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Folk Legend Judy Collins Plays 'Not My Job'

Judy Collins
Henny Ray Abrams/AP

Singer-songwriter Judy Collins has been making music for more than 50 years. (Then again ... so has Keith Richards, but Collins looks a lot better.) Collins released a new album called Paradise in 2010, and she's writing a book due out in the fall.

We've invited Collins to play a game called "It's Bootsy, baby!" Three questions about Bootsy Collins — bassist for Parliament-Funkadelic, not to mention sporter of the greatest rhinestone suits, hats and glasses seen in American music.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

PETER SAGAL, Host:

And now, the game where we invite on folk legends and treat them like normal folk. Our guest has been making music for more than 50 years. So has Keith Richards, but she looks way, way better.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Her album "Paradise" is out now. She's got a new album and a new book coming out this fall. Judy Collins, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

JUDY COLLINS: Thank you. Thank you, thank you.

SAGAL: You grew up and you were like a classical music prodigy, right, playing the piano?

COLLINS: Well, I played the piano. I practiced every day, a couple of hours. I had a poodle skirt. I wore white gloves to church. And that was before I became a hippie, you know before everything happened in the great folk scare.

SAGAL: It was a great folk explosion.

COLLINS: Yeah.

SAGAL: Now, how did you get caught up in that? I mean, were you walking down the street and you saw somebody who was unkempt and you went like, I, too, would like to be unkempt.

COLLINS: I was so kempt, really, and I need to get unkempt. That's what I needed.

SAGAL: So many of us do.

COLLINS: The first music I heard was from a movie score of "The Black Knight," and it was an Alan Ladd movie about King Arthur and his merry men. And the singer was a guy named Elton Hayes from Bury St. Edmund in England. Anyway, he was singing this song in the movie soundtrack, I guess, and somebody was playing it in 1954. And I heard it, went crazy and said, I'm going to New York. I'm going to go to Gertie's. I'm going to go to the Newport Folk Festival. I'm going to be a folk singer.

SAGAL: Wait a minute, wait a minute. You're telling me there's a direct line from like listening to a soundtrack to an Alan Ladd King Arthur movie.

COLLINS: Yes, and the other person...

SAGAL: To like dropping acid with Bob Dylan.

COLLINS: That's right.

SAGAL: It's like...

COLLINS: That's exactly the direction that I took.

SAGAL: So did you have to - how did you make yourself over into a folkie, into a hippie? I mean, what are the steps?

COLLINS: Well, first, I got rid of my poodle skirt.

SAGAL: Right. So going without pants.

COLLINS: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So you transformed yourself. How did you fall in with these people? All the amazing folk singers and rock and rollers of the 60s?

COLLINS: You know, I found them all as I went along. I sang in all these clubs, you know, the Bitter End here in New York, of course. The Gate of Horn. I mean they were everywhere. And I worked with all these incredible artists. And I learned songs and I sang songs. I was just lucky. You know, I heard this music. The other singer that inspired me was Jo Stafford. Can you believe it?

AMY DICKINSON: Oh I love her.

COLLINS: Yeah. It's wasn't Pete Seiger and it wasn't Woodie Guthrie, it was Joan Stafford. I mean she was famous for singing, you know.

COLLINS: (Singing) See the pyramids along the Nile. You know, watch the sunset from a desert isle.

COLLINS: And she made her living doing that. And then she came out with an album of folk songs on which she sang Barbara Allen.

SAGAL: You just broke into song. And we've heard other interviews with you where you did that. Do you do that, like, in regular life? Like, when I called you the other day to chat before the show, I got your voicemail and you sing your voicemail message.

COLLINS: Oh yes. I don't know what I was singing.

COLLINS: (Singing) I'll be seeing you in all the old familiar places.

COLLINS: Probably.

SAGAL: Do you do that in...

COLLINS: I do it a lot. Well I do, certainly, when I do speaking engagements, I always break into lots of song. And actually, when I do concerts, I break into even more songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I would hope. Do you do it when ordering a hamburger?

COLLINS: It depends.

SAGAL: Two all beef patties...

