At 78, Colorado folk icon Judy Collins is more spry, vibrant and generally full of life than many people, musicians or not, that are a fraction of her age. Never less than prolific throughout her career, the last three years have seen her particularly forthcoming with the output. More importantly, everything she puts her name on is worth listening to.
Strangers Again was released in 2015, followed by Silver Skies Blue, her album with singer/songwriter Ari Hest, of the Bronx, last year. The opportunity to collaborate with someone so clearly talented, not to mention young as Hest at 38, was something Collins couldn't shy away from.
"He's wonderful," she says. "He's certainly been discovered before. He's had a number of albums—he used to record for Columbia, and the idiots let him go. They didn't know what they had on their hands. We wrote the album together and recorded it. I had recorded his other song that I loved, 'Strangers Again.' I did a record of duets with a number of other artists on it, and then we did Silver Skies Blue. We were nominated for a Grammy, and that's the first time in 40 years for me, so I was very happy. Sometimes, things just take what they take."
Collins enjoyed the experience of working with Hest so much that the pair are already planning future collaborations. In fact, the next one might not be quite as acoustic.
"We're working on some new songs as we speak," Collins says. "We're hoping to put out a folk rock album, an almost-updated semi-rock 'n' roll album, and we're working on material for that."
Collins has dipped her toes into the rock 'n' roll world before, albeit tentatively and certainly late in her career. In 2007, she released Judy Collins Sings Lennon and McCartney, an entire album of Beatles covers. But even that material was performed in Collins' classic, beautiful folk style. This recent work with Hest appears to have awoken a bit of a rock dragon inside of her, and now she's working with Stephen Stills, of Crosby, Stills & Nash and Buffalo Springfield. The pair released an album, Everybody Knows, this year, and now they're out on tour.
"Stephen wrote a song for me, 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,' years ago when we were having an affair," Collins says. "I used to say that the rumors lasted longer than the affair. Anyway, we've been friends since 1968—almost 50 years—and we decided that it would be fun to see what we could do. We've been talking about it for a couple of years, so finally we found a break in both of our schedules so we could do these concerts, and they are such fun."
Everybody Knows is composed of a number of covers, some rerecorded favorites and a couple of new original tracks.
"We went through a lot of different things," Collins says. "There's a brand new song of mine that's never been recorded before, called 'River of Gold.' Certainly, we're doing 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,' live, and it is such a hoot to be singing that at the end of the show."
One might wonder if the fact that Stills and Collins are old flames would make the collaboration a little awkward, but that doesn't appear to be the case at all. Rather, the pair are embracing their histories, shared and otherwise, and allowing their natural chemistry work in their favor.
"He's such a wonderful artist, such a pro and such a genius," Collins says. "It's such a privilege to be out with him. I just can't get over the fact that I'm now the singer and guitar player in a rock 'n' roll band with Stephen Stills. How much better could it get than that?"
The live set that Collins and Stills have put together should be something quite special to behold. Between Crosby, Stills & Nash (& Young), Buffalo Springfield and Collins' career, there is a mountain of fantastic material to pull from, and Collins says that they've combed through it all.
"We've taken everything from everywhere," she says. "Some of them are our songs. We're doing a song of mine called 'Houses' which I wrote for him, which is sort of the antidote to 'Sweet Judy Blue Eyes.' Another song about that he wrote is called 'Judy.' I'd never heard it before until the tape came out after being lost for years. So it's a mixture. Last night, on a show about Vietnam on TV, 'For What It's Worth' [by Buffalo Springfield] was playing underneath the pictures of the horrible things that were happening. We're doing that. We're doing 'Questions,' 'Who Knows Where the Time Goes,' and a Traveling Wilbury's song called 'Handle With Care.' So we're really allowing ourselves to pick and choose the things that made us happy."
On Sunday, Oct. 22, Stephen Stills and Judy Collins perform at the Fox Theater right here in Tucson, and Collins is particularly excited to be back. Not only does she have a new song called "Arizona," buy she's been crossing paths with Tucson-based diet guru Dr. Andrew Weil thanks to her own new book Cravings: How I Conquered Food, which details her own struggles with an eating disorder.
"I'm going to be in Tucson and then I have to fly to New York the next day where I'm doing an appearance with Andrew Weil, whose center is in Tucson," Collins says. "It's weird. He's already going to be there visiting his daughter, and I have to fly all the way from Tucson to do it. Then I have to fly all the way back to California to pick up this Stephen Stills tour, so it's very strange. Anyway, I have a new song called 'Arizona' which I have not recorded yet but which I intend to do it soon. In part, [I wrote it] because I had an experience in Arizona which I wanted to talk about. These things sometimes take 50 years to come back to mind."
When this tour is done, Collins will continue writing songs for a new album, she'll be preparing for a 10-day run in New York where she'll only perform tunes by renowned composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, and there might be more shows with Stills next year. And then there's that next record with Ari Hest.
Judy Collins simply doesn't know how to rest.