Judee Sill: Soldier of the Heart - Rolling Stone
Home Music Music News

Judee Sill: Soldier of the Heart

The singer’s exorcism of low-riding, smack-shooting ghosts

Judee Sill, acoustic guitarJudee Sill, acoustic guitar

Judee Sill with acoustic guitar in circa 1971.

GAB Archive/Redferns/Getty

Phoenix – All the rooms at the Holiday Inn are provided, but of course, with Gideon Bibles, and as a nice homey touch, the hotel maids leave them paged open somewhere towards the middle on end tables beside reading lamps. The Good Book in Judee Sill’s second-floor suite happens, by oblique chance, to be open to Psalms, the passage that reads:

Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; fret not thyself in any wise to do evil. For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth.

Judee, in disguise with lemon-tinted glasses, sits beside the table with the Bible on it, feet propped up on the unmade bed beside a suitcase exploding with rumpled clothes, her back to the view of hot Sunday sky and distant, bruised-purple mountains visible from the sundeck. Judee has…special gifts. She writes and performs songs as severely beautiful as the small gold cross she wears at her throat, as severely beautiful as her own severe beauty. Given the proper time and place, she will swallow a burning roach, or several. Right now, though, she is exorcising ghosts. It is eerie in the room’s muted, saffron light.

“I remember tryin’ to numb myself when I was a real little kid,” she says to a visitor, drumming a nervous tattoo on the open page of the Bible. “My father owned a bar in Oakland, and I used to hang out there when I was, oh, about three – that’s where I started playin’ piano and found out I could harmonize with myself. But even back then I knew somethin’ was wrong, that I was missin’ out on havin’ a normal life. It was so seedy in the bar, you know – people were always fightin’ and pukin’, there was illegal gamblin’, and my parents drank a lot, too. They always managed to take care of business, though. In those days.

“Well, that went on for five straight years, and I knew that wasn’t the regular way of things. By the time I was seven, I was pretty numbed-out. Then, in 1952, my father died of pneumonia, and my mother and brother and me moved to L.A. Not long after that, mother married this other guy – he was an alcoholic – mean, dumb, narrow-minded, he used to beat dogs and stuff like that. I never understood what she saw in him, but she married him, anyway, and they weren’t happy together, and she started drinkin’ a lot more herself. Me, I just kept tryin’ to go on – I was playin’ the ukulele by that time, and gettin’ into some other stringed instruments, and writin’ some songs and takin’ piano lessons and so forth. I didn’t know what I was gonna do, but I thought maybe I wanted to be a star. Only I didn’t know what I wanted to be a star at.”

Judee smiles ruefully at the recollection and brushes a swatch of butterscotch-colored hair away from her face. “Well, things kept gettin’ worse, though, and I was very unhappy. My stepfather was dumb and cruel, and my mother began to get more unreasonable herself. Then my brother, who was the only reasonable person in the whole family, got married and moved away, and I was left all alone. I was a teenager by then, and pretty big and strong, so I started fightin’ back. If my mother hit me, I’d sock her back. It was a pretty even match with her, but not with my stepfather. When I finally let myself feel the injustices of my life, I’d become uncontrollable. So there was violence all the time. I always had scars on my knuckles. We had such violent fights at our house that the police and newspapermen would come.

“Then I was so miserable I flipped out in public school and had to go to a private one. All the rejects from public schools went there, if they could afford to. Two innocent little old ladies owned the place, and, ah, they didn’t know what was goin’ on. We used to have stag movies at recess, get high at lunchtime – there was always good grass around. One of the senior guys ran guns to Cuba, stuff like that. I had a good time there. I was student-body president. Of the ree-jects.”


Clasping her gold cross, Judee rocks back and forth, convulsed with hoarse laughter. “Anyway” – she’s still laughing – “there were a lot of people at that school who kind of expressed themselves through crime, you know? The alternatives were to be a beatnik, or if you were more of a violent nature, to be a low-rider – a criminal. I liked both of those. I was attracted – my intellect was attracted to, uh, deep pursuits, like the beatniks. But another part of me was attracted to danger. I always found myself being the opposite of what every situation called for. If I was around low-riders, I’d come on intellectual. If I was around intellectuals, I’d be a low-rider.

