This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
JUDY COLLINS started out as a classical pianist; indeed she performed one of Mozart’s piano pieces when she was just 13. She was destined for great things in this realm. Then she discovered the music of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and the like and picked up a guitar.
Somewhat later her piano teacher was reported to have said, "Little Judy, you really could have gone places”. Oh well, what goes around, comes around.
I’ll start with something from Judy’s fifth album, which she imaginatively titled “Fifth Album”. The Coming of the Roads was written by Billy Edd Wheeler, who was a serious songwriter covered by many country artists - Johnny Cash and June Carter spring to mind as well as Neil Young, Elvis, Nancy Sinatra, Bobby Darin, the Jefferson Airplane, and on it goes.
Way back, JOAN BAEZ wrote one of her finest songs about a phone call she received from Bob Dylan. She called it Diamonds and Rust and it was on the album of the same name. She rerecorded it with Judy on an album called "Paradise".
Here they are singing together helped by The Nashville Rhythm Section. I think Joan's original version is just a bit better, but this one isn't bad.
I consider “In My Life” to be her finest album. She was still performing folk material, but also show tunes (serious ones), rock & roll and everything in between. One song she performed was Pirate Jenny, written by Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht and Marc Blitzstein.
This album marked the start of her musical evolution into interesting and quite challenging material.
Ian Tyson wrote the song Some Day Soon and he recorded it with his wife (at the time) Sylvia Fricker (they were known as Ian and Sylvia).
Not too long after that Judy recorded a really fine version on her album "Who Knows Where the Time Goes". I was going to use that one until I came across this one she recorded with JIMMY BUFFETT.
Judy was an early champion of Leonard Cohen – she recorded many of his songs before anyone else (including Leonard himself). From the rather gorgeous album “Wildflowers”, here is Sisters of Mercy.
Like a lot of performers, Judy was fond of the songs of Jimmy Webb. The one I’ve chosen is one that was unfamiliar to me before I researched this column. It’s Campo de Encino. She has a little help from SHAWN COLVIN.
It's easier just to call the next song Marat-Sade. Of course, people who have been around this column for a while will know that I won't be satisfied with that. The song is actually called The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade.
I don't know if this came out as a single, but I suspect not – they'd have trouble getting all that on the label. Okay, they could have gone for the short version.
The music was written by Richard Peaslee, and Judy sings a medley of songs from the production. Anyway, is it just me, or does the tune sound like a couple of the arias from Puccini's “Madama Butterfly”? Probably just me.
The “Fifth Album” was Judy’s last straight folk album, if you include contemporary songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot and Richard Fariña in the folk category. The song I’ve chosen was written by Richard (Fariña) and Pauline Marden and is called Pack up Your Sorrows. Richard plays the dulcimer on this one.
It surprised me to discover that she had covered a song of the Traveling Wilburys, the greatest super group in history. She has the help of STEPHEN STILLS on this one.
Stephen has helped her on several of her albums over the years. The song is the best known of the Wilburys songs, Handle With Care.
One of the members of the Wilburys was George Harrison who, for those people who have been living on Saturn for the last 60 years, was a member of The Beatles, a rather successful group from the sixties.
One of the songs that group wrote and recorded was In My Life. It's rare that someone can cover a Beatles song and equal their version, but I think Judy does so. She makes it more wistful and regretful than John's version.