Baby boomer icons Judy Collins and Stephen Stills met in 1967 and were romantically involved for two years. Stills immortalized their relationship with his classic song “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” which he recorded with Crosby, Stills and Nash on their 1969 debut album. Fifty years after they met, Stills and Collins finally recorded an album as a duo, Everybody Knows, which was released in September 2017.
The veteran musicians are supporting the album with a tour that includes a stop at The Rose in Pasadena on Wednesday, May 16. Remarkably, the tour marks the first time they have performed onstage together.
Collins released her first album in 1961 when she was just 22. She is the very definition of a lifetime Performer. Collins, who turns 79 on May 1, won a Grammy for Best Folk Performance for her 1968 recording of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” Collins’ signature hits also include an acapella recording of the traditional Christian hymn, “Amazing Grace,” and an elegant recording of Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway ballad “Send in the Clowns.”
Collins spoke to The Tolucan Times by phone from her home in Manhattan.
I was amazed to read that this tour marks the first time you and Stephen Stills have performed onstage together. And that your recent album marked the first time you have recorded as a duo. What took you so long?
We’ve been talking about it for a number of years. Finally, our schedules opened up and we decided to go for it. We did 50 shows last year and we’re going to do another big group (of shows) starting in May/June. When we finish up, it will be a full year.
What’s it like having a classic song written about you? Very few people experience that.
Well, it was very flattering (laughs) and very profound. I was very lucky. It’s a wonderful song.
The Clintons have said that they named their daughter Chelsea after your recording of Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning.” That must have been gratifying.
I’m always surprised and amazed at how far these songs go and how much they mean to people. So it’s a wonderful feeling.
You recorded an album in 2016 with singer/songwriter Ari Hest, who was born in 1979. What was that like, working with someone so young?
It’s young energy and it’s wonderful. He’s a very talented man and I feel privileged to have found him when I did a few years ago and to have been able to work with him and write with him and tour with him. I’ve never written so many songs with another person. It has inspired my own songwriting, so I have had kind of a regeneration of my own songwriting.
The album you and Hest recorded together, Silver Skies Blue, received a Grammy nomination for Best Folk Album. It was your first Grammy nomination in 41 years, which is hard to fathom. You just keep chugging along, with or without industry support in the form of Grammy nominations, hit records and radio airplay.
If you’re an artist, you have to sell your product. No matter (in what era) you do your work, it’s always going to take work on your part to market it. Perhaps you were doing radio in 1970 and today you’re doing social media, but you always have to keep working at it. It has never been easy. There are always compromises. Big business.
The military/industrial complex which Eisenhower warned us about has now eaten the music business alive and it has done the same thing to many, many artists. So we have to work harder. We have to sell our products on the road. We don’t have the support of terrestrial radio anymore, really. And so it’s a different world, but we have to adapt. You have to hang on to what Darwin said and adapt.
You must feel fortunate that you still have an audience after all these years.
I’m very lucky. My health is good. I’ve worked my ass off. I had terrific (vocal) training and I have wonderful support. I still make a living at this and you know that’s rare.
And your voice is still there. With many older performers, the voice is diminished.
It happens. When I was 26, I happened to run into a magnificent teacher (vocal coach), Max Margulis, who knew what to do. I worked with him for 32 years until he died. So I was really fortunate in that respect. It’s dangerous waters trying to find somebody to work with the voice. People can do terrible damage.
Your three biggest hits are so varied, and come from such varied sources—a pop/folk song, a traditional Christian hymn and a Broadway ballad. Is that breadth of musical references simply part of who you are?
Nobody has ever really pointed that out before. People probably get it, but nobody has ever really said ‘Gee, there are three totally different origins.’ I think that’s right. It’s very interesting. I didn’t plan for that, but I have a feeling that part of my longevity has to do with the fact that I’ve got so many kinds of music to reach into. My shows are varied and they sustain an interest—both on my part and the part of my audience.
There are two distinct talents involved in a career like yours—singing ability and the ability to pick songs that are right for you; knowing what works for you and what doesn’t.
It also takes another aspect, which is stamina. I work very hard at keeping physically and mentally on top of it. Because just the touring alone could kill you (laughs).
Do you mean working out?
Well, I work out, I have a particular kind of diet that I follow. I take a lot of minerals and vitamins. I keep my healthy relationship with naturopathics. I do acupuncture and all of that. So I do a lot of things to keep going.
Are even your fellow artists impressed at your stamina and the pace of your touring?
Well, they are, I must say. We all do what we do in a different way. Those of us who are lucky enough to have long careers are still doing what we love.
How many dates do you play a year?
Last year, we did 150 shows—50 with Stephen and 100 on my own or with Ari. I also do a lot of speaking engagements. A lot of mental health organizations and suicide prevention groups have me speak to them. (Collins’ only child, Clark, took his own life in 1992.) That’s something that’s very meaningful to me. (At these speaking engagements), I always sing. Of course, you can’t stop me from singing.
Stills and Collins will play Wednesday, May 16 at The Rose in Pasadena and Thursday, May 17 at The Canyon in Santa Clarita.
Paul Grein writes regularly about pop music for such outlets as Yahoo.com and HitsDailyDouble.com.