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Stephen Stills and Judy Collins -- couple turned collaborators
A little love has gone a long way for Judy Collins and Stephen Stills.
The two musicians were a romantic couple during the ’60s; Collins inspired Stills’ Crosby, Stills & Nash opus “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” They’ve also remained lifelong friends, which led to a collaborative album, “Everybody Knows,” last fall, and a combined tour that began last year and continues through 2018.
“It’s got the markings of something that was bound to happen, and by some miracle both of us are still on the planet and feeling very healthy and positive,” Collins, 79, says by phone. “I think a lot of people see this as a reunited romance, which in a way it is because it’s certainly a romantic musical romance because we’ve always liked each other’s work, and then we’ve also had a lot to say with each other.
“When we started rehearsing for the record (Stills) said, ‘Y’know, we should’ve done this from the first and sort of skipped the romance.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, but then you wouldn’t have written ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,’ probably.”
The association certainly does raise eyebrows. Even longtime Stills’ collaborator Graham Nash notes that, “At first I was kind of shocked that you would generate an entire tour over a love affair. Really? But it’s great.”
Collins, meanwhile, adds that the key to the duo’s success now is the lack of any residual animosity from their breakup.
“It’s a long relationship,” explains Collins, who’s been married to fashion designer Louis Nelson since 1996. “We always were friends. We didn’t ever hate each other. We had a kind of, I would say, dramatic love affair — lots of positive and then a lot of upset because it wasn’t working out. But I’d go visit him when I had a breakup with somebody and we’d hang out, and the same thing with him. And we see each other with our spouses from time to time.
“Stephen always says we probably are still friends because we married other people, and that WAS helpful.”
Stills’ and Collins’ careers paralleled each other during the ’60s — Stills with Buffalo Springfield and then CSN, Collins as a folk and pop singer who first hit big with her version of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” during 1968. They were both notable figures in Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon music scene and shared a passion for political activism. They spoke for years about working together but didn’t get serious until the past couple of years.
“It was an album first,” Collins says. “I would’ve preferred to do the tour first and then the album, but you have to record the album so you can have it on the road with you, so that’s what we did.”
“Everybody Knows,” which came out Sept. 22, includes a variety of covers — of each other’s material (Stills’ “Questions” and “So Begins The Task,” Collins’ “Houses” and “Who Knows Where The Time Goes”) as well as songs by Bob Dylan (“Girl From The North Country”), Leonard Cohen (“Everybody Knows”) and the Traveling Wilburys (“Handle With Care”). It also features a new Collins composition, “River Of Gold,” as well as “Judy,” a song Stills wrote around the same time as “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and was originally released in demo form on his 2007 “Just Roll Tape” collection.”
Collins — who describes hearing Stills sing about her as “delicious” even decades later — predicts the duo will be a going concern, alongside other endeavors. Though Stills is on hiatus from his various combinations with Nash, David Crosby and Neil Young, Collins has a full docket including a second album with singer-songwriter Ari Hest as well as a solo album, an album of Stephen Sondheim songs called “Love Letter To Stephen Sondheim” and a book, “Cravings,” about eating disorders and diets.
But she promises there will always be time to do more with Stills.
“I think we’re up for it,” Collins says. “I think now that it’s established and we both have ideas of things that we want to do musically, it’s just a matter of how we get around the world. Lots of people want us, so it’s possible we might be able to go forward in some way or another.
“Right now the main thing is to focus on this tour and get it right. It’s progress and not perfection, as they say.”
• If You Go: Stephen Stills and Judy Collins, with Joe Purdy opening, perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 9, at Meadow Brook Music Festival on the campus of Oakland University, Rochester Hills. Tickets are $45-$99.50 pavilion, $30 lawn with an $80 lawn four-pack. Call 313-471-7000 or visit 313Presents.com.
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