“After I graduated, I got married to a low-rider from Sherman Oaks. Just for somethin’ to do, you know? We ran off together in a ’47 Chevvy. We really just wanted to take a vacation, but everyone found out, so we had to kind of justify it so we got married on the way home. Our parents got together and bought us an annulment. That boy was a Scorpio, very daring. He later got killed goin’ down the Kern River rapids in a rubber raft on LSD. My second husband – well, that’s another story. He’s still goin’ down the rapids. We’re in the process of gettin’ divorced right now. I got the first papers at my house in Mill Valley just the other day.

“So…oh, yeah – I was so unhappy around that time that I couldn’t allow myself to realize how unhappy I was or I would’ve disintegrated right on the spot. I didn’t even know if there was any hope of rectifyin’ it, even. I took some music courses at Valley College, but I felt a gray cloud hoverin’ over me. “Then one day I called up this friend – the guy who ran guns to Cuba? He was extremely psychopathic, had no conscience at all. His eyes were always at half-mast, and he didn’t care about anything. I admired that in him – I thought it was an attractive quality, because he didn’t seem to feel anything, he was impervious to it all. I said, ‘Spencer, I’d like to be involved in a crime of some kind, so why don’t you fix somethin’ up and call me back.’ I was thinkin’ along the lines of stealin’ tires or somethin’, but Spencer introduced me to an armed robber. The idea kind of attracted me…I don’t know. I can’t explain the hopelessness and helplessness I felt in the air, but, uh, it seemed like the thing to do, the right thing.

“So this guy and me, we began to do armed robberies. We did six or seven, liquor stores and filling stations. Sometimes it was quite exciting. We’d go to a motel afterwards and spill the loot out over the bed. This guy fixed downers all the time. I was a little intrigued by the needle, but I didn’t know what it was gonna lead to later.”

Judee falls silent for a minute, staring gravely at the palms of her hands resting in her lap.

“I carried a .38. I would rehearse the holdups with it in front of a mirror, try different ways to see which seemed the most treacherous. You heard about that nervous armed robber who said, ‘OK, mothersticker, this is a fuckup’? Well, that was me. I still don’t know whether I’d’ve used the gun or not. Maybe.

“Well, we eventually got caught. I had moved into this shack with an AWOL sailor and a friend and a dog. In that seedy area over near the industrial section on Sherman Way and Laurel Canyon. One night I came home and the police were waitin’. They arrested us all. They even busted my dog. “I was very numb. I didn’t care one way or the other. That’s why I was doing those robberies, I guess – because my heart was reachin’ out, tryin to get me to care about somethin’.

“I was sent to the state reform school in Ventura, the same one Cheryl Crane went to – remember Lana Turner’s daughter who killed Johnny Stompanato? I was up there nine months. A lady therapist was very nice to me, although the other inmates, who were mostly younger than me, made my life hellish. They resented me because I’d already been to college and didn’t have to go to school like they did, stuff like that. But that lady therapist would just look into my eyes, and she was very, very kind. So I told her the truth, you know. I told her I wanted to get out, and she explained what I would have to do to get out. I would have to develop a conscience. So I tried. I don’t know to this day whether I was really doin’ it, or just fakin’ it to get out. I did my best, though, and I got my time cut short. But I got some good out of bein’ in there. I was the assistant to the art teacher and the music teacher, and I was also the church organist. I learned a lot of gospel lyrics, and that was really good for me. I learned a lot of good music while I was in The Joint.”


Judee rises to her feet. She is a bigboned woman, wearing a maroon turtleneck and faded dungaree flares. “I got to pee,” she announces, moving off briskly toward the John. When she returns and resumes talking, there’s an edge of metal in her voice that wasn’t there before.

