Judy Collins and Stephen Stills have known each other since the late 1960s when they were musically and then romantically involved. Stills and Collins are currently on their first-ever collaborative tour and will release their first album in September.
Collins remembers meeting Stills around the time that his first major band, Buffalo Springfield, had broken up in early 1968. Had one or two pieces of their individual careers worked out differently, we could be celebrating the duo's 50th anniversary as a recording act.
“He had shut it down and was in the wings, waiting for the next brainstorm,” Collins says. “And that is interesting because we could have started this [project] then. But what happened was that we were in Los Angeles recording and working together and I went back to New York sometime in July, which was when Mama Cass called him and Crosby and Graham and said, ‘You guys should be singing together.'
"It might have gone another way," she says. "Only we were having a falling out by then. We were not getting along very well."
Stills joined forces with David Crosby and Graham Nash in the summer of 1968, already having written the bulk of material on the group's 1969 debut album. Included in that batch was a song he'd been writing about and for Collins, “Suite Judy Blue Eyes.”
“We had been breaking up for a couple of months,” she says, “and he came to see me in Santa Monica. I was doing the Civic Center and staying at a Holiday Inn. He said, ‘I’m coming over to bring you your birthday present.’ He brought me a beautiful guitar, which I still have. And he sang me ‘Suite Judy Blue Eyes.’ Of course, I was very moved, it was very beautiful. I think we both wept. I said, ‘It’s beautiful but it’s not going to get me back.’ That was kind of the end and the beginning of a long and slowly developing friendship over the years. We know each other a lot better now than we did then, that’s for sure.”
Stills and Collins have already issued one single from their upcoming album, a version of the late Leonard Cohen's "Everybody Knows." Collins covered a number of Cohen's songs in the 1960s at a time when the Canadian-born poet wasn't sure he wanted to be a recording artist. Collins was among the first to recognize something special in Cohen’s talent.
“He was a profoundly deep songwriter,” she says. “I had never heard anything like it. In 1966 he came to my apartment through the introduction of a mutual friend. She called me and said, ‘Leonard has started writing some songs. He wants to come to your house and sing them to you.’ He did. I was just struck with how beautiful and how unusual they were. Then he asked me why I wasn’t writing my own songs, after I’d recorded ‘Suzanne’ and a few others. He’d become famous. People really knew who he was. He said, ‘How come you’re not writing your own songs?’ I said, ‘Because you were.’ Then I went home and started writing songs. He gave me a great gift by that question when he posed it the way he posed it.”
Cohen's encouragement found Collins writing her own material for the first time, including the song "Since You Asked" from her 1967 album, Wildflowers.
Judy Collins and Stephen Stills perform at Salina's Stiefel Theater Saturday evening.
Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.
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