"Jesus Was A Cross Maker." I know this song because of Cass Elliot's version. Cass was one of the great singers of all time.
The song was written by Judee Sill who had a number of problems but also may have been undermined by David Geffen.
Michael Crumsho (Dusted) notes:
She would end up signed by David Geffen to his new label Asylum.
Geffen made his initial millions off the back of Laura Nyro.
He was her manager and took more than 10%.
She was supposed to be one of his big acts but then decided to stay with Columbia Records.
She was dead to him at that moment.
Barney Hoskyns (Observer) picks up Judee's tale:
'I remember her coming home one night swooning over Geffen and telling me he was the man for her,' says Pons. 'She also thought he was going to help her get to the top, which she had decided was her destiny.'
Geffen, who'd made the first of his fortunes on the back of another bisexual songstress, Laura Nyro, landed Sill a lucrative publishing deal with a handsome advance. The money enabled her to make a down payment on a house on the Valley side of Stone Canyon.
'There was a lot of hanging out at her house,' says Straw. 'She was surrounded by her adoring female fans. I remember going round there one morning and there were maybe four or five other women, all sunbathing in the nude.'
According to an old school friend, Sill went through a series of female lovers whom she treated with mild contempt. 'I just have her around to clean my house,' she would say of some poor besotted creature when friends visited the Stone Canyon house.
'At that point Judee said and did a lot of things for effect,' says Straw. 'She was a typical self-centred artist who treated everybody around her like they were servants.'
Although Atlantic Records was interested in her, Sill opted to wait until Geffen's Asylum label was up and running. To kill time she went on the road as a support act, sometimes in circumstances that made her seethe. 'Judee couldn't tolerate crowds that weren't appropriately respectful,' Pons recalls. On her one trip to the UK - when she appeared on The Old Grey Whistle Test - Judee bitched about having to open for 'snotty rock groups'.
Of her first album, John Cody (BC Christian News) explains:
Visions of the eternal run throughout.
‘Crayon Angels’ deals with false prophets; “Crayon Angel songs are slightly out of tune/But I’m sure I’m not to blame/Nothin’s happened but I think it will soon/So I sit here waitin’ for God and a train/To the Astral plane.”
‘Enchanted Sky Machines’ was about end times, and made clear where she stood theologically; “Then when the skeptics are wonderin’/where all the faithful have flown/we’ll be on enchanted sky machines/the gentle are going home.”
Sill rarely minced words. As she explained regarding ‘Ridge Runner;’ “I had another divine inspiration on how noble it is to not fake it. How doubt can be an ally, really in the long run, as far as your spiritual evolution goes…”
Her most popular song, ‘Jesus Was A Cross Maker’ was a last minute addition produced by Graham Nash. It’s the only song she recorded that actually mentions Jesus by name.’ Ironically, it’s not about theological concerns. It was inspired by a failed relationship with singer-songwriter J.D. Souther. Her explanation was typically forthright; “I knew that even that bastard wasn’t beyond redemption.” Both the Hollies and Mama Cass Elliot covered the song. Years later Souther would remember Sill with great admiration; “there was nobody more important on the L.A. singer-songwriter scene.”
The album garnered exceptional reviews; Rolling Stone raved, and Newsweek labeled her songs ‘spaced-out spirituals’ and declared her ‘one of the most promising new singers in the business.’
For all the positive press, sales were dismal. The album never even placed in the Billboardtop 200 charts.
She followed up with Heart Food, her second album.
Fiona Sturges (The Independent) adds:
Introducing one , she explained to the audience how she had been trying to write something that "would somehow musically induce God into giving us all a break... Since that time I've decided that I shouldn't get any more breaks because I already squandered them in weird places. But I'd like to sing this song for you in the hope that you'll get a break."Sill had already had her biggest break but she broke it. David Geffen signed her to his label, Asylum, in the early Seventies and released two albums but, as the fortunes of her label mates The Eagles soared, she felt she wasn't getting the attention she deserved. After Sill announced on stage one night that Geffen was gay, word got back and he fired her.
What's her place in music? Stephen M Deusner (Pitchfork) offers:
There are cult artists, and then there are cult artists. Judee Sill is a little of both. In one sense of the word, she remains an obscure singer-songwriter with only a passing familiarity with the mainstream (she wrote "Lady-O", a hit for the Turtles) but with an avid audience devoted to tracking down every note she recorded. In the other sense of the word, Sill's songs have many of the trappings of an upstart California cult: astral planes, heavenly spaceships, apocalypse, and a unique understanding of a certain crossmaker. By today's standards, it can sound a bit loopy, but also much more benevolent than other cults and cult artists. Hers is a distinctly compassionate worldview, which seems natural given that music served as an escape from the harsh burdens of her reality: broken family, heroin addiction, health problems, stalled career, and an early death.
Tim Page (Washington Post) shares:
Sill's lyrics might be described as high hippie Christian, cries of "Kyrie eleison!" melding with references to angels and astral planes. Her words are very much of their time and place -- and yet, even at their weakest, they more than suffice to decorate her unpredictable and irresistible compositions, which are nowhere near so easy to pigeonhole. According to Michele Kort, the author of Rhino's excellent liner notes, Sill insisted she wrote "country-cult-baroque -- country for the pedal-steel guitar, clip-clop Western beats and the twang in her voice; cult for the esoteric nature of her concerns and her small-but-fervent audience; and baroque for the Bach-like melodies she favored."
But there is sun-splashed, deliciously over-marinated California pop here, too. Brian Wilson would have been proud to have written "The Lamb Ran Away With the Crown" (and the arrangement is so slick and pitch-perfect that he might have served as its producer). "Ridge Rider" proves a heretofore undreamed-of hybrid of Heitor Villa-Lobos's "Bachianas Brasilieras" and cowboy music. "The Archetypal Man" swerves from straightforward balladry to jazz-baroque scat singing right out of the Swingle Singers. And "Lopin' Along Thru the Cosmos" is an anomaly -- a popular song that actually earns the full orchestra that accompanies it. Yet it never seems overdressed: to the contrary, this is one of the most spare and evocative love songs ever written, addressing aging, rootlessless, exhaustion, need, loss and resignation in a few lines that must have been cut from the heart.
Annie Nilsson (The Toast) offers:
Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"