COLLINS: Upon the ingredients and the restaurant.

SAGAL: Right.

PAULA POUNDSTONE: I do that when we grocery shop. And my kids get so mad at me. I thought it was a good thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Do you try to sing like...

COLLINS: Do you sing things like - you probably don't sing like...

COLLINS: (Singing) Cream of Wheat is good to eat, and it makes you feel so grand.

COLLINS: Do you remember that song?

POUNDSTONE: No, but I love it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

COLLINS: Well next time you go into the cereal section, you can sing that.

POUNDSTONE: I'm going to have to.

SAGAL: Oh yeah. I mean, Paula, do you mean like you sing your instructions to your children like...

SAGAL: (Singing) Stop bouncing around or I'll take you home.

SAGAL: Or do you just like singing regular stuff.

DICKINSON: (Singing) Stop bouncing around tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

POUNDSTONE: No. It'll be like in the grocery store and they have a fine soundtrack in our grocery store. They have good music.

SAGAL: Right.

POUNDSTONE: And so I sing along and sometimes dance in certain aisles.

COLLINS: Oh.

POUNDSTONE: I thought it was an expression of happiness, like I assume Judy does it.

COLLINS: Absolutely, it's an expression of joy and happiness. Anything that comes to mind.

SAGAL: We did some research on you and we had our intern look up a lot of reviews. And he tells us that in all the reviews of you and your singing, the same five words - I'm sorry, four words keep coming up. They are: clear, mountain stream, bell, and icy, in various combinations. She's like an icy, mountain stream. She's clear as a bell. She's clear as a mountain stream that's icy, bell-like, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So, I mean, what do you think? You're going to go with that?

COLLINS: I'll go with it. I think that's a good description. Yes, I think it's good. I think it's good. Or warm as toast, honey drenched. There are some other things that...

SAGAL: Oh go on. This is actually...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

POUNDSTONE: I'll tell you something, Judy and I work in a lot of the same places and I'll tell you what I hear. I hear that your voice remains very, very beautiful and it hasn't lost anything over the 50 years.

COLLINS: Yeah, you would remind me it's been 50 years.

SAGAL: Yeah.

POUNDSTONE: Sorry.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Do you have to take...

DICKINSON: Judy, what's your secret to that? Because that is true and like...

COLLINS: It is amazing.

DICKINSON: It's so rare.

COLLINS: Yeah.

DICKINSON: What's your secret there?

COLLINS: It's amazing. I was very lucky. I had a lot of training both as a classical pianist and sang all those songs growing up. Otherwise, I would say I have another answer, a shorter answer.

SAGAL: Please.

COLLINS: It's just good living.

SAGAL: Good living?

POUNDSTONE: See, because I think Tom Waits is going to run into some trouble.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: You think so? But I thought the whole point...

COLLINS: You're putting that in the future?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: It's going to get worse? I thought the whole point of being a folk singer in the 60s was to live poorly?

COLLINS: I'll tell you, part of the 60s was just the skill of living through, I swear to God. Because, after all, we were supposed to break all the rules. We were supposed to do everything that our parent - well, my parents were different, but what most parents would have told you not to do.

MAZ JOBRANI: Does that mean you would take the acid, but you would have it in tea, hot tea?

COLLINS: Well, you know, I was so addicted to various things that I took acid once and it just about ruined my life, so I did it again.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Oh I see, of course.

DICKINSON: Man.

SAGAL: One last question, which is do you, in terms of your own music, you've sung so much stuff, you've done folk and pop and rock and Broadway, do you have like a musical guilty pleasure you listen to when you're alone and no one will know?

COLLINS: Well I do, I listen to a lot of different kinds of music. I try to be broad in my musical tastes.

DICKINSON: Like, do you listen to pop, like Katy Perry, and like that stuff?

COLLINS: I will, now that I know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Yeah, now that you've turned her on to Katy Perry.

DICKINSON: Right, oh good.

COLLINS: Now that I know, I will.

SAGAL: When Judy Collins' cover of "I Kissed a Girl" comes out, it will be your fault, Amy.

DICKINSON: (Singing) I kissed a girl.

