Jesus Was A Cross Maker by Judee Sill

California’s Judee Sill had a troubled childhood, losing her father to pneumonia at eight years old. Her mother’s second marriage was often violent, and as a teenager Sill spent time in reform school after committing armed robbery. At reform school she served as a church organist and learned gospel music; although she wasn’t a Christian artist, her songs would contain a lot of Christian imagery. After her mother died, when Sill was 20, she spiralled into drug use, forgery, and prostitution, and wound up in jail.

Upon release, Sill worked as a song-writer, writing for the Turtles, and signing a record deal with David Geffen. While you’d think 1971 would be the ideal time for an introspective, acoustic musician to attain mainstream success, it eluded Sill. She only recorded one more album, 1973’s Heart Food, before suffering from debilitating pain after a series of car accidents, and succumbing to a drug overdose in 1979.

‘Jesus Was A Cross Maker’ was inspired by Sill’s relationship with JD Souther, a solo artist who often crossed paths with the Eagles. Much of Sill’s debut was produced by Henry Lewy, a long time engineer for Joni Mitchell, but ‘Jesus Was A Cross Maker’ was earmarked as a single and produced by Graham Nash, who also played organ. While much of Judee Sill is just Sill’s guitar or piano accompanied by orchestration, ‘Jesus Was A Cross Maker’ has a fuller arrangement.

The drummer switches gears several times from marking time to propelling the song forward, giving it a series of crescendos. It’s perhaps distracting, but it elevates the song into something more unusual than standard singer-songwriter fare. While both of Sill’s albums are worth hearing, ‘Jesus Was A Cross Maker’ is the moment of brilliance that she should be remembered for.


  1. I think she wanted to believe in God but could never quite commit herself. She got into a lot of bad things but was somehow a sort of angel herself. The album this is from is a favourite of mine, full of great songs and my favourite of all is The Lamb Ran Away With The Crown.

    • Cool – I was hoping there were a few fans out there in the blogosphere. Do you like 1973’s Heartfood as well – ‘The Kiss’ is probably my other favourite song from her.

  2. Pretty wonderful song and a pretty tragic story. I’m not familiar with her music, but I had read about her a few years back (one of these ‘forgotten artists’ type things) and I’ve thought she might be someone I should check out.

  3. I read about her tragic life just recently and over the past couple of months have started listening (and loving) her music. Seriously though, it’s a crying shame she’s not as well known as Joni Mitchell, Carole King, or even Laura Nyro at the very least. I feel bad it’s took me this long to discover her.

    • It’s difficult to compare her to those greats with long careers, but I guess if she’d had that early success she could have developed into someone with a similar career. I’d take her first two albums over Joni Mitchell’s first two, but Mitchell obviously grew far beyond those.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: