Judy Collins talks GRAMMY Nomination, life on the road, food and alcohol addictions, and her new book
Forty-one years after her last nomination, Judy Collins returned to the GRAMMY awards in a major way in 2017. A GRAMMY nominee this year for Best Folk Album for Silver Skies, the iconic folk troubadour got to honor two of her peers this year when she sang “Both Sides Now” in front of Joni Mitchell at Clive Davis annual pre-GRAMMY gala and then the next day performed Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” at the pre-telecast.
It was a fitting kickoff the year for Collins, who will be taking more strolls down memory lane with her new album, Stills & Collins, and tour with one-time paramour Stephen Stills. Collins, of course, was the inspiration for the famed “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.”
Collins talked about life on the road, her very open battles with food and alcohol addictions, chronicled in her new book, Cravings: How I Conquered Food, and how Mitchell first sang her “Both Sides Now” over the phone 50 years ago.
You’ve been touring on and off sporadically as of late, correct?
I’m always on the road. My life is a tour. I do about 130 shows a year, actually, and I’m just all about getting it out there.
You were nominated for a Grammy for Best Folk Album this year. What was your experience like?
I sang for the tribute to Leonard Cohen, which everybody said should have been on the main stage, and had a great time. It was a wonderful trip. Ari [Hest] and I loved every minute of it, and we were so honored to be nominated.
You also performed for Joni Mitchell at the Clive Davis event, correct?
Yes, I did, the night before the Grammys. It was very exciting.
What does it mean to you to get to have the chance to honor people you have such longstanding relationships with? It had to be extra special to perform for Joni.
Of course, that hit the high note, I must say. As I do. And you know, it was so magical to be there. It’s almost 50 years since I heard “Both Sides Now,” that’s pretty amazing, and the way I heard it was pretty amazing. I was sound asleep here in New York in my apartment on 79th street, and it was three in the morning, and the phone rang and thank god I woke up. I wouldn’t have necessarily done that because I’m sure I was drunk — after all it was the ‘60s — and I woke up and it was Al Kooper on the phone and he said to me, “I know I woke you up, but you’re not going to regret this.” And then he put Joni Mitchell on the phone and she sang me “Both Sides Now.” It’s how I heard the song. And I said, “I’ll be right over.” (Laughs)
Is that the most famous song that anyone’s ever sung to you over the phone, or have there been others?
I think that’s the best. I’m sure I’ve heard other things, but not like that.
Since you say the Joan [Baez]/Judy [Collins]/Joni [Mitchell] tour won’t happen at this point is there still a possibility of the Joan/Judy tour? That would be a pretty amazing double bill.
Well, put it out there. I don’t know. I just show up and sing, let’s put it that way. And I have incredible luck. I've just finished a tour and an album that was nominated, as you know, with Ari Hest, and that’s a dream come true, that has been a real gift to me. I never wrote a whole album with anybody. I never went on tour with a guy, or a girl; I’ve never been on tour with anybody. So that sort of blew my mind, that whole thing.
I love that you still get to learn and do new things. How much fun does it make it for you, getting to have these new experiences?
I’m very fortunate that for a lot of my life, I have never done anything like that. I’ve never written any songs with anybody at the length that I did with Ari. We’ve had about four years of being able to sing together, tour together, and make, really, the album that I made in 2015. It was based on the song that Ari wrote which is called “Strangers Again.” “Strangers Again” kicked the album off, so then I called Jackson Browne and Willie Nelson and Jeff Bridges and a lot of wonderful singers who all said, “Yes," they would be happy to sing with me. So I think that album reminded the GRAMMYs that I was still around here. It also got me back on the charts, which is amazing. And so I always look for and do different and wonderful things, and I’m lucky that a lot of them reach the public since that’s how I make my living. The new album that I released, the new CD and DVD that came out of [Stephen] Sondheim, is quite remarkable too, because I’ve been working on that for about 25 years. Ever since I went to Stephen and said, “I’d like to work on a whole other group of your songs,” and he said, “That sounds like a wonderful idea,” it’s taken a long time to get that to happen but it’s finally happened. Now it’s a PBS special and raising a lot of money for my favorite television channel and, you know, I work on different ideas all the time and sometimes they come to fruition.
Turning to your book, was it something that you had been aware of, these demons, and these battles all your life where now you were ready to talk about them in your book, Cravings: How I Conquered Food?
This happened to be the time to talk about it because I’ve been in recovery now for eight and a half years for a food issue, and sober for 38 years, almost 39. And I found a way, and I’ve talked about alcohol before and about recovery before, but the issue of the eating disorder has gone on simultaneously, but I really found a true solution and I want everybody to know about this because the question of allergy, compulsion, and how these foods fit into our lives and make us eat more or less, or create eating disorders, I don’t think it’s been approached in the way that I finally understand it. I certainly want people to know there’s an easier way to deal with it. It’s not complicated, it’s simple. It’s like science, like chemistry. You know, I’m an alcoholic so I don’t have food that has in it grain, flour, sugar, wheat, or corn. I don’t have alcohol so I don’t have those foods. However, in most of our food plans that we get involved with, we have that junk, so the food plan that I’m on, which was a gift from the twelve-step programs, I call them the anonymous programs, takes out the sugar, flour, grain, wheat, and corn. These are all foods found in alcohol, and in me, they set up a compulsion and an allergy. And it’s that simple.
You mention Mama Cass and Karen Carpenter, do you feel it’s important to talk about this, especially with the pressure that people in this industry go through?
I wrote this book especially to let people know that there’s something to do about this and it’s not extreme, it’s accessible, that is not expensive, it doesn’t involve special clothes or shoes or buying all kinds of products and going broke. It’s very simple. You go online and you get into the anonymous programs and you find out who’s doing something that’s free and also healthy about food.
How has this lifestyle enabled you to do more with your music, your voice?
I’m just lucky and I love to work and I love what I do and being out on the road and also writing books and writing songs, I’ve been on an entire writing year, writing like a maniac. And it’s just because that’s what I can do so I get to do it and I feel so blessed and so fortunate to be able to. Thank god I have good health. There was a lot of questioning in the history of my own life that I would make it this far and be this healthy so I feel strongly that the better angels have a hold of me. That’s really the truth. I thought I was a late bloomer but an early starter.