feel, but we didn’t do it on stage and we’re not actually doing that song on stage either and Graham Nash used to have a television show, which was quite good, and he and I appeared on it, he was playing the guitar while I sang and, I am not sure if Graham joined in singing, but anyway, it was on a television show, but otherwise we have never done anything together in public
JF: Well, I really wish that I could get to the show, I will highly recommend folks get out to see it, it looks like a great night,
JC: It’s a wonderful show and a very unique show, I think and I am sorry that you will miss it but everyone has to work so I totally understand!
JF: Well, good luck, I hope the rest of your drive and the show goes well and I thank you for taking the time to talk with me and going through all the dropped calls! Hopefully I will get to open for you again sometime (I had mentioned to her that we did a show together in Newport about 10 years ago)
JC: Oh, good, yes, I hope so! Take care, and thanks a lot for calling!
JF: Bye!
JC: Bye!

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