Judy Collins found it strange that she and fellow singer/songwriter Jackson Browne had never met. They had been in the music business for years and had many friends in common, but their paths had yet to cross. “We finally met two years ago at a big event in Washington, D.C., at the Kennedy Center for a Woody Guthrie celebration,” she explained during a delightful telephone interview from the apartment in Manhattan she has called home for the past 46 years. “We spent an hour just talking about the people we know in common. We hit it off like gang busters.”
Collins reconnected with Browne when she began picking songs for a new record, “Strangers Again,” (Wildflower/Cleopatra Records – September 2015).
When possible, Collins hoped to record duets with the songwriters, so she wanted Randy Newman to join her on “Feels Like Home.”
However, “he politely refused to pair his limited vocal chops with Collins’ still-fluid soprano,” according to an article from “AllMusic.”
So, Collins turned to Browne and they teamed up for the first duet of their long careers, with beautiful results.
Another chance meeting resulted in her cutting “Someday Soon,” her huge 1969 hit, with another industry legend.
“Jimmy Buffett and I were at a party on Long Island a couple of years ago at Liz Robbins’ house,” she noted. “We had never met. We had a great time and I told him about the project.”
According to Collins, Buffett said, “There’s only one song that I’d sing with you and that’s ‘Someday Soon.’”
“Of course we did it and it was great fun,” Collins, now 76, confessed.
The arrangement is definitely a throwback to the duo’s early country roots. Buffett yodels a bit, while Collins adds a little twang to her bright soprano and even chuckles a little at the end of the track.
Serendipity played a part again when Collins found another song for the record.
“I was looking for a song to do with Michael McDonald,” she explained. “I picked ‘Journey to Miracle River.’ I didn’t know it was written by Michael’s wife, Amy Holland.”
Their cover of the tune is one of the album’s highlights, harkening back to Collins’ roots in folk music.
She found another song, “From Grace,” by a Norwegian artist Thomas Dybdahl, while having a conversation with veteran producer Larry Klein, former husband of Joni Mitchell.
Dybdahl’s breathy vocals blend perfectly with Collins clear-as-a-bell tone. It’s a bit of magic for the listener.
Perhaps the most unusual story of songs from “Strangers Again” comes with “When I Go,” a tune by the late Dave Carter (1952-2002).
“It’s very peculiar,” Collins said of how the song found her. “While I was working on the CD, I would sit down, practice, listen, make my calls and do all the things one does to talk about material and so on. In my email, I found the song from somebody. I didn’t know who it was from. I had never heard of Dave Carter. I played it. I started calling my friends in New York. No one I called had sent it to me.”
The song, whose profound imagery shimmers with wisdom and power, deals with death and dying. It had a powerful impact on Collins. The song found her at the perfect time.
She had just learned that her brother, Denver, had cancer.
“Throughout his months of agony, I was learning ‘When I Go,’ she said. “I sent it to him. He loved it.”
The song helped her deal with Denver’s passing about a month and a half ago.
“And now, it’s a centerpiece of my show,” she explained. “I do it almost every night.”
The song has impacted her audiences, too.
“People send me notes about the song,” she said. “I’m getting the same kind of reaction from people that I get from ‘Both Sides Now.’”
As fate would have it, “When I Go” was sent to Collins by one of her most ardent fans, a woman who has attended 100 Collins concerts since 2012.
When Collins told the woman she was working on the song, the woman said, “I’m the one who sent you that song. I thought you already knew about Dave Carter.”
When she got ready to lay down the track for the record, she contacted her dear friend Willie Nelson, who, unlike Collins, had known Carter and loved the song.
It all just fell into place.
“There were a lot of things that happened like that,” she said. “Reaching into the universe and the universe saying ‘Yes.’”
When the universe speaks to Collins, she listens.
Her father was a radio host, so music was always a part of her life.
“He had great taste in songs,” Collins said of her late father. “I picked it up by osmosis. I lived with these great songs in the house. I was surrounded by great music all the time.”
Her parents and piano teacher had plans for a classical career, but once Collins heard Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, she knew a stuffy concert hall was not for her. She took up the guitar and gravitated to Greenwich Village in the early 1960s.
She released her first record, “A Maid of Constant Sorrow,” in 1961, when she was 22.
She entered into a relationship with Elecktra Records that would last for 35 years. She’s released more than 50 albums and has written seven books.
She’s always been able to pick hit songs, be it Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” or Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns.”
And, she’s had songs written about her. Stephen Stills penned “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” in 1969. They were romantically involved at the time. Crosby, Stills and Nash performed the number at Woodstock and Live Aid, and it was featured in the film, “Woodstock.” The song is ranked as #418 by Rolling Stone on its “Greatest 500 Songs of All Time.”
Stills joins his former love in a delightful arrangement of “The Last Thing On My Mind,” a bonus track written by folk legend Tom Paxton who performed on The Bowery Stage April 23.
Joan Baez sings “Diamonds and Dust” on the record’s second bonus track.
Talk about folk music royalty. These three were there for it all.
Although she’s enjoyed incredible success and longevity in her career, Collins has had her share of dark times.
She’s been very public about her battles with alcoholism, depression, bulimia and the loss of her only child to suicide in 1992. The tragedy prompted her to write several books on how to cope with such a loss. Helping others helped her get through the sadness.
Collins performs about 100 shows a year. For Mother’s Day, she will be performing “A Love Letter to Stephen Sondheim” on May 8, in Boettcher Hall in Denver. PledgeMusic! is offering several packages from a DVD for $35 to lunch with Collins at $180 or a one-of-a-kind water color by the singer for $3,000.
For more information on the Denver show, visit http://www.judycollins.com.
To hear Judy Collins sing“Both Sides Now,”click here.
For more about Judy Collins, visit her website.
Miss Collins will be at Winnsboro Center for the Arts for a sold out show on June 14. For more about Winnsboro Center for the Arts, visit their website.