Gary James' Interview With
Janis Ian






She came to fame with a song titled "Society's Child" in 1967. Eight years later, in 1975, she enjoyed considerable success with a song called "At Seventeen". Janis Ian is the lady we're talking about. She's still writing, recording and touring these days.

Q - Janis, back in, I think it was 1967, you stopped touring. You said "I retired for a while. I just got very bored with performing, so I stopped doing it. It was basically the same thing night after night. I did the same songs, the same show. It becomes very predictable." So, here we are thirty-nine years later and where are you? Back on the road! What's changed?

A - I'm not sure when that quote is from. Sounds like it's pretty old though. The difference now is that I'm a much better performer. I know that if the show gets stale, the fault doesn't lie in the songs, but me.

Q - How many people do you take on the road with you? Do you travel with other musicians or do you perform onstage as an acoustic act?

A - I take two people, a road manager / soundman / production manager / driver / all-around help. No other musicians at this point. I'm having too much fun being a solo folksinger these days!

Q - Where do you draw inspiration from to write your songs? Do you read newspapers every day? Do you watch cable TV?

A - It depends on what else I'm doing at the time. At home, I might read the paper or watch the news and watch TV. On the road, I rarely do any of those. I'm just too busy doing other things. As to inspiration, I have no idea. If I knew, believe me, I'd bottle it, sell it and become a millionaire!

Q - How long did it take you to write "Society's Child"? How about "At Seventeen"? Did you know when you finished those songs that you had a hit on your hands?

A - Wow! That's a long time ago. I can't remember how long it took to write "Society's Child". I had no idea it would be a hit. That was really Shadow Morton's (the producer) call. "At Seventeen" took three months to write. I knew it could be a hit record when I finished writing it.

Q - Since you were on the road in the sixties, who did you perform with?

A - The Byrds, Buddy Guy, Jimmy Durante, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Doors, Lovin' Spoonful, Odetta, Dave Van Ronk, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Paul Revere and The Raiders...a lot of people.

Q - Did you meet other folk artists of the day like Bob Dylan? What did you think of him?

A - I didn't meet Dylan until around 1972. I think he's a great writer.

Q - According to the Encyclopedia Of Rock, Pop and Soul, author Irwin Stambler, you weren't happy with your "new found attention." What did you think being famous would be like and what was the reality?

A - Well again, that was a really, really long time ago. I didn't think much about being famous. The only thing it meant to me was access to time, so I could write more, access to people who might not otherwise have worked with or played with me. And that's really all it means now...just access.

Q - When you started to achieve some degree of success in the music business, you were going to a public school. So, you had a record that was being played on the radio and you were touring the country. What kind of stares would you get when you walked down the school hallways?

A - Most of the problems I encountered were from the teachers. The other students never gave me any grief. But, I was going to New York's High School Of Music And Art and an awful lot of the teachers were extremely jealous. They made life tough for me...tough enough that I quit.

Q - Did you ever have any regret about dropping out of high school?

A - Not even for an eighth of a second. The kind of school system we have in America was no place for someone like me.

Q - How'd you feel when you won a Grammy for "At Seventeen"?

A - Absolutely great. Vindicated. Relieved.

Q - You gave your earnings away to friends and charitable causes. But, being so young, sixteen years old, wasn't a trust fund established for you?

A - Sort of. Under the Coogan Law, my recording royalties had to go into a bank account that was monitored by the Honorable Justice Di Falco. I believe my attorney sent him a case of whiskey yearly so I could get my allowance. And this is from my memory only, I believe he was later charged with accepting bribes. The whole thing is pretty much a farce.

Q - Where do you find airplay for your material? Satellite radio? How do you promote yourself these days?

A - I find airplay anywhere possible. Satellite, Pirate, College, wherever. And in terms of promotion, it's really about touring, radio stations, television, print press, the Internet. Kind of the same as it always was, but with different players.


© Gary James. All rights reserved.


Official Website: www.JanisIan.com

Janis Ian
Photo from Gary James' Press Kit Collection


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