Q&A with Judy Collins ahead of next Wednesday's show in Keene with Stephen Stills

Special to the Union Leader
June 13. 2018 2:05PM
Stephen Stills and Judy Collins, who collaborated on 2017's duet album “Everybody Knows,” are teaming up for a Monadnock Region tour stop June 20. (Courtesy/Anna Webber)

Fifty years ago, as their careers flourished, folk-rock artists Judy Collins and Stephen Stills embarked on a brief, whirlwind affair.

As the relationship crumbled, Stills wrote heartfelt songs about Collins — “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” and “Helplessly Hoping,” both of which ended up on Crosby, Stills & Nash’ 1969 debut album.

The fiery relationship burned out less than two years later, but a lifelong friendship was left in its wake.

Last year, the two finally paired up again, on stage and in the studio.

“It’s marvelous. We’re just having an awfully good time,” Collins says of their new collaboration.

The Stills-Collins tour rolls into the Colonial Theatre in Keene on Wednesday, June 20, when the two will play from their joint album, 2017’s Everybody Knows, and reinvigorate songs like “Someday Soon,” “For What It’s Worth,” “Southern Cross” and “Chelsea Morning.”

Collins spoke with Weekend about her early says in music, her first meeting with Stills, and touring with a close friend.

As a child, your music career began as a piano prodigy, but then you turned to the guitar. What made you change your mind back then?

My father was in the radio business, and he made his living singing and performing and doing Rodgers and Hart songs, as well as old Irish folk songs. (From him) I learned a lot about how to perform and how to show up and how to do different kinds of music. I actually played with an orchestra when I was 13.

Then when I was 15, I was listening to the radio and I discovered the (ballad) “Gypsy Rover” and (the Scottish folk song) “Barbara Allen,” and that changed my life. It was like a lightning bolt hit my life, and I had to get a guitar and start learning songs. That was the beginning, and it’s never stopped.

You and Stephen Stills had 50 tour dates last year and have 50 more this year. Do you like being on the road so much?

I love it. I get to grow as an artist and have fun and (interact) with my audiences. And then being with Stephen is a nice change, so it’s fun.

So you two met in 1968?

Fifty years ago, yeah. Seems like a long time, but it went very fast.

Was living through the ’60s a bit of a blur?

Well, not so much of a blur. I have a pretty crisp memory of most of it. And I think that’s partly because I do so much writing. I’ve just published my 10th book (“Cravings: How I Conquered Food”) last year. Most of it is memoir. I’m always writing something. So I just keep at it, writing songs and writing prose and writing poetry, wondering if they’ll turn out to be songs.

Do you edit as you write your thoughts down?

Oh, you have to do both all at once. You have to edit as you go, and then of course, when you sell a book you have to be an editor on the whole thing again. But you know, I think life is editing — editing out the things that don’t work for you, keeping the things that do work for you.

So is that like your relationship with Stephen? You were together once, then you broke up, and now you’re friends.

It’s sort of like couples therapy. He always says we remain such good friends because we married other people, which I think is true. I mean he’s been married a number of times, and I’ve been married (twice). We’ve just had a lot of things to talk about and a lot of connections because of that closeness of the original affair. But then we just kept those parts that worked.

So what parts have worked?

Music. And laughing. We both like to tell stories. We both laugh a lot, and we both remember a lot. So it’s exciting to be with someone who remembers what happened then. It’s really interesting.

Who do you think is the better storyteller?

I think we’re about equal in terms of our stories, and also (in) generating laughter, because he’s done that too in the group (Crosby, Stills & Nash). You know, we’re pretty evenly paired. I think it’s quite amazing, really. I think we have come to see things in very similar ways over the course of time, which helps.

Do you remember the same things differently?

Absolutely — differently. It’s funny. He remembers that we met at the Café Au Go Go and that he was there to see Eric Clapton and Cream. I don’t remember that at all. I have a totally different memory of when we met. But the thing that we agree about is that we work together on this album in 1968, and that’s very much documented by pictures.

When you two met, was it love at first sight?

Yeah. Pretty much. I went home after the first couple weeks in California, and I told the guy I was living with that he had to move out. He was really a gentleman about it — Michael Thomas. We’re still friends, too, and I see him when I go to England sometimes. He’s a writer. He’s a gentleman.

So when Stills wrote songs like “Helplessly Hoping,” did it make you think, ‘This guy wrote these songs about me … maybe I should re-examine this relationship?’

Yeah, well, I had heard them all and I got it, that he was writing a lot of songs for me, not just “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” but “We Don’t Have To Cry” and the song called “Judy” and a lot of songs. Of course, it’s very productive, certainly, but I think the main thing is that we were able to stay friends, and that was great.


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