Judee playing the guitar in the park
|Birth name||Judith Lynn Sill|
October 7, 1944|
|Died||November 23, 1979
North Hollywood, Los Angeles, California
|Genres||Folk, baroque pop|
|Instruments||Guitar, piano, bass guitar|
Judee Sill (born Judith Lynn Sill, October 7, 1944 – November 23, 1979) was an American singer and songwriter. The first artist signed to David Geffen's Asylum label, she released two albums, then worked briefly as a cartoonist before dying of drug abuse in 1979. Her eponymous debut album was released in late 1971 and was followed around eighteen months later by Heart Food. She also recorded demos for a third album in 1974, which were released with other rarities on the 2005 two-disc collection Dreams Come True.
Sill was heavily influenced by Bach's metric forms and suites, while lyrically her work drew substantially on Christian themes of rapture and redemption.
Judee Sill spent much of her adolescence in the Oakland area. Her father, Milford "Bun" Sill, an importer of exotic animals for use in films, owned a bar, which is where Sill spent a lot of her childhood and learnt to play the piano. When her father died of pneumonia in 1952, her mother moved Judee and her brother Dennis to Los Angeles, where the former Mrs. Sill took up and married Tom and Jerry animator Kenneth Muse in 1952.
After her mother passed in 1963, Judee bounced around from high school to high school. Her experimentation with drugs led her to fall in with a thief. She managed a few successful liquor store heists before being caught at a gas station and sent to a reform school in Ventura.
After doing a brief stint in reform school (where a spell as a church organist taught her many of the "gospel licks" that would later surface in her music), Judee attempted a return to collegiate studies and took a job working long hours in a piano bar. She started doing LSD and promptly moved in with an acid dealer and began exploring some of the psychedelic depths that would inform her later lyrical leanings. She and a friend rented a house from the dealer and formed a jazz trio with a third girl.
On 27 April 1966, Sill married pianist Robert Maurice "Bob" Harris in Clark County, Nevada. Within months both had succumbed to crippling heroin addictions and made their way as musicians in Vegas for a time. When she moved back to California, she resorted to prostitution for a spell to support her massive habit. A string of narcotics and forgery offenses sent her to jail. When she got out, she immediately set to work as a song composer.
Sill encountered Graham Nash and David Crosby and toured with them for a time as their opening act. After some initial interest from Atlantic Records David Geffen offered her a contract with his new Asylum label. She sold her song "Lady-O" to The Turtles. She was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Graham Nash produced the first single for her first album, "Jesus was a Cross Maker", which was released to radio on October 1, 1971. The album Judee Sill soon followed in October 1971. The album featured Sill's voice in multiple overdubs, often in a four-part chorale or fugue. She worked with engineer Henry Lewy.
Sill recorded her second and last album, Heart Food. Sill took over orchestrating and arranging Heart Food which included "The Donor".
Following a series of car accidents and failed surgery to rectify a painful back injury, Sill struggled with drug addiction and dropped out of the music scene, finally dying of a drug overdose, or "acute cocaine and codeine intoxication," on November 23, 1979, at her apartment on Morrison Street in North Hollywood. Sill's ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean following a ceremony organised by a few close friends at the Self-Realization Fellowship in Pacific Palisades.
Jim O'Rourke mixed the posthumous collection of unreleased material, Dreams Come True. Her two original albums have been reissued as a double CD with a number of live recordings and demos as bonus tracks.
Cass Elliot from The Mamas & the Papas recorded "Jesus was a Cross Maker" for her debut self-titled solo album for RCA in 1971. The arrangement by Benny Golson remains faithful to the original Graham Nash arrangement while adding a decidedly jazz-after-midnight feel to the folk-rock original. Elliot herself proves more than capable of handling the various elements to the arrangements.
The song was recorded in 1973 by Graham Nash's former band The Hollies, although Nash had no part in their recording. The Hollies' version appears in the opening sequence of Cameron Crowe's film Elizabethtown. Another version, by American singer-songwriter Rachael Yamagata, is featured in the film's soundtrack.
