Monday, October 31, 2011

February 7, 1969, Berkeley Community Theater, Berkeley: Judy Collins

An excerpt from Ralph Gleason's Chronicle column on February 10, 1969

Judy Collins was a popular folk act in the mid-60s, and she was so talented that she easily made the transition to the folk-rock era that followed. She has remained a stellar attraction ever since, and rightly so. I recently came across a review of a long ago sell-out concert in Berkeley, on February 7, 1969. At the time, this must have seemed like just another fine show by a popular artist, and surely it was. Nonetheless a careful reading of Ralph Gleason's San Francisco Chronicle review the next Monday (February 10) reveals a few significant details that make this a more memorable event in retrospect than it may have appeared at the time.

Judy Collins
Judy Collins (b. 1939) had been trained as a classical pianist as a teenager, but she threw it all over for folk music in the early 1960s, much to the dismay of her piano teacher. However, her eminent musicality served her in good stead in the mid-60s, when folk music expanded its palate to include a wider variety of sounds. In late 1967, Collins had had a huge hit with the Joni Mitchell song "Both Sides Now," which had been found for her by former Blues Project member Al Kooper. The newly-divroced Kooper was staying in Collins apartment while she toured, and met Joni Mitchell (also newly divorced) and called Collins in Denver at about 4am to tell her "I've got your next single!"

"Both Sides Now, " released in conjunction with Collins's October 1967 Elektra album Wildflowers, peaked at #8 on the Billboard charts. Collins's November 1968 album Who Knows Where The Time Goes was an even bigger hit, peaking at #29 on the Billboard album charts. Although Collins beautiful voice was still the center of the record, tasteful backing from various Los Angeles musicians put the album into the folk rock vein. Among the musicians on the album were James Burton (ex Ricky Nelson, future Elvis), Jim Gordon (future Domino, and co-author of "Layla") and her then-boyfriend, Stephen Stills.

Saturday, February 7, 1969: Berkeley Community Theater, Berkeley, CA
Gleason was not himself too thrilled with Collins's performance in Berkeley, although he cheerfully acknowledges her talent. He concedes that her audience received her rapturously, so they were all happy, even if he was an outlier. The interesting thing about the review was his description of the band. Collins seems to have had a regular trio of Gene Taylor on bass (ex-Horace Silver), drummer Susan Evans (whom Gleason calls a "girl drummer") and 'hippie' pianist Michael Sahl, who had played on the album. This appears to have been Collins's regular performing trio at the time (they can be seen on YouTube, appearing on the Smothers Brothers show from 1969). Also along for the ride on this Friday night in Berkeley was Stephen Stills, who Gleason describes as a "Canadian guitarist."

According to Gleason, Stills
got to play very little but it sounded exquisite. He was along only for the one night. Saturday he began recording for Atlantic with David Crosby and Graham Nash. Rolling Stone reports that Atlantic swapped Richie Furay of Buffalo Springfield to Columbia for Nash (who was under contract to them). I assume it was a straight player deal,  no cash involved.
Gleason's description of the dealings between Atlantic and Columbia are correct, although somewhat simplified. The aforementioned Al Kooper had used Stephen Stills on his Super Session album for Columbia, and Atlantic had assented in return for allowing Nash to come to Atlantic. Columbia had insisted that Richie Furay be allowed to record with Columbia in his new group Poco, and the deal was done.

On the night of the sold-out show, Collin's fans were probably mostly aware that Stephen Stills was a former member of Buffalo Springfield, who had broken up in mid-1968. Although celebrity gossip was not what it was today, a few of them may have discerned that there relationship was not exclusively professional. When they look backwards, however, they probably don't think of that at all. Judy Collins is Sweet Judy Blue Eyes now, forever and a day. By the time the Crosby, Stills And Nash album was released, I think Stills and Collins had moved on, but when the record came out later in 1969, it must have been striking for those that were there to think that Stills was humming "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" to himself while performing on stage with his girlfriend.