There’s a whole new generation of hip young female folk singers at the moment and all of them owe a debt to Judy Collins.
Her 1967 breakthrough album Wildflowers introduced Judy’s pure folk tones as she recorded a smash hit cover of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now, and brought the songs of the then unknown Leonard Cohen to a mass audience.
Part of that Golden generation of West Coast songwriters she inspired Crosby, Stills and Nash’s Suite: Judy Blue Eyes and constant touring has built a loyal band of fans young and old. Now Judy is back in the UK with gigs in Leeds and Manchester promoting her new album Strangers Again.
“It’s funny because the way I was inspired to do it because I heard this song called Strangers Again written by Ari Hest and sung by him. I listened to the song, loved it and thought I have to get this song out there before Diana Ross record this,” laughs Judy.
“We recorded it and I thought I’ve got to put together an album of duets with other men as I love singing with guys. I think there is something very special about that so I called all my friends who were excited about it and said ’let’s go.”
Over a 50 year career Collins has becomes mates with great singers so on this album she is able to call on the services of Michael McDonald, Jackson Browne, Jimmy Buffett, Willie Nelson, and even Oscar winning actor and part time crooner Jeff Bridges.
“I got a bunch of songs from a guy called John Goodwin who writes song with and for Jeff Bridges. The only reason I got ahold of him was I went to one of Jeff’s concert as we are old friends. I said to Jeff maybe we should record Crazy Heart, but said he’d like to record Make Our Garden Grow, a song from the musical Candide.
“Ar Jeff’s show he played some tracks he’d recorded with John so he said you have to call him and ask him to send some songs. Among the songs John sent was Miracle River so I said this is great and I have to do this with Michael McDonald. Ironically it was written by Michael’s wife Amy Holland and the weird thing I didn’t know that.”
The combination of those star names and Collins’ still pure voice has seen the new album shoot up the Billboard charts but the busy schedules of her singing partners meant she had to use technology to record some of duets remotely.
“Sometimes it was face to face, but it depended whoever was available or where they could do it,” says Collins. “I think we hit a sweet spot with the music, the singers and the production so it is very exciting to back in the high numbers on Amazon and the Billboard charts and I love it that the record has been released it is on my own label.”
One of the highlights of the album is Collins revisiting Sondheim’s Send In The Clowns which was a top 10 hit for her in 1975. But why did she choose Don Mclean as her partner for that song?
“I’ve been doing some concerts with Don around America, and he and I have become good friends. I said why don’t we record Vincent together and he said I’m so bored with doing that song.
“He said I don’t want you to laugh, but I’d like to Send In The Clowns with you, and I said I’m not laughing. I think it has turned out beautifully, as I was really intrigued he wanted to do that song, and I’m delighted with the results.”
Collins may be 76, but she is no slacker still doing a punishing schedule of at least 120 gigs a year across the globe, and she knows only too well how tough it is to keep a career alive.
“One of my friends calls what I do a brutal career, which is true, and it’s not for everybody. People ask if I have any advice for young musicians so I say ‘get out’ unless you can plan for the worst and dream for the best.
“You can have a week of great success winning The Voice and crumble the year after so unless you have nerves of steel don’t bother. But I get to sing to audiences all over the world, and it’s a lot of work, but is a great privilege,
“On this tour I’ll be singing all the old favourites so Send In the Clowns, but without Don so the audience will have to fill in his part, as well Both Sides Now and Someday Soon so we’ll have a great time.”
Judy Collins plays Leeds City Varieties on Monday 12 November (box office 0113 2430808/wwwcityvarieties.co.uk) and Manchester Royal Northern College of Music on Thursday 15 October (box office 0161 907555/www.rncm.ac.uk)