The Boston Globe
As Judy Collins recalls, it was May 1, 1969, her 30th birthday.
Stephen Stills, her on-again off-again boyfriend, came to see her in her hotel room, near where she was to play a concert in Santa Monica, Calif.
“He brought me a birthday gift, a beautiful old Martin guitar,” she says. “And then he sang me this incredible song.”
It’s getting to the point where I’m no fun anymore
I am sorry
Sometimes it hurts so badly I must cry out loud
I am lonely.
“We both thought it was terrific, even if it wasn’t about me,” says Collins, 78, of the first time she heard “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” — Stills’s ode to Collins that would become a hit for Crosby, Stills & Nash off their 1969 self-titled debut. “It’s an iconic, amazing song. It blew everybody’s mind, not just mine.”
Although the couple broke up that year, they’ve remained close friends. And now, 50 years after they met, they’re on tour together for the first time, including two sold-out shows in Massachusetts, Sunday at Boarding House Park in Lowell and Monday at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington.
It’s a combination that feels so natural, you might pause and think: “Wait. It is?”
Technically, Stills, 72, and Collins have worked together before — he was a session guitarist on her 1968 gold album, “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” and they dueted on a track from a more recent Collins solo record — but they’d never recorded an album together until now. “Everybody Knows,” which drops Sept. 22, sees them covering classic rock hits by the Traveling Wilburys, Bob Dylan, and more, with the title track by Collins’s late friend Leonard Cohen. They also shed light on a long-lost Stills love song for Collins, “Judy,” and a song Collins wrote for Stills, “Houses.”
The Globe caught up with Collins recently to talk love and life from both sides now.
Q. I can’t believe that this is the first time you’ve toured and recorded together. How did this come together?
A. We’ve been friends for many years, and about 10 years ago, we started talking about what we’d [sing] if we went out [on tour] together. We texted and talked back and forth on how we’d approach it.
Q. Were you surprised at how good you guys sound together?
A. It was really a surprise [laughs]. We really were blown away. His playing, I’ll tell you, he’s better than ever. He’s a genius, as he always was. He’s created songs that are part of the musical landscape of, really, half a century.
Q. How did you first meet?
A. I was recording an album in California, “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” and my producer decided to bring in a new band — James Burton, Buddy Emmons, Van Dyke Parks, Jim Gordon, and Stephen. I didn’t know Buffalo Springfield when he came aboard.
‘The romance didn’t last as long as the rumors. But the friendship has lasted all the rest of the time. Doing this album, we had such a great time. Stephen said, “We should’ve skipped the romance and gone straight to the music.” ’
Q. What was it that you liked about him?
A. He was a genius.
Q. What was your time together like?
A. Very chaotic. Dramatic. A lot of things going on.
Q. You were together two years?
A. The romance didn’t last as long as the rumors. But the friendship has lasted all the rest of the time. Doing this album, we had such a great time. Stephen said, “We should’ve skipped the romance and gone straight to the music.”
Q. So you two had never sang together or recorded together before?
A. Graham [Nash] had a show in the ’80s and he said, “How’d you like to be on a show, and play ‘Someday Soon’?” But I don’t think [Stills and I] sang together. Then about five years ago, on an album of mine, “Paradise,” we sang an old Tom Paxton song together [“Last Thing on My Mind”]. We did a performance together at the Sabin Theater in LA [in 2013], and a talk where we told stories. I’m sure there will be some of that in our show. We’ll leave some time for sharing stories.
Q. So if it hasn’t been about music, what’s your friendship been like over the 50 years?
A. I’d go visit him for a few days after I broke up with somebody. We’d hang out every few years, talk about what’s going on in our lives. [Nowadays] we have dinner together, with my husband [and Stills’s] wife, [we] see grandchildren.
Q. Where are you based now?
A. I live in New York; Stephen is in LA. Which was always part of the problem with our affair [laughs]. Neither of us wanted to [move].
Q. Do you have any favorite memories together over the 50 years?
A. Any time we’re together is a good thing.