Judy Collins: "I’m One of the Luckiest People You’ll Ever Meet"

Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: Judy Collins performs solo at the Musical Instrument Museum this week.
Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: Judy Collins performs solo at the Musical Instrument Museum this week. Brad Trent
There are a handful of legends left in the world when it comes to the 1960s folk-music scene. Judy Collins is one of them.

She's also known as "Judy Blue Eyes," which was a moniker bestowed upon her by Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield and CSN&Y. The 77-year-old woman with the golden voice and maker of literally dozens of studio albums (somewhere between two and three dozen, actually) is the voice behind songs like "Chelsea Morning" and "Send In The Clowns," as well as a stunning version of "Amazing Grace" from her 1970 album, Whales and Nightingales.

Collins, who was recently nominated for a Grammy for her work on her most recent record, Silver Skies Blue, will play the Musical Instrument Museum (MiM) in Phoenix on March 15 and 16. We caught up with her by phone as she prepared for the current leg of her tour at her New York home.

New Times: Congrats on the Grammy nomination. Sorry if it didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to.
Judy Collins: Oh thank you. Well, we got nominated. That’s really the great thing. Thank you.

Forty years' difference in Grammy nominations … how is that to wrap your brain around?
I don’t have to wrap my brain around it. I’m a working artist. I make a living and I do my work and I keep making albums. If they don’t think about me, that’s their problem, not mine.

It’s 58 years of working and doing studio albums and touring. I do about 130 shows a year. I think in all 58 years, I might have taken off maybe two years in that period.

Whoa. That's prolific. Do you prefer to play live or record?
I like it all.

I’m privileged to have all those things in my life. Every one is a pleasure for me. At the moment, I’m working on a big tour that will start in July with me and Stephen Stills. I have a PBS special out which is called Love Letter To Stephen Sondheim. It’s out on DVD, and the CD will come out with just me on piano on my label, Wildflower Records.

I’m very happy to do what I do. I’m one of the luckiest people you’ll ever meet.

You have a book that has just come out too, correct?
My most recent book was just published a few weeks ago. It is called Cravings: How I Conquered Food (Penguin/Random House 2017). It’s doing well already, and I’m very happy about it. I hope it will help people.

The music you create … is it important that it is helping people?
That’s why I do it. The music, art, painting, and dance. They’re all arts and they help up stay on the planet.

What about the politics these days? Is that inspiring you?
[Laughs] It’s a difficult time for everybody, I’m sure. What we have to do is keep working, keep resisting, keep reaching out, keep talking about it, keep asking for the truth, and keep being creative.
What advice do you have for young songwriters?
Stay out of my way [laughs deeply, almost reminiscent of an evil witch in a Disney movie]. If you’re passionate enough, and if you believe enough in what you do, keep doing it. If you don’t, get out of it immediately because it’s way, way, way too hard.

You have to be totally convinced. You have to live like an athlete. You have to sleep in a van. If you’re really committed, you do it and I do the same thing. I’m out on the road selling my product at my concerts. I pay the freight. I walk the walk. It’s not easy. You shouldn’t go jumping into this unless you have the nerves of steel.

I take it you’re probably not sleeping in a van anymore.
Not by choice. I may be sleeping in a van or an SUV on my way to gigs because I haven’t had time to get a room and a meal.

I didn’t want people to have to worry about you camping out in the Musical Instrument Museum parking lot in between gigs.
Who knows? [laughs]

Do you have any favorite Arizona artists?
I’m a big fan of Andrew Weil. He’s an artist in terms of health and alternative medicine. He wrote a blurb for my book.

What musicians do you enjoy these days?

I enjoy Billy Joel and Suzanne Vega. I enjoy going to see Paul McCartney. I enjoy seeing all of my peers perform. Randy Newman ... There are lots of artists I enjoy. Everybody is out working because we can’t make a living otherwise.

The labels have totally lost their way. The industry has screwed up their relationship with terrestrial radio. The laws have screwed us, the artists. The performance royalty bill, which is a shame and a degradation of all artists who are performers, none of us have ever been paid since 1939 for radio. That’s a long time.

What should young artists do?
Play. Do everything you can do. Get a social media presence. Get out on the road. Play your songs, practice your craft. Send out your messages. In a way, that’s what I’ve been doing all along. It’s just a lot more intense now.

So for the MIM show, it’s just you or do you have accompaniment?
It’s just me. I’ll sing some Sondheim, some surprises, and some classic Judy Collins songs. I’m always working on new material, so there will be some brand-new material. You’ll have a good time. I look forward to seeing everyone.

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Tom Reardon has written for Phoenix New Times since 2013. He's been in several notable bands over the last 25 years including Hillbilly Devilspeak, North Side Kings, and the Father Figures.
Contact: Tom Reardon