“After Ventura, I went back to Valley College, and I got a job, workin’ in a piano bar. I lied about my age, said I was 21, but I was only 19. Took a lot of uppers because I had to work really long hours. Then my mother died, mostly from drinkin’ too much whiskey, that hard-drinkin’ life style she was into. So I didn’t know where to live ’cause I had no good reason to stay with my stepfather. Fact, I would try to go home sometimes and he would ambush me – lock all the doors and leave one window open, and when I came through the window, he would ambush me.

“So I moved in with a girl friend out in the Valley. That was in ’64, when LSD first came out. I tell you, when I first took acid, I didn’t know what was happenin’. I mean, I didn’t know what you were supposed to do or feel or anything. I never had such extreme changes before, you know? Laughin’ and cryin’ at the same time, all that. Then I met an acid dealer. I went by his place to cop and ended up movin’ in with him that same day. We took some LSD together and listened to Gil Evans play ‘Out of the Cool.’ It was a great romance, for a while.

“That guy was a bass player, and he wasn’t any too good at it. I felt he could’ve picked prettier notes, so I realized I could be a bass player at that point. I already had some really pretty bass lines in my head, so it was just a matter of gettin’ my fingers to work, which I did pretty quick. Joined Local 47, played pickup gigs in cocktail lounges and various places.

“For a year and a half in there, I was takin’ acid every day, or at least every other day – hundreds of trips. Nature had become sort of my religion, and I felt I’d broken through a lot of the old numbers. But just like with everything else, I was overdoin’ it. I began to flip out, and I had a lot of trouble gettin’ back. I was confused all the time. I tried to regain the old state of the first few times I took acid, when I felt like an innocent human being, citizen of Earth, but it was no good. I felt kind of cast out in a sea alone.

“Around then, I ran into this guy I’d known in college, Bob Harris. When I heard him play the piano, he was so good I felt like I should marry him, so I did. Like me, he was an addictive personality, I guess, and he was attracted to heroin. We met some people who shot it, and I was immediately attracted. I knew I was gonna become a junkie, and I did. Before long, we were both up to a couple of bags a day. We got busted for marijuana and got out of that, but things were definitely goin’ downhill for us.

“To raise the money for junk, we both pulled various scams, connivin’ and schemin’ and lyin’ and trickin’ people out of their money. Pretty soon, I realized that I could come up with more money by myself, so I went out on my own and started hookin’, among other things. As a hooker, I wasn’t ever – well, ah, my heart wasn’t in it because I didn’t care that much about gettin’ hot at that time. Oh, you know, I feigned excitement and thought up clever schemes to make it go real quick, but all I really cared about was gettin’ that needle in my vein, squeezin’ off.”

Judee shifts agitatedly in her chair, entwines her fingers in a Jacob’s ladder, peers into its interstices for a minute.

“Well, that went on for three years. At one point, I lived with a smack dealer, and I was shootin’ up 15 to 20 bags a day. We lived down on Central Avenue in downtown L.A., and that was really gettin’ down in the pits, see. I started gettin’ really desperate, got busted a couple of times, went to jail a few times. I don’t remember a whole lot of it along in there, but most of the time I know I had no home, I was just hangin’ around the Wilcox Hotel in the grungy central Hollywood flatlands. Most of the time I was so sick I couldn’t get enough dope, no matter what I did.

“But I kept tryin’, oh, yeah. One time, me and my husband traded a car down in Tijuana for an ounce of heroin. It had some impurity in it that gave me a rash all over my body, made my legs swell up like balloons. But we had to keep shootin’ it because it was part heroin, And I smuggled it across the border in my cunt, and it was rainin’, and I was crying, and I could barely walk because I was crippled by the impurity.

