Get out your dress duds. Friday night (November 7) Judy Collins will be at the Westin, performing at a fundraiser for the Columbus-based Ohio Cancer Research Associates. Drop everything and reserve your tickets now: ohiocancer.org, (614) 224-1127.
Done? OK. Now here’s our brief interview with the gracious Collins, who still has an impossible-to-describe voice (liquid crystal? Mountain air?), who still has a jones for all kinds of music (Taylor Swift! Fleet Foxes!) and who, after a half century as an American icon, knows just about everyone (seriously: Buzz Aldrin).
I noticed on your website that you’re doing eight concerts in November, not counting your appearance in Cincinnati. And another 13 in December. Is that typical for you?
Oh, yes. I do about 120 shows a year.
On the road a third of the year: that sounds exhausting.
That’s one of the things that goes along with the job—learning to tolerate the travel. But I’ve always had a lust for the road.
Here you’ll be singing in the Westin, which is different than performing in a conventional venue I imagine. Do you prepare any differently?
No, I don’t do anything differently. Preparing is all about turning into Judy Collins and doing whatever show we decide to do on that particular evening. Sometimes it’s with an orchestra; sometimes just a small group to accompany, so that makes a difference. In Cincinnati I’ll pay the guitar, and I have a pianist.
When you put together a program, are you concerned that there are always going to be old fans who’ll be disappointed if you don’t sing “their” song?
Well, I always do what I want to do on a given evening. I have to run my own show.
Your voice is still incredible; I can’t say that about a lot of your contemporaries.
I have been very lucky. And I’ve worked hard to take care of it, too. It’s a combination of those two things. I’ve been able to maintain my physical health, and I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t go to football games and scream. You have to pay attention to what your training has taught you, and what you’ve learned by performing.
Singing music you don’t love is hard on your voice.
What are you listening to these days?
Well, I love the new Taylor Swift album . . . .Mumford and Sons . . . Fleet Foxes. Rachael Sage comes out on the road with me sometimes. We did a duet on Neil Young’s song “Helpless.” She’s a very interesting artist. I listen to a lot of my contemporaries, of course. Someone I had never listened to in the past was Tom Waits. And I’ve just gotten interested in his songs. One that I really enjoy is “Take it With Me.” I’ve got to record it!
Most of the young artists you’re following have been very skillful in managing their own careers.
They have to today!
But back in the day, you were one of the few performers who did that.
I started my own company in ’72. I was manager, promoter . . . Most artists didn’t want to do that. Today is an interesting time in the music business, with many more opportunities, but also many more pitfalls.
One thing that hasn’t changed: the potential for self-destructive behavior. In your memoire you’ve written frankly about being an alcoholic, and about struggling to come to terms with your son’s suicide. So many talented people have destroyed themselves under those circumstances. How’d you escape that fate?
Well, first you’re destroyed and then you recover. Everybody has those experiences to some degree. Music is a great healer. And I’ve able to work with mental health organizations, which has helped. I do 10 to 20 shows a year raising money for mental health groups.
What’s on your Bucket List? What else would you like to add to your career?
I’d like to do a Broadway show, a movie, and a TV show about the ‘60s. And I’d like to go to the moon. No—Mars. I ran into Buzz Aldrin a while ago, and he was wearing a tee shirt that said Get Your Ass to Mars.
You “ran into” Buzz Aldrin?
Oh, I’ve known him for 30 years. He’s quite serious. He wants to bring NASA back, to work on a Mars mission. I know that we have commercial space efforts going on, but it takes big government to do big things like humanitarian aid and peaceful exploration of space. And the power of government doesn’t come from chaos and bickering.