Stills, Collins team for tour and album, 49 years after their affair
Judy Collins had an instant and deeply emotional response when Stephen Stills first played her an early version of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” the classic 1969 Crosby, Stills & Nash song he wrote about their doomed love affair.
“I lost it!” recalled Collins. “The song was so beautiful. But it was also clear that our relationship was not going to work.”
Now, nearly half a century later, the two have reunited for a joint album, “Everybody Knows,” which was released Friday. It is being accompanied by a summer and fall tour by Stills and Collins.
Their final encore each night?
You guessed it. “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.”
“It’s hysterical, really,” Collins said. “Talk about an impossible dream!”
This improbable scenario, worthy of a Hollywood screenplay, prompted her to giggle with delight several times during a recent phone interview that lasted nearly an hour.
Collins burst into laughter when asked if “Everybody Knows” has had the longest incubation period — almost half a century — of any album in pop-music history.
“Yeah, it certainly has!” she said, laughing again.
“For years, we’ve been texting each other about the songs we might sing, sending long emails about what we might do, and asking: ‘Should we do this?’ This started about 10 years ago. Over the last two years, we got serious about (discussing) what we’ll sing together. Now that we’re on tour, we’ll add more things now as we go along.
“We just didn’t have the time to do it, until now. It’s more fun than I can imagine having. But I don’t have to imagine it, so that’s good.”
Collins and Stills’ two-year love affair imploded in 1969, after she left him for actor Stacy Keach.
But the two musicians rekindled their friendship and sustained it over the intervening decades. Their comfort level with each other is so great that they now go on double dates together with their respective spouses — Stills’ third wife, Kristen, and Collins’ second husband, Louis. Both marriages, by coincidence, took place in 1996.
Who picks up the tab when the two couples go out for dinner together?
“Oh, we always split it,” a chuckling Collins replied. “We go Dutch.”
Two budding music legends
Collins was already an established folk-music star when she met Stills, then a member of the pioneering Los Angeles rock band Buffalo Springfield, in 1967.
He soon achieved superstardom singing and playing lead guitar in Crosby, Stills & Nash and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. His first solo outing, 1970’s “Stephen Stills,” featured the hit single “Love the One You’re With” and such illustrious guest artists as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Mama Cass, David Crosby and Graham Nash.
Collins, meanwhile, became one of the most prolific and versatile singers around. She has recorded 44 albums, eight of them live, and at least 11 compilations. She has stood out whether performing folk, pop, torch ballads, spirituals, jazz standards, country or classics from the Great American Songbook.
While she and Stills rarely worked together until now, they did collaborate in 1968, not long after meeting and becoming a couple.
The first song the two recorded together, the Sandy Denny-penned “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” was the title track for Collins’ 1968 album of the same name. A new version appears on their upcoming “Everybody Knows,” which will be jointly released by Cleopatra Records and Collins’ own Wildflower label, which she launched in 1994.
The new album mixes songs by Stills and Collins with classics by other artists, including Bob Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country,” the Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle with Care” and Leonard Cohen’s remarkably wistful “Everybody Knows.”
Also featured are “Houses,” the 1975 song Collins wrote for Stills, “Questions,” which Stills wrote for Buffalo Springfield’s 1968 swan song, “Last Time Around,” and the shimmering “River of Gold,” which Collins wrote specifically for “Everybody Knows.”
“The criterion for picking songs was that we love them. That’s the only (approach) that worked,” said Collins, speaking recently by phone from “a car driving somewhere, I’m not sure where!”
The album and ongoing concert tour have been a discovery process, she noted, for both of them.
“You learn as you go along what to do, and what not to do,” Collins said.
And what do Stills, 72, and Collins, 78, want to do?
“Mostly to have fun,” she replied.
“The best part is that it’s been wonderfully surprising. I love being the second guitarist in a rock ‘n’ roll band. I don’t remember having done anything like that before. Actually, I was always doing something similar — guitar-wise — it’s just in a different context now.”
Barriers have ‘magically disappeared’
Stills has not done a studio album of new music since 1991, although his second release with the blues-rocking band The Rides came out last year. Collins, conversely, has made four new solo albums since 2010, including last year’s Grammy-nominated “Silver Skies Blue.” Her eighth book, “Cravings: How I Conquered Food,” was published in February.
The teaming of her and Stills is a dream come true for their most devoted fans, especially those familiar with the short-lived yet fiery romance the two had back in the late 1960s.
Collins guffawed when asked how she would have reacted if, 50 years ago, anyone had told her she and Stills would make an album together and go on tour in 2017.
“I probably would have laughed. I wouldn’t have thought it was possible — or desirable,” she said. “Perhaps I’ve always dreamed about it: ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if … ?’
“Over time, a lot of things have fallen by the wayside, a lot of those barriers between us magically disappeared. And, suddenly, here we are! It took a lot of planning, but we dipped our feet in the water and it seems like everybody wanted to see this show. So, we’re responding to our own interests and also to the interests of our audiences, who are very excited.”
Collins is no stranger to the expectations of fans, or to their desire for a once in a lifetime collaboration by some of the pioneering musicians they grew up with.
“People used to talk a lot about a ‘Three J’s Tour’ — Joan (Baez), Joni (Mitchell) and Judy — which is never going to happen,” Collins said. “But it would have been an interesting concert. And people had this similar notion about me and Stephen: ‘Wouldn’t it be fun?’
“Getting it to happen has been a lot of work. But we managed to get a record made in the last few months and have a 50-concert tour. We’re having a wonderful time, and that’s really great. The audience is excited, and so are we.”
So much so, in fact, that Collins won’t be too surprised if a second album and tour are in the cards.
“I think there might be, but I can’t really say for sure,” she said. “But I hope so.”
Collins and Stills both have long histories of social and political activism. Will that be reflected in their joint concerts, which each night features “For What It’s Worth?”
Written by Stills in 1967 and memorably recorded by Buffalo Springfield, the song became an enduring protest anthem for a generation that opposed the war in Vietnam and railed against racism, police brutality, corporate greed and what was then known as the military-industrial complex.
“Well, I think that when people come to see us, they know what they’re looking at,” Collins said. “And they get that we’ve both always been involved, socially and politically. Stephen, lately as much as me — and probably more — has done a lot of work over the years that has been effective.
“I think people who come see us see something that inspires them to think about the same things, I hope. We take turns making political comments on stage, from time to time. It’s not a heavily political tour. But there is an overtone of, well. … ”
“… of ‘What should we do now?’ Well, let’s see.”
If you go
Who: Stephen Stills and Judy Collins
Where: Warner Theatre, Torrington
When: 8 p.m. Sept. 30
Who: Stephen Stills and Judy Collins
Where: Rhode Island Center for Performing Arts at the Park Theatre, Cranston, R.I.
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 7
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