“I started forgin’ around that time. That happened because a well-to-do junkie I knew would leave his checks lyin’ around, so I started hangin’ ’em out. And then a very weird thing happened. One night I was fixin’ up at a friend’s house – well, no, not a friend, you’ve got no friends when you’re a junkie – but, I mean, I was stayin’ at this guy’s house who let me stay there. And I wasn’t shootin’ all that much that night, but I ODed. I didn’t remember anything. The next thing I knew, the people there had fixed milk in my veins, and they were slappin’ me around until I came to. I think I was actually dead for a few minutes. And I didn’t recognize anything. I didn’t even know the name of floor, ceiling, wall. All I could say was, ‘What happened, what happened?’ And all the people around me that I knew but couldn’t recognize slowly started comin’ back to me. It was like when your leg falls asleep – that’s how it felt in my brain.”


Judee crosses her legs, then changes her mind and uncrosses them, again drumming her fingertips on the open Bible. “Right after that, I got so sick I couldn’t even put on makeup to go out and turn a trick. Then I got busted for forgery and a lot of narcotics-related offenses, and I was just beyond desperation in jail – called everybody I knew, but no one would help bail me out because they all knew better. Tried to call my brother, even – I hadn’t seen him in at least three years because I hadn’t wanted him to see me as a junkie, you know? In a roundabout way, I found out that he’d died, suddenly, of a liver infection. I remembered back, and realized that he’d died, the same day I had ODed. And I kept thinking about that. He was my only close living relative.

“I can’t tell you how terrified I was at the prospect of bein’ without heroin. Not only to not be fixin’, but just to be alive with the air touchin’ my skin. It was the most fear I’d ever felt. It was worse, I imagine, than hell could be. I spent three nights in the county jail, pukin’ my guts out. Pretty soon, I was over the physical part of kickin’, but I still had the all-consuming misery of bein’ alive without havin’ a drug.

“Somehow, I got off on probation. Some people I knew – they were sort of middle-aged hippies who’d helped support me when I was an acid-head – they got me this lawyer, David, who was very handsome and suave and quite a romantic figure in the courtroom, and I really liked him a lot, except he was married and his wife was pregnant. I had a romantic fantasy about him that later we would get together. A fortune teller in jail told me we would someday. She also told me the exact day I would get out, and she was right.

“The judge put me on Naline probation for two years – that’s surprise anti-opiate testing to make sure you’re stayin’ off dope. I got to be the star of the program – can you believe it? I was the only one in it who wasn’t noddin’ out.”

Judee bursts out laughing and pantomimes a boxer holding up his gloves in victory, and it is suddenly much easier to be in the room.

“In jail, I’d had a recurrent fantasy about becomin’ a songwriter, you know, so when I got out, I started doin’ that. I started writin’ songs, and they just kept gettin’ better and better. I was amazed. All kinds of improbable things began to happen to me. I was hustlin’ and scufflin’ to get by – I worked sometimes as a bass player, lived on and off with various friends. At one point, I lived in a ’55 Cadillac with four other people. We slept in shifts, but it was in the summertime, so it wasn’t all that bad. Ha! I had one set of clothes and a toothbrush, and that was it, but I felt good, you know? Not to be a fucked-up junkie anymore. Also, I got into readin’ real deep books, books about religion and the occult. And I could see that I was gonna have to write songs that were about those things, you know? At first, I didn’t have the psychic defenses to put it all in the right places, but I felt that if I kept goin’ in that direction as hard as I could, it might all work out. And I came to some important inner realizations, tryin’ to make the laws of nature work for me instead of against me. I felt instinctively that it was my duty to throw myself into it all the way, so I did.

“And everything started changin’ for the better. Through a friend’s connections, I got some free time at Pat Boone’s recording studio, of all places. I wrote a song called ‘The Magician,’ and all my songs started gettin’ much better after that. I was a little awkward at first – I didn’t exactly know how to be subtle about what I was doin’, but I knew what it was I had to do. I knew in my bones that somethin’ important was in the works, and that I was just gettin’ goin’.

“So I just kind of went along as fast as I could and had a few romances here and there, and one of the romances was with another bass player – I have this attraction for bass players because I’ve always liked a good bass line, you know.”

Judee titters girlishly and draws her legs up under her in the chair.

