Sweet Inspiration: Judy Collins

judy2One of the biggest folk stars of the era, Judy Collins was known for her pure voice and penetrating blue eyes. As an early fan of Joni Mitchell, Judy recorded and made hits of “Chelsea Morning” and “Both Sides Now” before Joni had even recorded her own versions. Along with her boyfriend, Stephen Stills, Judy was part of a literate group of pop stars who brought poetry to rock n’ roll. Stephen had admired Judy from afar for years before they began their relationship in 1967; that year he was riding high on the success of his band with Neil Young, Buffalo Springfield. They hit the top of the charts with their counter culture classic, “For What It’s Worth”.

judystephenTwo years later, in 1969, things were not going so well for Stephen Stills. Buffalo Springfield had splintered, leaving him without a band, and he could feel that his relationship with Judy was doomed, as well. He crafted a series of songs about their relationship that he later merged together into a suite; he tossed in a reference to Judy’s most famous feature and titled it “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”. “Don’t let the past remind us of what we are not now”, he wrote in one section of the song, before intoning “This does not mean I don’t love you/I do, that’s forever” just a few lines later. His strong ambivalence about the end of the relationship turned the song into a masterpiece. The only problem was, he had no band to sing the harmonies, and so he couldn’t record it.

Stephen believed in the high quality of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”, and began looking for potential bandmates. David Crosby, who had left the Byrds, soon agreed to join. Crosby and Stills, deciding that they needed a third harmony voice, continued to recruit other band members with limited success. One night, as Cass Elliot’s house, they performed one of their new songs for the small group of guests. Among them was a former member of the Hollies, Graham Nash. After listening to the song a few times, Graham chimed in with a high harmony part. No discussion was needed, and Crosby, Stills & Nash was formed. They recorded “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” for their first album, and performed the song at Woodstock, where it became an instant classic.

Judy Collins continued her successful singing career, and in 2011 she released a bestselling autobiography. She titled her book Sweet Judy Blue Eyes.


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