In 1961, Judy Collins was a Greenwich Village folk singer with a strong debut called A Maid of Constant Sorrow. An Earth-mother type with astonishing blue eyes, Collins had an airy voice that floated above the almost proletariat acoustic music of the day. Collins emerged in the next few years also as a social activist, and when she calls from Australia, where she is on tour, I ask if there are similarities between the protesters of her generation and those of today. “Most of us have good intentions — that is, the ones who aren’t trying to tear the whole society apart, meaning the bankers and the people from the big-money companies. But, otherwise, I think we’re all pretty decent.” I tell her that if big-money is truly the downfall of the country, then I’d like to start hearing some Wall Street protest songs. “Well,” she says, “we’ll go to Tom Paxton for those.”
One of Judy Collins’s gifts is her ability to hear the quality, the strength of other songwriters. The artists she has recorded have often gone on to become famous themselves. “I am blessed that I didn’t write songs in those days,” she says, “because it left room open to help people get started.” She launched Joni Mitchell’s career in 1968 with her Grammy Award–winning take on the relatively unknown singer-songwriter’s “Both Sides Now.” A fledgling Leonard Cohen brought his songs to Collins and wondered if they were good. “He didn’t have any clue what he was doing,” she laughs, and even her laugh sounds like music.
Now touring behind her new CD Paradise, Collins is also finishing an autobiography, the working title of which is “Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll, and Music that Changed a Generation,” subject matter in which Judy Collins is well versed.
JUDY COLLINS: 4th&B, Thursday, February 10, 7 p.m. 619-231-4343. $35, $40.