Legendary singer showcases her songs with Tom Paxton
By Deborah Medenbach
November 14, 2008
Honey-voiced Judy Collins was late.
Blame it on Manhattan traffic. Blame it on long lines at her polling
place on Election Day.
Breathless, she at last had a moment to talk about the star-studded
tribute album of her original songs that was just released two weeks
ago by her label, Wildflower Records. The album features Rufus
Wainwright, Chrissie Hynde, Joan Baez, old friend and muse Leonard
Cohen and a host of others.
She also spoke about her history with folk singer Tom Paxton, who
shares the stage with her on Friday at the Paramount Center for the
Arts in Peekskill. The 69-year-old singer with ghostly eyes discussed
songwriting, issues that have stirred her activism and the multitude
of ways music reaches her fans' ears these days.
You have a concert coming up in Peekskill with Tom Paxton. Your staff
sent me a very interesting press release about a new album you have
out called "Born to the Breed" of musicians covering your original
songs. Is this the material you'll primarily be doing at the Paramount?
Yes, the new album's out. A lot of those songs I do regularly.
I'm intrigued by how this album came about. You're known mostly for
covers of other people's songs and have your own work sprinkled in
here and there, but it's not usually the first thing people will say
about you. Describe your songwriting.
I'd call myself prolific over the course of the years since 1967 when
I first started writing. I usually have three or four songs in an
album, and sometimes a whole album of songs, as in the case of
"Shameless," which came out in 1995. So, through the years I've
written a number of songs that are picked up by other people, but
this was a result of Chrissie Hynde saying that she loved "My Father"
and had it in her choice of her top 10 songs.
How did you go about making the choices of the songs that would be
used in this album?
Well, the record label gave the musicians a choice of a couple of
songs and then they went through the rest of the discography to find
if there were other songs they might want, so sometimes they chose
from what the record label had and sometimes not. It was wonderful to
hear what everyone did. Dolly Parton singing "The Fisherman" is great
fun. And of course Leonard and Joanie singing my first song. Of
course Leonard had suggested to me after I recorded a lot of the
songs and discovered him in 1966, he suggested I start writing songs.
And "Since You've Asked" is the first song I ever wrote, and it was
very well covered by people like Dan Fogelberg and Natalie Cole more
recently, so I was thrilled to have him do a performance of it and
Joan Baez do one as well.
The musicians just signed on to participate in this project. Were you
familiar with all of them or were there some fresh faces you hadn't
Oh, no, no. Except for the fellow who recorded "Che," James
Mudriczki, an Englishman from Manchester, and he has a group called
Pure Essence. That was a big surprise and I find that it's absolutely
one of my favorite things on the album. The story of Che Guevara took
me about five years to write, and it only took me about 40 minutes to
write "Since You've Asked," so I thought it was going to all be so
easy. That all songs would come as quickly.
As long as we're on the subject of activism songs I discussed this
a little with Tom Paxton also are you seeing activist voices
speaking to the issues of today?
I think that there have always been these voices. Sometimes we don't
hear them because they aren't played on top-10 radio, but if you go
to the festivals and hear the younger singers, you can hear the
singer/songwriter tradition, which has always followed its own course
and talked about things that were close to the heart.
What's moving you for your own songwriting now?
Well, I have to sort of catch up with myself. I've done an awful lot
of things in 50 years of songwriting and singing and activism. My own
concerns are slightly different at the moment and they involve a
spiritual aspect, which of course was very evident with "Amazing
Grace" and which come about in many different songs. Certainly the
songs of Sarajevo, which is about the issue of land mines and their
effect on children around the world. I think one writes what one has
to write, and that means that it's about the whole life experience.
I was talking with musicians about the issue of being able to put out
extended workshop recordings for their fans that show the growth of a
song or a style, and also the ability to post short topical songs on
a Web site that would not necessarily make it to a later recording.
You have your own record company and have for some time. What are you seeing?
We move the music through in every possible way. Everything that's
available, we use. When one door closes, about 20 more open. That's
what's happening in the technological revolution that's going on and
it's helpful for everybody, I think. You can see it on our own record
label Web site, www.wildflowerrecords.com, or my site,
judycollins.com, or on Amazon or iTunes or our MySpace. There are
plenty of access points, I must say. My MySpace has about 100
recordings of me available through all kinds of things.
Researching you and Tom Paxton, you've known each other since the
1960s and were both recording artists on Elektra Records ...
... but I didn't see anything in the discography that you had ever
No. I don't think it ever happened. It could very easily have. He's
one of the great songwriters. I have great respect for him.