Stephen Stills, Judy Collins to bring 50-year relationship to Kirby Center
Judy Collins’ ephemeral relationship with Stephen Stills in the late 1960s was famously turbulent and is forever etched in the canon of American music in the lyrics of the 1969 Crosby, Stills & Nash hit “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” but 50 years after their breakup, the lasting bond between the celebrated songwriters has brought them back together.
Stills & Collins will take the stage at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre. The pair will play songs from their recently released collaborative album as well as their cherished catalogues, and they will share intimate stories from their lives and careers.
How does a reunion between such iconic artists and noted exes come to pass?
“First of all, we’ve always remained friends, which helps,” Collins said with a laugh during a recent interview. “We’ve talked over the years and muddled through conversations about if we did make a record together and decided to tour and what we would sing.”
Some of what Stills, 72, and Collins, 78, will sing will come from their new 12-song LP, “Everybody Knows,” which features reimaginings of songs from both artists, a new song by Collins, and some choice covers including the Leonard Cohen tune that acts as the title track.
Collins and the late Cohen were close and had a significant impact on each other’s careers.
“He inspired me to write songs, and I inspired him to perform,” Collins said. “He brought me his first songs in 1966, songs like ‘Suzanne’ and ‘Dress Rehearsal Rag’ and ‘The Stranger Song.’ I was blown away by his writing, and I decided to record two of his songs. He used to say I made him famous.”
Collins would go on to record Cohen’s songs throughout her career, and, in the wake of Cohen’s death, a day before the 2016 presidential election, Collins decided to honor her friend by performing “Everybody Knows.”
“I started singing it in concert in November, both to remember him and to remind people of things he had always said, because he always told the truth,” Collins said.
Cohen’s words, applicable to political or social injustice in any era, can be perceived as particularly poignant considering the current climate in the U.S.:
“Everybody knows that the boat is leaking/Everybody knows that the captain lied/Everybody got this broken feeling/Like their father or their dog just died.”
“I think it’s a very powerful song and people relate to it in a very strong way,” Collins said.
Two of the other songs on the album, “Judy” and “Houses,” are a direct reference to — and a product of — the relationship between Collins and Stills.
“Judy,” Collins said, was recorded by Stills during a middle-of-the-night solo studio session. At the time — and Collins admits Stills remembers the details differently — the two were working on one of her albums, but Stills found moments to record a demo for “Judy” along with early versions of “Wooden Ships,” “Helplessly Hoping” and “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.”
Collins never heard “Judy” until Stills was convinced to release the archival tape in 2007.
“When we sing it, he says, ‘This was a predecessor to ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,”” Collins said. “It bowls me over. It’s really amazing.”
“Houses,” a song Collins wrote about Stills for her 1975 album “Judith” is recorded with a fuller piano sound than is featured on the original and is punctuated by Stills’ artful guitar fills.
“I played it for him, and he said, ‘We have to do it, but we have to do it differently,’” Collins said.
The new Collins original, “River of Gold” was a piece Collins played for Stills with no expectations, just an excitement to share for the first time in a long time.
“He liked ‘River of Gold,’ and he said, ‘Oh my God, I want to sing that,’” Collins said. “I was thrilled that Stephen Stills wanted to record a song I wrote.”
Collins said the entire concept of the album and tour is an answer and response to “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and brings to light the internal conversation between the duo about their relationship, and she credits the “incredible” band that plays on the record and in the live setting for making the project a success.
“I’m having such a ball being a singer and guitar player in a rock ‘n’ roll band with Stephen Stills,” she said. “It’s a good treatment for depression.
“It’s highly unlikely that this would have come to pass this way, because life gets in the way. People stop touring; they die. It’s the unexpected and the impossible.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or on Twitter @TimesLeaderMatt.
IF YOU GO
What: Stills & Collins with special guest Kreg Viesselman
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: F.M. Kirby Center, 71 Public Square, Wilkes-Barre
Additional information: Tickets range from $48 to $78 and are available at the Kirby Center box office, online at kirbycenter.org and by phone at 570-826-1100.