“He was a Scorpio, and we lived together for a while, and one day I painted this bird on his wall, a huge bird. It was real ornate and had a lot of frills and things. I told him it was a magic wishin’ bird and that if he’d rub the beak and make a wish, the wish would come true. I just made it up, you know. But I knew there was somethin’ to it. Later, when there was nobody around, I rubbed the beak and wished that I could be the greatest livin’ songwriter in the world. I know it’s a big world, but that’s what I wanted. I knew that was the thing that would thrill me ultimately, and that I would achieve my greatest things if I was goin’ in that direction. That day made a lot of difference. I kind of sensed right then that romance wasn’t gonna be the answer for me, maybe, that I had other things in store.

“Then, right around then, someone gave me some peyote. It was…um, well, I can’t even say anything about it, but it took me off into unknown areas, and I didn’t know what they meant. But the songs that came out of me after that were, without me realizin’ it, much better than I thought they would be. I mean, they were beyond my efforts. ‘Lopin’ Along Through the Cosmos,’ ‘Crayon Angels,’ ‘Lady-O’ – I was writin’ some good songs along in there.

“So Jim Ponds called me up one day. He was with the Turtles at that time, and he had helped me out some when I was in jail. He said, ‘How’d you like to make $65 a week writin’ songs for Blimp Productions, and we’ll record ‘Lady-O’? Plus a $500 advance and a guitar.’ I said, ‘I’ll take it.’ “

Judee bounces up and down and claps her hands in child-like delight. Her face is radiant now, her eyes merry and luminous.

“Oh, I was so happy. Right away I got a little place of my own in the Valley, and bought an Austin-Healy – and, remember David, that lawyer who got me off on probation? He started comin’ around, and we developed a great romance for a year or so. It was sweet while it lasted, almost like a normal romance. But you know how those things go – you get somethin’ and you end up wantin’ just the opposite of it. So things kind of slowly disintegrated with us, but in the meantime, the Turtles’ song was on the radio – it got a lot of airplay, though it didn’t go too high on the charts, maybe No. 19 or 20 – and that meant somethin’ to me, it gave me a new kind of strength, you know? I felt that somethin’ good would happen soon.

“Well, I was thinkin’ about that one day. I had just smoked a joint, and I was in rubbery sway, and I was thinkin’ it shouldn’t be long now. At that instant, the phone rang, and it was David Geffen, the big shot agent who was just then on the verge of startin’ Asylum Records. I was flabbergasted, but when he asked me I hightailed it down to his office and sang him some songs. Afterwards, he said, ‘Don’t worry about a thing.’ Then he asked me, ‘What do you wanna do?’ I said, ‘Be a star.’ ‘How big of a star do you wanna be?’ ‘How big is the limit?’ I asked him. So he told me again not to worry, that everything would be taken care of from that point on.”

Judee rubs her lower lip pensively, and chooses her next words with care.

“David is…uh…the best person in the business for an artist to be involved with. I’ve seen him be real ruthless for the sake of the artists who work for him. When I first met him, I thought he was some kind of knight in shinin’ armor, you know, but I didn’t understand the other things, the things that made him such a ruthless businessman. Sometimes, I find it hard to get along with him personally, but I always trust him as far as business stuff goes, and I wouldn’t want to be with anyone else. He’s not always easy to deal with, especially for someone as crazy as I am.”


Judee puts on a fetching grimace and peals with laughter.

“Well, anyway, I signed with David, and I tried not to worry, like he said. I quit smokin’ cigarettes right away ’cause I knew it would make my singin’ better, and I started gettin’ serious about puttin’ an album together. I felt it was my duty to throw myself into it wholeheartedly, even though I might have to be an asshole at times. Even though I’d risk bein’ an asshole, I’d have to do that to learn the things I wanted and needed to learn. I’d have to be a fool for some time.

“See, the music business is really sick, and I found that out right quick. It combines such extremes, you know. It’s probably no more sick than any other kind of business, I guess, but it’s a little more obvious because all the artists seem to want to do one thing, and all the people who’re helpin’ them get to where they want to go seem to have another thing, an opposite thing, in mind. I’d like to think there’s a common place where the extremes can meet. It’s the same with writin’ songs – I think there’s gotta be a meetin’ place between what’s commercial and what’s healthy and helpful and soothin’ to people.

