In 1969, after a passionate two-year romance, Judy Collins and Stephen Stills broke up.
Heartbroken, Stills wrote “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” (Collins was known for her luminescent blue eyes), recorded by Crosby, Stills & Nash and now widely regarded as one of rock’s great love songs.
The first time Collins heard the song was live –– Stills played it just for her and it made her cry, she said in a 1990 interview with Graham Nash.
Collins, 79, who gained fame for her angelic voice on songs such as the 1960s chestnut, “Both Sides Now,” has maintained her friendship with Stills through the decades.
About four years ago, both Collins and Crosby, Stills & Nash were performing at an AARP convention.
“Stephen and I looked at each other and said, ‘Why aren’t we doing this (on our own)?’ We’re not chopped liver,” Collins said.
Last year, Stills and Collins played about 50 shows together and released an album, “Everybody Knows” (the title track is Leonard Cohen’s song), a mix of covers and original compositions.
The album includes Stills’ ballad, “So Begins the Task,” about coming to terms with the end of his and Collins’ romance.
“And I will learn to live without you now,” he sings, “as I cannot learn to give only part somehow.”
Last year’s set lists included a diverse mix of songs, including the protest anthem, “For What It’s Worth,” from Stills’ 1960s band Buffalo Springfield.
They also played Collins’ new songs, “Houses” and “River of Gold,” and covered “Handle With Care” from The Traveling Wilburys.
Collins’ life hasn’t been all gold and platinum. She has survived substance abuse and her greatest personal tragedy, the suicide of her only son, Clark, who took his life in 1992 at age 33.
Asked in a 2004 interview with Bill Moyers how she got through that period, Collins responded, “Inch by inch, minute by minute, hour by hour.”
And with some help from her friends. “Joan Rivers (whose husband committed suicide) reached out to me and said, you cannot stop working,” Collins told Moyers.
“I’d planned to quit working –– I was going to put it all aside,” she said, but Rivers told her: “You can’t do that – you won’t heal. You have to go on with your life.”
In advance of shows at Napa’s Uptown Theatre on May 10 and at Santa Rosa’s Luther Burbank Center for the Arts on June 1, Collins spoke to The Press Democrat by phone from Los Angeles.
Following are highlights from the conversation.
What led you and Stephen to go out on the road together?
We have shared all kinds of experiences. We talked about songs and tried to figure out what might be the ones we’d do. We came up with a pretty good set list and decided to give it a shot.
How did you select what songs to cover and which original songs to include?
We decided to give each other freedom to do whatever appealed, so I will be doing a new song of mine in my little set, and he will probably do a new one in his set. At the end of the show we sing “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” together which is so much fun. Here I am, a girl singer and 12-string guitar player in a rock ’n roll band with Stephen Stills, which is pretty odd.
If You Go
Who: Stephen Stills and Judy Collins
When: 8 p.m. May 10
Where: Uptown Theatre, 1350 Third St., Napa
Information: 707-259-0123, uptowntheatrenapa.com
When: 7 p.m. June 1
Where: Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa
Information: 707-546-3600, lutherburbankcenter.org