By GUY D’ASTOLFO
It’s a tour that is 50 years in the making.
Stephen Stills and Judy Collins have a musical and personal history that has been intertwined for half a century. They’ve even written songs about each other.
But amazingly, they’ve never performed together until now.
Stills and Collins released a new album, “Everybody Knows,” last month, and their tour to support it – which comes to Powers Auditorium on Sunday – marks the first time the two folk-rock icons have shared a stage.
The songs on the album put a fresh take on some classic songs. But they also have a familiarity to them, a comfort level that is rarely reached. The listener will fall instantly into harmonies and melodies that have become embedded in our pop-music subconscious.
That familiarity between artists, and past and present, can’t help but emerge when the two perform together.
“We’re like the George Burns and Gracie Allen of the rock circuit,” said Collins with a chuckle during a phone interview this week.
The relationship between Stills and Collins began in 1967 when they tumbled into a love affair.
It was a tumultuous but musically fruitful time for both. Stills penned his classic song “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” for Collins in 1968, and the two would work together long after their relationship ended.
Their latest and long overdue collaboration has fans ecstatic, and understandably so, said Collins.
“It’s remarkable that we survived the slings and arrows,” she said.
The title track of “Everybody Knows” was written by Leonard Cohen, the songwriting great who died last year. Cohen was a friend of both Stills and Collins, and they pay tribute to him in concert.
The album also includes a cover of “Handle With Care,” the Traveling Wilburys hit that was co-written by Tom Petty, who died last week. Collins said they are dedicating their version to Petty, and are planning to add his “I Won’t Back Down.”
The set list includes much of the new album – “We play it top to bottom,” said Collins – as well as numbers from each artist’s personal catalog.
Fans should expect to hear “Both Sides Now,” “Chelsea Morning,” “Houses,” “For What It’s Worth” and, of course, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.”
Collins’ voice maintains its crystalline quality on gems such as “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” and she and Stills harmonize in a fashion that brings the past rushing forward.
Which begs the question: Shouldn’t this tour have happened decades ago?
“Oh, no! Now is exactly the right time,” said Collins, who needed time to clear her busy schedule.
“My manager had been pushing me to do this for two years. When it came up as an idea, I said [to Stills], ‘What do you think?,’ and he said, ‘Fabulous.’ We talked about it. ‘Is this the right time?’ Then we had to get the dates and we got started.
“We couldn’t have done it years ago because I’ve been working pretty steadily,” she continued. “But we needed to refresh the original commitment to one another’s talent, which started it.”
Collins recalled how it all began, 50 years ago.
“When I met him, he was at the top of his game with Buffalo Springfield, and in those first months he was getting together with David [Crosby] and Graham Nash [to form Crosby, Stills and Nash],” she said. “So it was a very provocative time for us, and both of us were on an upward curve. We were getting deep into the center of our professional careers. Our love affair didn’t last for those reasons. We both needed the space to fulfill what was promised.”
During their concerts, Collins and Stills share stories of the early days when their lives were so intertwined.
She told a more recent one about Stills’ song “Judy,” which is also on the new album. “He recorded ‘Judy,’ which was the precursor to ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,’ on a multitrack in 1968, but it got lost for 45 years,” she said. “It was the original recording he made one night, but he had forgotten about it.”
Although Stills and Collins have written songs about each other – she wrote “Houses” for him – they have never written together.
It won’t happen any time soon, because Collins has a lot of other projects on her docket. Still, she continues to write music.
“I’m writing like a fiend now,” she said. “I’m continuing to deepen my education as a songwriter. It’s a very powerful part of my career, but it hasn’t gotten the focus that it might have.”
After the current tour wraps up next month, she will delve back into her “Love Letter to Stephen Sondheim” show, with several dates planned in New York.
She will then renew her collaboration with singer-songwriter Ari Hest, and hinted at a major project that will come after that.
“I will be doing a big album for Sony in the coming years with an iconic artist, but I won’t say who,” she teasingly said.