“Recordin’ the album didn’t take long, actually, and I started goin’ out on the road. It was kind of hard, because nobody outside of a few people in L.A. had ever heard of me, but it was fun, too, at first. They didn’t put me on with any real bad rock groups, or anything, right away. They saved that for later. Do you realize that last week I opened the bill for Three Dog Night?”

Judee groans and rolls her eyes in hyper-histrionic misery. “But at first I worked with Jim Webb, Van Morrison, Crosby and Nash, people like that, and it was pretty nice overall. Still, the album didn’t come out and didn’t come out – for ten months that went on – and it was gettin’ me down and depressed. Also, I wasn’t makin’ any money to speak of – 25 percent automatically went for commissions off the top of whatever I got, plus all my hotel bills and airfare and what all. It hasn’t changed any – sometimes I still spend more money on a tour than I make. I sure ain’t gettin’ rich, that’s for certain.

“Then…I’m not sure how what happened next came about, because I wasn’t even thinkin’ about havin’ a romance. Fact is, I was celibate; I was findin’ that by not eatin’ very much and keepin’ my mind in one area and stayin’ celibate, I was gettin’ a lot more done. Then this guy came along who was real nice, and he was a songwriter, too – you’d probably recognize his name – and it seemed like he was intentionally tryin’ to work his way into the secret chambers of my heart. But he did it with such authority that I had to let him in. And, um, I don’t know why, but I was just divin’ into it. I know I shouldn’t have done it, but I did. Couldn’t help myself. So he went into the chambers of my heart and left it in disarray. I felt devastated. I had to go out on the road again right after that, and I still had no album out – I was really depressed.

“To console myself, I was readin’ a book by my favorite author, Nikos Kazantzakis, called The Last Temptation of Christ. In it, Jesus is portrayed as a cross-maker – he’s workin’ as a carpenter, and they need a lot of crosses because the Roman soldiers are killin’ off all the political prisoners. And that’s where I got the idea for my song, ‘Jesus Was a Cross-maker.’ I really liked that guy who’d entered into my heart, you know, but he wasn’t fair to me romantically. Oh, I tell you, I was so excited when I was writin’ that song because it was not only the best thing I’d ever written, and I knew it, but it took the weight off my heart and turned it into somethin’ else, and I was able to forgive the guy for the horrible romantic bummer he’d put me on. And I gained a new kind of strength from it, from that combination of forgiveness and creation. I’d always sort of suspected some real severe hardships lay ahead of me – the further up you go, the bigger the obstacles become – and that experience really verified that in my mind for good and all.”

Smoothing the hair back at her temples, Judee smiles a serene and very private smile.

“Then, at last, the album came out. It wasn’t perfection, but it was pretty good, and I guess it’s sold around 40,000 copies by now, which isn’t bad for a first album. I learned a lot from makin’ it. I learned what not to do on the next one, for one thing.

“Since the album’s been available, I’ve been feelin’ better. I’m tryin’ to devise somethin’ out of the solitude of bein’ constantly on the road – I’m tryin’to turn that into fuel. I’m on a narrow path right now, and I’ve kind of put blinders on myself. I’m tryin’ to be real ruthless in dealin’ with the foe, which is me. I try to keep my hungry monsters in line – keep ’em on a diet of bread and water so I can use ’em to pull my chariot. I want to be able to contain more. I want to be able to see more and not be crushed by it.”

Frowning in concentration, Judee leans forward, hugging her arms to her breasts.

“When I made up my mind to be a serious songwriter, my first intention was to write somethin’ for the good of humanity, because I knew I wouldn’t get any reward of any kind if I didn’t do somethin’ for other people. Yet, basically, I’m so selfish and greedy that I covet spiritual achievement, so I have to work hard at transcendin’ that greed. Still, at the same time, I’m conscious of my greed. I mean, I want to achieve somethin’ materially – I want to achieve somethin’ as far as gettin’ more attention, you know? So I want to do somethin’ for the good of humanity, but at the same time I also need to feed my hungry monsters.

