Ahead of Her GR Visit, Judy Collins on Hard Work & Taking Risks

Judy Collins to perform at Royce Auditorium in February.
Judy Collins to perform at Royce Auditorium in February.

As an artist, the best thing you can do is take risks, says Judy Collins. “That is really what it’s all about. You are sticking your neck out every time you step on the stage.”

Collins, 77, has been taking risks throughout her nearly 60-year career and it’s those risks that have proven a pillar of her creative process. It’s also helped her garner an impressive 50-album body of work, 10 books, a plethora of awards and honors, and become a regular speaker on topics of suicide prevention and mental health.

Her most recent risk was her collaboration with Ari Hest on “Silver Skies Blue.” Collins had never written and recorded an entire album with a writing partner before that one.

The risk paid off, with “Silver Skies Blue” garnering Collins her first Grammy nomination in over 40 years.

Despite the unfamiliar territory, Collins said the collaboration came rather easily.

“It actually was very comfortable with Ari because I knew him for a number of years and also we had already recorded together,” Collins said. The duo first collaborated in 2013 during a show in Dublin and Hest has toured with Collins in both the United Kingdom and the United States and the pair has continued to work together.

“We’d already recorded “Strangers Again,” his great song that led to a fantastic duets album that I made called ‘Strangers Again,’” Collins said.

That album also features duets with Michael McDonald, Jackson Brown, Willie Nelson, Jeff Bridges and several other male performers.

Collins said an unexpected result of collaborating with Hest on “Silver Skies Blue” is that it’s caused her to “dig more deeply into my own songwriting.” Something she’s enjoying focusing on.

“I’m in the middle of a big writing phase of my own songs,” she said. “I’m focusing on that right now. There are certain times you do focus on that and then you have to fix your goal on finishing songs you are in the process of writing.”

Collins is also one of the hardest working musicians out there; performing 140 shows a year. She also does speaking engagements on suicide prevention and mental health and is often working on a book – her 10th book “Cravings” was published in 2017 and focuses on her struggles with food addiction.

In 2017, she toured alone and alongside Stephen Stills (promoting their album “Everybody Knows”). In 2018, she plans to follow the same rigorous schedule. She has performances lined up throughout the first half of the year, including touring again with Stills in May and June. She is also being featured in a segment for CBS Morning along with Stills in June and has been taping interviews for that.

“I tour all the time. Touring is my life and has been for 59 years,” she said.

She chalks up her strong work ethic to her early years. The oldest of five children, Collins said she had a lot of responsibility within her family. She also began singing at a young age and was cultivating her talent from the very beginning.

“I had to learn to practice every day,” she said. “Over the years, you learn to structure your career, your life, around supporting the voice and keeping healthy. So that means you have to give up a lot of things and you use a lot of discipline in your life,” she said.

Collins writes every day – be it a song, a poem or a section of a book she is working on – to nurture her creativity.

“I have a friend who writes mysteries, Joe Finder, and he says writing is like laying pipe. It’s a job. It’s a job like any other job, meaning that you have to put in the time. My feeling is, I put in the time and then I’m there when the muse decides to drop in and say hello.”

Other daily practices Collins is committed to are practicing piano, reading (she likes historical works and mysteries), spending time with friends, laughing, exercise and following a strict three meal a day diet.

She added, “If I can sing on a daily basis that is how I stay mentally fit and mentally happy. If I didn’t do these things, I wouldn’t be happy and I wouldn’t be making a living.”

If you’re attending Collins’ concert at St. Cecilia Music Center on Thursday, Feb. 1, you’ll get a chance to hear performances of favorites like “Send in the Clowns,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Both Sides Now,” as well as some of her recent work including “River of Gold” from “Everybody Knows” and possibly a few unrecorded songs she’s been working on in the past year.

“’River of Gold’ is a song that came out of my plunge into writing one song a day for a year,” Collins said. “There are a number of songs in that particular group, including one called “Arizona” that people are always asking, ‘is that recorded yet?’”

Collins said she plans to release an album of new material in early 2019.

When asked if she feels like she’s experiencing a creative high as of late, Collins said, “Oh, yes, absolutely. It’s been very exciting. The last few years have been profoundly exciting.”

So expect great things from Collins in the next few years.

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