Gospel rocker Larry Norman covered the song but retitled it as "Sweet Silver Angels". The song was released on the Essential 2: Agitator CD.
Scottish Celtic-Soul singer Jackie Leven's 2006 album Oh What a Blow That Phantom Dealt Me! contains a song entitled "The Silver In Her Crucifix (Homage To Judee Sill)", which includes the lines: "and Judee Sill just stood there/with a gold key in her heart/and the silver in her crucifix/kept warring worlds apart/that's why I love Judee Sill.../and I know I always will."
Linda Ronstadt covered "Jesus was a Cross Maker" but re-titled it "Bandit & a Heartbreaker"; it was released on her Elektra box set in 1999.
In 2005, Tara Jane O'Neil covered "The Phoenix" on her EP "A Raveling".
A book called New Rock Record by Terry Hounsome, published in 1981, lists a third album Tulips From Amsterdam. Unsure of the source of the information, the author later removed the listing from his database
In 2009, the independent label American Dust announced the release of Crayon Angel: A Tribute to the Music of Judee Sill, featuring covers of Sill's songs done by Beth Orton, Bill Callahan, Ron Sexsmith, Daniel Rossen, Final Fantasy, Marissa Nadler, Frida Hyvönen and Meg Baird, among others.
Singer-songwriter Tanita Tikaram says that "Jesus was a Cross-Maker" is a song with which she is obsessed.
In the 2010 film Greenberg, the lead female character Florence, played by Greta Gerwig, sings Sill's song "There's a Rugged Road." Gerwig sang this herself. The song did not appear on the "Greenberg" soundtrack CD.
Judee Sill's personal life was turbulent, having suffered the early death of her father, brother and mother. As Asylum's first published artist, Judee had a close relationship with David Geffen, which went awry after comments made by Judee in frustration at not receiving enough promotion for her second UK tour. Judee Sill was openly bisexual.
- Judee Sill (LP, Asylum, 1971)
- Heart Food (LP, Asylum, 1973)
- Dreams Come True (2CD, Water, 2005). Includes eight studio demos for a prospective third album, various home demos and a video clip of five songs live at USC in 1973.
- Judee Sill (CD, Rhino Handmade, 2005). Contains the original album plus original versions of two songs, seven live versions and a home demo. Edition of 5000 copies.
- Heart Food (CD, Rhino Handmade, 2005). Contains the original album plus an outtake and eight demo versions. Edition of 5000 copies.
- Abracadabra: The Asylum Years (2CD, Rhino, 2006). Combines Judee Sill and Heart Food with bonus tracks.
- Live in London: The BBC Recordings 1972-1973 (CD, Troubadour, 2007). Contains solo live songs performed for the BBC, and an interview with Bob Harris.
- Russell, Rosalind (8 April 1972). "A Sill-y Story". Disc and Music Echo. Retrieved 14 May 2011.
- The Billboard guide to contemporary Christian music By Barry Alfonso. p. 243
- Dee, Johnny (2005-11-03). "Falling for Romeo’s true love". The First Post. Retrieved 2009-01-02.
- Crusmsho, Michael. "The Life and Times of Judee Sill". Dusted Magazine. Retrieved Aug. 12, 2013.
- Hoskyns, Barney (Dec. 12, 2004). "The lost child". The Observer. Retrieved 12 May 2011.
- Page, Tim (30 December 2006). "A Brief Life, an Enduring Musical Impression". The Washington Post. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
- "Judee Sill". Findagrave.com. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
- Judee Sill - Unreleased Concert Recordings
- Crayon Angel: A Tribute To The Music of Judee Sill @ americandust.net Retrieved on 2009-17-6.
- Judee's Epitaph
- Judee Sill — Abracadabra: The Asylum Years
- Judee Sill Biography
- Observer article
- Washington Post article by Tim Page
- Judee Sill at Find a Grave
- UNCUT article on Sill
- Unreleased recordings
- Judee Sill's Posthumous 'Dreams'
- Judee's Epitaph