“Basically, I know what I want to do. Seems like as life gets easier for me, it gets harder, too. I know the worst is yet to come as far as the limits I have to push through. Sometimes, I have to drill things into my own head, I have to brainwash myself. But I want to try and keep my warrior spirit, you know? It’s the same spirit that made me fight back when I was little. It’s the same thing, it’s no different – it’s just comin’ out in a different way now. Because I’m a soldier of the heart now.”

Judee is scheduled to open the bill for Gordon Lightfoot that evening at the TraveLodge Theater, a circular glass-and-brick amphitheater with a revolving stage and a seating capacity of 2200. Arriving by cab a half hour before showtime, lugging the cased Martin guitar that David Crosby and Graham Nash gave her when she was touring with them, Judee follows several sets of misdirections before she spots Richard, Gordon Lightfoot’s longhaired manager, in the throng milling around outside the hall.

Richard tells her the house is “clean” – sold out – but grimaces when she asks about the acoustical reference. “It’s a zoo,” he growls. In the dressing room area, Lightfoot and his two accompanists are seated around a coffee table, drinking Irish whiskey. Calling out her hellos to them, Judee unsheaths her guitar and starts tuning up. “We’re gonna be doin’ it in five minutes,” the stage manager tells her. She bobs her head absently.

Lightfoot’s guitarist grins and asks her if she’s nervous. “I get nervous when I take a pee,” she says glumly.

Lightfoot, bearded these days and wearing a see-through brocade shirt, looks weary, puffy-faced, and slightly tipsy. When he lights one cigarette from the butt of another, Judee, mildly reproving, wonders aloud how he can smoke and drink before a performance. Lightfoot shrugs and purses his mouth. “What else is there to do,” he asks rhetorically, “in a toilet?” Pouring himself a new drink, he fingers the material of his shirt and says that he plans to wear it to the Grammy Awards show.

“Be careful,” Judee cautions, “those things rot.”

“It’s time,” the stage manager calls out.

When Judee steps on stage, the applause is polite but perfunctory, and it’s obvious that most of the people in the almost too well-behaved audience have never heard either of her or her music. Still, the volume of clapping swells after each succeeding number – “Enchanted Sky Machines,” “Ridge Rider,” “Phantom Cowboy,” “Crayon Angels,” “Jesus Was a Cross-maker” – and she begins to draw sustained howls with her bantering intros. (“This next song is called ‘The Archetypal Man.’ I wrote it about an ex-boy friend, a lawyer, who was dispassionate in every way except when he was being dishonest. Then he would show fervent passion.”)

Near the end of her set, Judee puts aside her guitar and sits down at the piano to play a new song, unrecorded as yet, called “Down Where the Valleys Are Low.”

By now, the audience is rapt with attention, following her every word:

Down where the valleys are low,
There’s a refuge so high.
And down where the coldest winds blow,
There the warmest winds hide.
And deep in the forest of woe,
Sweet deliverance is nigh
…Send a song on the wind to deliver, me,
Take me and rise when the fire, is on.
Take the reins and the loneliness fillin’ me,
Make my fear fuel and the fuel high octane.

When Judee leaves the stage to an oceanic ovation, her face radiant and exalted, she walks past Gordon Lightfoot, who is waiting to go on. Swaying unsteadily, he waggles a finger at her and says, “Hey, gee hon, that was real nice. You’re gonna be a star someday, too.”

“Why, thank you, Gordon,” Judee says mildly, “thank you very much.”

“The star of the Naline program, can you believe it? I wasn’t noddin’ out.”

“I try to keep my hungry monsters in line – keep ’em on a diet of bread & water.”

In This Article: Coverwall, Judee Sill


Powered by
Arrow Created with Sketch. Calendar Created with Sketch. Path Created with Sketch. Shape Created with Sketch. Plus Created with Sketch. minus Created with Sketch.