13th Floor Interview: Judy Collins

With a career reaching back 60 years, Judy Collins is still going strong. Her new album is White Bird: Anthology Of Favorites, and she spoke to The 13th Floor about making it.

The 13th Floor’s Marty Duda spoke to Judy Collins just after she released this collection which includes a new recording of the song White Bird, a tune made popular by It’s A Beautiful Day way back in 1969.

Along with White Bird, the album features old favourites such as Chelsea Morning, Blackbird and Send In The Clowns and duets with Joan Baez, Willie Nelson and Stephen Stills. 

So listen in (or read along) as Judy takes us through the making of White Bird: Anthology Of Favorites…and reveals plans for her next long player.

Listen to the interview here:

M: So, you’ve got a new album called White Bird – Anthology of Favorites which we’re here to talk about and it’s pretty cool.

J: Oh, good.

M: I am very familiar with the song White Bird. I have a copy of  the It’s a Beautiful Day album in my collection somewhere so it’s good to hear it again. Where did you first become aware of that song? Were you a fan of It’s A beautiful Day back in the day?

J: I did not know anything about Beautiful Day or White Bird so the song is a big surprise and Beautiful Day is a big surprise. It’s really wonderful to have it introduced to me at this time. It’s a gorgeous song so I loved getting a chance to record it.

M: It’s amazing, I mean the song has been around for 50 years and there’s still plenty out there that we have yet to hear and learn about. That’s the great thing about music isn’t it?

J: Yes, it is.

M: What prompted you to put this anthology together of your favourites?

J: Well, it was time. We haven’t done an album like that in a long, long time and I have a lot of things on the past twenty years of my own label that I felt should get out so we put it together and White Bird appeared sort of towards the end and I hadn’t known the song so I was delighted to hear it and to be able to add it to the collection, it was a real treat.

M: The eleven tracks that comprise the album, they’re recorded over a period of time? Not all at one time I am assuming.

J: It came from…this is a collection garnered from the past twenty years of songs that were on the Wild Flower label, my own label and White Bird was recorded, it was the only new song that was recorded for the album as far as I know.

M: Where and when did you record it? And with whom?

J: Oh about six months ago I think.

M: Was it in the studio…. were you in lockdown? What were the circumstances?

J: Oh yes, we were in lockdown but we were able to find a studio to record in. So we were lucky enough to find a wonderful recording, and then of course I was able to sing harmony with myself which was great fun.

M: That’s alright.

J: Yeah.

M: Who else is playing with you on the track?

J: I don’t really know because the track was put together in California by my distributor so I don’t know who’s playing on it but that’s too bad…

M: That’s the way things are these days.

J: I liked it. I thought it was a good representation of the song so I was happy to record on it.

M: How has the last year been for you in New York with lockdown and all that? Has it been strange or kind of normal or what?

J: Well of course we have to say that in spite of the fact that it was a wonderful relief to be able to be…I haven’t been able to get off the road for decades so in that regard, it was a relief but of course we had such, we’ve had half a million deaths from this thing so we’re not very happy about that. But it is amazing that we’ve been able, and I’m sure that in many parts of the world it’s true, that we’ve had the benefit of a vaccine which we didn’t expect to have so soon, I mean who knew how long we were gonna have to stay in lockdown. It was never clear at the start, how many months would go by but then this miracle of the vaccine has been amazing for us so I am back to work. I did a live show the other night in New York city so it’s coming fast and furiously towards me, more working and more travelling and back to the regular yearly, daily, weekly, monthly travelling.

M: You must enjoy it because I mean, you’re still doing it.

J: Oh, I love it. I love it.

M: I can’t believe Bob Dylan just turned 80 the other day and he’s been on his Never Ending Tour for god knows how long and you’re still out there doing it and it’s just not that unusual to talk to folks in their eighties who are still making music, it’s amazing.

J: Yeah, well it’s the only thing to do when you do it and you love it.

M: What was your show like in New York when you played?

J: I did a big show at the City Winery it’s called, here in New York and it’s a new venue. It’s moved from an earlier spot so it was a wonderful, wonderful show. I just had a ball.

M: Your voice sounds amazing. I’m sure people think that it should deteriorate over time but it doesn’t sound like you’re going along with that theory. Do you worry about it?

J: I don’t have anything to do with that theory. (Laughs)

M: Good on you.

J: I refuse to comply.

M: Do you do anything to take care of it or do you just sing?

J: Well, I sing, I stay healthy, I exercise, I meditate, I eat right. So I do all those things but I also have a good background for singing for knowing what to do with it because I studied for many years at, worked with a coach who really knew what to do so that was great.

M: I mentioned Bob Dylan and that brings me to your duet with Joan Baez of Diamonds and Rust.

J: Oh I loved singing that song with her, it’s so special.

M: It’s an extremely intimate song and a very personal song for her so what was it like to do that with her?

J: Well of course I’d known Dylan, I knew all about their love affair and I had sung it for a long time in concert myself so it was a natural thing, we’re old friends for instance so that helps.

