Thursday, March 22 , 2018, 5:43 am | Rain Fog/Mist 59º


Jeff Moehlis: Still Sweet Judy Blue Eyes

Judy Collins and Stephen Stills are coming to the Arlington Theatre

Stephen Stills and Judy Collins will perform Saturday at the Arlington. Click to view larger
Stephen Stills and Judy Collins will perform Saturday at the Arlington. (Anna Webber photo)

Judy Collins is a true treasure, a singer whose angelic voice made her a key figure in the Greenwich Village folk music scene and beyond.

She has written her own great songs, but Collins is best known for her interpretations of songs written by others. Notably, she was the first to record songs by Leonard Cohen (including "Suzanne" on her 1966 album, In My Life), and among the first to cover songs by Joni Mitchell (including a 1967 hit version of "Both Sides, Now") and Bob Dylan (including "Masters of War" in 1963). She also recorded hit versions of "Amazing Grace" and "Send in the Clowns."

On Saturday, Oct. 28 at the Arlington Theatre, Collins will be joined by former boyfriend and collaborator Stephen Stills, who wrote the song "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" about her. More information about the show is available by clicking here.

In addition to revisiting songs from their respective catalogs, the show also will feature songs from their recently released album, Everybody Knows.

Collins talked to Noozhawk about her amazing musical journey.

                                                                        •        •

Jeff Moehlis: Have you been enjoying this tour with Stephen?

Judy Collins: Oh, it's just great! It's so much fun. It should be illegal, it's so much fun.

JM: I enjoyed listening to your new album, Everybody Knows, with Stephen. How did that come together?

JC: We managed to get ourselves into the studio before the tour and had a chance to go through the things we wanted to sing and record them. So I was very lucky.

JM: The title track is a Leonard Cohen song, and your history with Leonard goes way back to the beginning.

JC: I was there at the beginning — the lucky one.

JM: To you, what was special about Leonard and his music?

JC: Oh, everything. Everything, everything. And the fact that he brought me his songs. I know why he did, because he wanted to be recorded. He wasn't going to sing. He said he never would sing in public. And he knew that all these other folks in the Village were singer-songwriters, and they were not about to listen to him. Why would they? They were writing their own songs.

So he knew exactly where to come, and he came to me in 1966. I was in the middle of making [the album] In My Life, and I had known a very good friend of his, and she brought him over to my house. That was where it all started. He sang me three songs that day. He sang me "The Stranger Song," "Dress Rehearsal Rag" and "Suzanne." That started the love affair with his songs.

JM: Going back even before that time, you were part of the Greenwich folk music scene. Do you have any favorite memories from that time that you're willing to share?

JC: Well, for instance, I moved here in '63, and I got an apartment down in the Village, and everybody was there. I started working in '61. I worked at Gerdes Folk City downtown, and all the legends of the then-thriving folk community were there. They all came to see me perform, and Dylan was there, and hadn't started writing his songs yet. He was still singing old badly-chosen Woody Guthrie songs ... not very well performed, either. He was homeless and kind of desperate, and kind of pathetic. He used to follow Ramblin' Jack Elliott around like a puppy dog. He suddenly then started writing these incredible songs.

There were songwriters everywhere — David Blue and Eric Andersen and Tom Paxton who would come down the street and say, "I just wrote a new song — [sings] 'Bottle of wine, fruit on the vine / When are you gonna let me get sober?' So you want to record that?" [laughs] I said, "Sure!"

From '61, I was managed by Harold Leventhal, who managed Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, The Weavers, Theodore Bikel, Alan Arkin of all people. So I was in the midst of this incredible stream of writers. I didn't write songs. So they all brought their songs to me, because I had a record label from 1961.

JM: Clearly you have good taste in the songs that you chose to record. To this day, how do you decide what songs to cover?

JC: When they grab by the throat I have to sing them. And if they don't, I never want to hear them again.

JM: What did you think and feel when you first heard his song "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes"?

JC: [laughs] I flipped out. He came and played it to me before the CS&N version was out, and he had not played it for me when he wrote it. I knew about it — I mean, I knew he'd spent some time recording new songs, but I didn't know what they were. He came to my hotel to give me a birthday present in May of '69, and sang it to me on this guitar that he gave to me for a present. It was sort of heartbreaking and sort of gratifying at the same time [laughs].

JM: Is that your favorite Stephen Stills song?

JC: I love his songs. I love CS&N, I love the songs he's written. We're doing some of them on this show, and they're just wonderful. We're doing "Bluebird," and he's doing "For What It's Worth." We're doing a reprise of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes." We're just having a ball.

Click here for the full interview with Judy Collins.

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, The opinions expressed are his own.

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