DICKINSON: Yeah.

SAGAL: Well, Judy Collins, we're delighted to have you with us.

COLLINS: (Singing) I kissed a girl.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DICKINSON: (Singing) And I liked it.

COLLINS: (Singing) And I liked it.

DICKINSON: I can't believe I got to sing with Judy Collins. Woo.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

DICKINSON: Wow.

SAGAL: Well, Judy Collins, we have asked you here to play a game we're calling?

CARL KASELL, Host:

It's Bootsy, baby.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Judy Collins, surely you know about Bootsy Collins, the star bassist for Parliament-Funkadelic rocker of the greater rhinestone suits, hats and glasses seen in American music. So we're going to ask you three questions about the other musical Collins. If you get two right, you'll win our prize, Carl's voice on their home answering machine. Carl, who is Judy Collins playing for?

KASELL: Judy is playing for Emma Sabien(ph) of Claremont, California.

SAGAL: Here is your first question. Bootsy got his first big gig when he joined James Brown's backup band. What was his lucky break to get that job? A: James Brown visited the car dealership where Bootsy worked and saw him rapping out a beat on the hood of a Buick? B: James Brown prior band all quite because they weren't getting paid enough, so he needed new musicians in a hurry? Or C: Bootsy had a gig delivering flowers to James Brown's house. He brought his bass and played a few measures before they could throw him out?

COLLINS: I would go with C.

SAGAL: You're going to with C. That he grabbed that opportunity to audition for the Godfather of Soul, while delivering flowers?

COLLINS: Yeah.

SAGAL: I like that story. I wish it were true.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: In fact, what happened was James Brown got rid of his prior band because they wanted too much money and hired a new one, including Bootsy and he went on to great fame and fortune from there.

COLLINS: Oh my God.

SAGAL: Okay, you still have two more chances. Bootsy has had a lot of hits spanning a lot of genres, much like you, including which of these in Bootsy's oeuvre? A: a classical cantata called "Lam de Funk"? B: a funk remix of Ronald Reagan's joke about bombing the Russians? Or C: a children's song called "Uncle Bootsy's Magic Box"?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

COLLINS: I think I'll pick, B, Ronald Reagan.

SAGAL: You're going to go with Ronald Reagan.

COLLINS: Yes.

SAGAL: You're right.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

POUNDSTONE: All right.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Bootsy collaborated with a member of the Talking Heads to make a record called "Five Minutes." Here's a sample.

(SOUNDBITE OF "FIVE MINUTES")

SAGAL: There you go. It's slightly terrifying and you can dance to it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: You've got one right with one to go. If you get this one right, you will win it all. Here we go.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Last question. Bootsy has enjoyed putting on various personas over the years onstage and elsewhere. One of his latest is a digital avatar that appears on his website. This cartoon character is known as whom? A: Bu Manchu? B: Booty, Booty, Boot, Boot, Boot.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Or C: Phil Collins?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

COLLINS: I like A: Booty, Booty Bu Manchu.

SAGAL: You're going to go for Bu Manchu, that's A?

COLLINS: Yeah.

SAGAL: You're right, it's Bu Manchu.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

COLLINS: Thank God.

POUNDSTONE: Oh nice.

COLLINS: Thank God, I finally won something.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

COLLINS: Thank God.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Bu Manchu wears a Fu Manchu mustache and spreads the gospel of music to kids.

COLLINS: Oh, that's good.

SAGAL: Carl, how did Judy Collins do on our quiz?

KASELL: Well, Judy had two correct answers, and so Judy, you win for Emma Sabien of Claremont, California.

SAGAL: Well done, congratulations.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

COLLINS: Thank you. Thank you.

SAGAL: Judy Collins' most recent album is "Paradise." Her next one is out in October. Judy Collins, thank you so much for being with us on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: What a pleasure.

POUNDSTONE: Right, Judy, nice...

COLLINS: Thank you, thank you. Thank you everybody.

SAGAL: Thank you so much.

JOBRANI: Bye, Judy.

COLLINS: Bye now.

POUNDSTONE: Take care.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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