M: When you actually went to record the track, how did you decide to sing which lines and how was it going to work out? Did you discuss it or just kind of roll with it?

J: We decided to give Joanie the solo, the lead and then I would sing harmony so that was pretty much the way to go.

Judy CollinsM: And also, your old friend Stephen Stills is on, you have a version on the album of Last Thing on My Mind with him, an old Tom Paxton tune. It’s just great to hear all you folks singing together and making music still so tell me a little about you and Stephen, I know you recorded an album with him a little while ago.

J: We had a tour in the US. We didn’t go to Europe but we had a tour here in 2016, 17 and we did a 115 shows in the year and a half and we had a ball. There was never a dull moment and there was never an uncomfortable moment, it was just heavenly. And I got to be the girl guitar player in the rock n roll band, that was pretty swell. Most of those shows you see, you have two artists. You’ll usually have two artists. You’ll usually have one open and the other do a second hour and maybe if you’re lucky you’ll get the song together. We were on stage for two straight hours and we sang everything together except we each had one solo so it was very special I must say, it really was.

M: Of course the other guy who’s moving right along is Willie Nelson, who’s on the record as well.

Judy CollinsJ: Yeah, he’s the best. That was a song that we sang together which was written by a singer that I didn’t know (Dave Carter), I sort of missed him, he was an American singer and he escaped my clutches for some reason but I discovered his song not too long ago and then when I brought it to Willy he said oh that’s really the one I wanna sing with you so we did that, we had a lot of fun doing that.

M: Of course a lot of these songs, there are several versions that you yourself have recorded, songs that you’re associated with over many years and one of those is Chelsea Morning which I’m wondering, does your relationship with the song change over the years? Do you think about it differently than when you first heard it?

J: I think it always remains a very exciting song to sing. The minute the opening starts I get very pleased and excited to sing it. It’s one of those songs, it does that I think for most people who hear it. It’s very uplifting. So I love it, I love singing it and it’s been part of my repertoire for, my gosh, 40 years at least I think.

M: It seems like Joni Mitchell is reemerging after being so unwell for so long so that’s good to see as well.

J: Yeah, that looks good, that’s very hopeful, very hopeful.

M: Have you spoken to her? Do you have a relationship with her at all?

J: Not really, not really.

M: And of course, you do Turn! Turn! Turn! When was that recorded? It sounds like a full band behind you playing that version.

J: That wasn’t too long ago or maybe five or six years ago. And we love to sing that song, it’s a beauty.

M: So, have you got plans to…are you recording again? Do you have more stuff coming?

J: Oh yes. In fact I’ve just finished recording an album of all my own songs which will come out in February actually and probably will be called Spellbound.

M: Are these newly written songs?

J: All brand new songs, all my own.

M: That’s exciting.

J: Yeah, it is very exciting, you’re right. It’s very exciting.

M: I mean, cause let’s face it, you are mostly known as an interpreter although I know you’ve written songs throughout, so what brought this writing spurt on?

J: Well, I’m always writing so it’s an accumulation of things that I’ve done over the past five years or so and I think it will be interesting. I was singing three of the new songs the other night at the City Winery and that was very exciting to be able to take them into the public.

M: There is a lot of young Americana singer songwriters that are out there. I just got a new song by Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen together and all that, folks like that. I’m wondering if you pay attention to any of the new up and coming folks or are aware of your influence on what’s happening now?

J: Well I think I do. I’ve heard some of them and of course some of my favourites are, well they’re not the newest, newest. I love Shawn Colvin and I love Susanne Vega and I love Brandi Carlile. You know, they’re a group of singers that I really think are superb coming out and doing very well I think.

M: I think, out of that kind of group, Rosanne Cash is one of my favourites.

J: I love Rosanne, I love Rosanne. I’ve worked with her husband before, John Leventhal, he’s marvelous.

M: He’s quite the producer. At this point in your career, is there anything left that you haven’t done that you can’t wait to do?

J: I am writing a lot so, poetry, a new album of my own songs, a new book that I’m working on that I’m sure I’ll hammer into shape sometime in the next two years.

M: Is it an autobiography I assume?

J: Lot’s of concerts of course.

M: Is it an autobiography you’re writing?

J: Yes. Yet another one.

M: You know you’re doing well when you have enough material for more than one I guess.

J: More than one.

M: Fantastic. What is that process like for you? Sifting through memories and sorting it out and making sense of it.

J: Sitting down every day and trying, it’s like a jigsaw puzzle really. I think it’s like a jigsaw puzzle.

M: I’m very excited to hear this album you’re gonna put out in February.

J: Yeah, I can’t wait. Spellbound. It’ll be out in February of 2022.

M: Ok, I hope to talk to you again then so thank you for spending time today talking.

J: Me too, me too. God bless you and take good care of yourself.

M: You too.

Judy Collins – White Bird: Anthology Of Favorites is out now.