Talking Story with Musical Icon Judy Collins

by Karen Rose

Originally published in North Hawaii News January 2015

Singer-songwriter and folk music icon, Judy Collins will perform on Saturday, January 24th at the Honokaʻa People’s Theatre. In the 1960’s Judy Collins inspired audiences with her beautiful vocals, artistic song writing, and powerful social activism. Now 74, she is still boldly creative. Writing, touring, and speaking out on social issues, Collins continues to create music that stirs the soul and speaks to the heart. North Hawaii News had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Collins about her legendary career.

NHN – What musician who is no longer with us would you have liked to perform with?

JC – I would love to have sung with Johnny Cash. I think that would have been quite wonderful. He was a kind of an idol of mine. I sang with him once on his television show but that’s really not the same thing as performing with a person in a show or at a concert.

NHN- Who was your musical hero growing up and who is your musical hero now?

JC – My musical hero growing up was my father, Chuck Collins. He was a great singer, performer, and entertainer. He was a wonderful voice. He taught me everything I know, and needed to know, to do what I do. He really was my inspiration. He was an interesting man. He was blind from the age of four, graduated from the University of Idaho suma kum lade, and went off to start his dance band instead of going on to law school. He had a scholarship for law school, but they couldn’t convince him that music wasn’t his life. And of course he and my mother met, and my mother insisted on marrying him against the wishes of her family. I mean, can you imagine in 1937, convincing your parents that you were going to marry a blind man who was going to make a living in music? He was a brilliant man.

I have a lot of musical heros. There are a number of writers that just continue to amaze me. Leonard Cohen is someone that I discovered, and was the first person to record him in 1966 on my album “In My Life”. He has continued to record and is still writing songs that are really dazzling. I must say I have a lot of respect for him. Writers that continue to tour and write impress me. It’s not an easy thing as you can well imagine. You have to have some sort of quirky brain in order to do this because of the travel and the intensity and the demands of the job. I think most people who are out on the road still today, we have to tip our hats off to them, because it’s not for everybody that’s for sure.

NHN – If you could go back in time, what era would you most like to go back to?

JC – I want to be right where I am – let’s just focus on today. This is where I want to be. And I’ll tell you something – I’m more creative, more productive, and I have more excitement about my work today than I ever have. That’s really saying a lot. I’ve traveled so much. I do about 120 shows a year. I have an audience that has remained faithful and has grown up with me and continued on with me. It remains my age and younger. Richie Havens used to say, “When we were young, the only people who came to see us were our age, and now they’re every age.” I write songs, I have projects that are brand new that are coming out, I have a couple of very exciting projects this year, three if you count my new PBS show. I just finished doing two big PBS shows last year – one at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. The most recent one is my Irish show and I’m very happy with that. Mary Black, who is a very wonderful Irish singer is on that show.

It’s the best thing in the world for me because it keeps me creative and it keeps me working. I think for the Irish show, which we recorded about a year ago, I feel like I’ve written one of my best songs ever. It’s called “New Moon Over the Hudson” which is about my Irish background. I’ve also written a number of books. I work on about five burners all the time.

NHN – When you make your set lists, how do you balance what you really want to play, with what the audience really wants to hear?

JC – I will never do all of my hits. It’s almost 70 years of music so I can almost dance between the waves as it were. Out of that of course we do some of the most familiar, ‘Send in the Clowns’, Amazing Grace’, ‘Both Sides Now’,  and of course we add in those things we want to, but I never do the same show twice. It helps me, and it helps the audience. When they come back to see me they’ll always hear things that are different. They won’t just hear the same ten songs, which is true for some artists. I can’t say that I wouldn’t like to hear those ten songs, but sometimes it can get very boring for the artist and the audience as well. I’m so happy that I have all this material to go on, and I’m looking forward to being back on the beautiful island of Hawaii.