Judee Sill

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Judee Sill
Birth name Judith Lynne Sill[1]
Born (1944-10-07)October 7, 1944
Oakland, California, United States
Died November 23, 1979(1979-11-23) (aged 35)
North Hollywood, Los Angeles, California
Genres Folk rock, country rock, roots rock, baroque pop
Instruments Vocals, guitar, piano, organ, bass guitar[2]
Labels Asylum

Judith Lynne 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[3] before dying of drug abuse in 1979.[4] 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.[5] 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 learned to play the piano.[5] 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[5] in 1952.

After her mother died in 1963, Sill moved from high school to high school. She developed a drug habit which she supported by committing crime. She managed to rob a few liquor stores before getting caught at a gas station and sent for a brief stint at a reform school in Ventura.[5]

After leaving the reform school, where a spell as a church organist taught her many of the gospel licks that would later surface in her music, Sill 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 LSD 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.[5]

On April 27, 1966, Sill married pianist Robert Maurice "Bob" Harris in Clark County, Nevada.[6] Within months both had succumbed to crippling heroin addictions and made their way as musicians in Las 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.[5]

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,[7] 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. Harris worked on her first album and was also involved with the Turtles[7] (which led to his short stint as keyboardist with Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention in 1971).

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, noted for his work with Joni Mitchell throughout the 1970s.

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,[8] 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.[9]

Personal life[edit]

Sill's personal life was turbulent, having suffered the early death of her father, brother and mother. As Asylum's first published artist, Sill had a close relationship with David Geffen, which went awry after comments made by her in frustration at not receiving enough promotion for her second UK tour.[10]

She was openly bisexual.[7][11]


A BBC Radio 4 program entitled The Lost Genius of Judee Sill was broadcast on September 9, 2014.[12]

Jim O'Rourke mixed the posthumous collection of her 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 fourth self-titled solo album, Cass Elliot, for RCA in 1972.

The song was recorded in 1973 by the Hollies - this 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.

Seattle-based folk group Fleet Foxes perform "Crayon Angels" at their concerts.

Daniel Rossen, guitarist and co-lead singer of Grizzly Bear, recorded "Waterfall" for Judee Sill tribute album released in 2009 titled, Crayon Angel: A Tribute to the Music of Judee Sill.

American singer-songwriter Warren Zevon recorded "Jesus was a Cross Maker" for his 1995 album, Mutineer.

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."

English singer-songwriter Judie Tzuke included a cover of "Jesus was a Cross Maker" on her 1991 Columbia album Left Hand Talking.

In 1994, singer-songwriter singer Shawn Colvin recorded "There's a Rugged Road" on her Cover Girl album.

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.[13]

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.[14]

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.

Matt Alber released a cover of "The Kiss" on his 2011 album Constant Crows, using Sill's original piano arrangement.[15]

"The Kiss" has also been covered by Neil Cavanagh on his 2008 album Short Flight to a Distant Star, and by Bonnie "Prince" Billy on his 2004 CD single No More Workhorse Blues.[16]

Jane Siberry contributed vocals to a cover of "The Kiss" for Ghostland's album Interview With The Angel.[17] This version was also released on Siberry's 2001 compilation, City.[18]


  • 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.


  1. ^ California Births, 1905 - 1995, Judith Lynne Sill
  2. ^ Russell, Rosalind (8 April 1972). "A Sill-y Story". Disc and Music Echo. Retrieved 14 May 2011. 
  3. ^ [1] Archived December 28, 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Dee, Johnny (2005-11-03). "Falling for Romeo’s true love". The First Post. Retrieved 2009-01-02. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Crusmsho, Michael. "The Life and Times of Judee Sill". Dusted Magazine. Retrieved Aug 12, 2013. 
  6. ^ "Person Details for Judith Lynn Sill, "Nevada, Marriage Index, 1956-2005" —". Familysearch.org. Retrieved 2014-06-30. 
  7. ^ a b c Hoskyns, Barney (Dec 12, 2004). "The lost child". The Observer. Retrieved 12 May 2011. 
  8. ^ Page, Tim (December 30, 2006). "A Brief Life, an Enduring Musical Impression". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 13, 2011. 
  9. ^ "Judee Sill". Findagrave.com. Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  10. ^ "Howlin Wuelf Media :: Judee Sill". Howlinwuelf.com. 1973-02-15. Retrieved 2014-06-30. 
  11. ^ "Julian Cope presents Head Heritage | Unsung | Reviews | Judee Sill - Abracadabra: The Asylum Years". Headheritage.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-06-30. 
  12. ^ "The Lost Genius of Judee Sill", BBC Radio 4.
  13. ^ "Judee Sill Unreleased Recordings". Webnoir.com. Retrieved 2014-06-30. 
  14. ^ [2] Archived September 25, 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ "matt-alber-official". Mattalber.com. Retrieved June 30, 2014. 
  16. ^ "Bonnie Prince Billy Discography 2004". Users.bart.nl. Retrieved 2014-06-30. 
  17. ^ "Ghostland - Interview With The Angel (CD, Album) at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved 2014-06-30. 
  18. ^ [3][dead link]

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