By Todd Leopold
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(CNN) -- Over the years, Jac Holzman has worked with dozens of musicians. CNN asked him about three in particular.
Phil Ochs was one of the leading lights of the early-'60s New York folk scene, with songs such as "I Ain't Marching Anymore." But unlike his cohort Bob Dylan, Ochs never had breakthrough success. He left Elektra in 1966 for A&M Records. His releases there, including "Pleasures of the Harbor" and the stark "Rehearsals for Retirement," were critically praised but sold poorly. Ochs committed suicide in 1976.
Holzman: "I thought Phil was a terrific topical songwriter. ... [But] he had a Dylan complex. Everybody who was a singer-writer in the Village in the '60s was trying to out-Dylan Dylan, and nobody could do it.
"And I remember when Phil had written a song -- a very good song of his, which was a total breakthrough in style, called 'Changes' -- he had worked two months on. ... Dylan calls him up one day ... and he said, 'You home? I want to come on over.' So he's there and Phil wants to play him 'Changes,' but Dylan says, 'I gotta play you something. I started writing it an hour ago and I think it's nearly finished.' And he plays 'Like a Rolling Stone.' Whatever self-inflation Phil Ochs had managed in order to perform 'Changes' for Dylan was squashed out of him by 'Like a Rolling Stone.' ...
He kept trying to get out of Dylan's shadow, and when he went to A&M, I thought he should have his shot. ... He was an honorable guy, and he felt deeply."
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Judy Collins has gained fame for her gorgeous voice -- and her equally gorgeous looks, which were idealized in Crosby, Stills and Nash's "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes." Her hits include "Both Sides Now," "Send in the Clowns" and a version of "Amazing Grace."
Holzman: "I was shut out of the running for Joan Baez. [Manager] Albert Grossman quickly took over her career, and he thought Vanguard was the place to be, so I didn't get a shot at Joan Baez, which disappointed me. ... I started looking for someone, not so much to be our Joan Baez but to represent the kind of purity of voice I thought Joan epitomized, and someone who had a clear value system. And [singer] Bob Gibson turned me on to Judy Collins. ...
"Judy didn't really come into her own until the third album. ... We decided to really show who Judy was, and we had that incredible life-sized head of Judy on the album cover with those incredibly piercing blue eyes. Well, you could tell when something was really happening because the best bellwether at the time for folk material was the Harvard Coop and we were shipping ... about a hundred a day. ...
"When we were stuck in the middle of album No. 5 ... [she found some material] and it turned out to be Leonard Cohen. And the Leonard Cohen songs were phenomenal. 'Suzanne' -- I heard that song and I came near to falling off a chair. So then she began to be an interpreter of songs, and then she began to write. She was far more adventurous than Joan was, driven to find unusual material to mold into her style."
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Ann Arbor, Michigan's, MC5 was the house band for John Sinclair's radical White Panthers. They were raw and angry and made just one album for Elektra, 1969's "Kick Out the Jams." Some versions of the album contained a profanity, and when a shipment of the profane version ended up at Detroit's huge Hudson's department store, all hell broke loose: Hudson's complained, the MC5 took out a vengeful ad with the Elektra logo (and another profanity) and Elektra cut the cord. In the meantime, the label had signed the MC5's "little brothers," the Stooges, led by Iggy Pop.
Holzman: "The MC5 was extremely important, not so much for themselves but for leading us to the Stooges. ... Now, I had heard the Stooges but didn't get them at all. But I had a very reliable person, Danny Fields, who believed in the Stooges.
"The MC5 thought we bought into the revolution. When they took out the ad with our logo, I was upset. They said, 'Jac, we thought you bought into it.' ...
"The interesting thing was there was no bitterness. They understood. ... John Sinclair has said, 'Jac was righteous.' "
In his memoir "Follow the Music," Holzman adds: "[The Stooges] were fascinating, like an odd piece of art that someone strong-arms you into buying, and years later it turns out to be of lasting importance."
Elektra signed the Stooges on the recommendation of another Detroit-area band, the MC5.
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