- Kris Kristofferson: A
Friend to Freedom
By Chris Neal
© 2006 CMA Close Up News Service / Country Music Association, Inc.
- Kris Kristofferson looks back at the
road behind him - and ahead to the future. In November 2004 at the
CMA Awards in Nashville, Kristofferson was formally inducted into
the Country Music Hall of Fame. More than a year later, he still
can't quite believe it.
"It makes me feel kind of awestruck," said Kristofferson, enjoying
a day off from his current tour in Park City, Utah. "I never
envisioned that. I figured that might be a little bit of a
stretch, to expect recognition from the powers-that-be."
That's because Kristofferson has always spoken his mind, no matter
how unpopular his politics made him, and always made the kind of
honest, uncompromised and at times noncommercial music he wanted
to make. In his work and his life, the magic word has always been
freedom. His dissections of the topic range from "Freedom's just
another word for nothin' left to lose" - perhaps the most famous
line from one of his most famous songs, "Me And Bobby McGee" - to
tunes like "The Burden of Freedom," from his new album, This Old
Road, released in March by New West Records.
"It's interesting to see that freedom is still predominant in the
songs," he said. "It's always been important in my life, probably
starting with my own artistic freedom to do what I wanted and be
what I wanted to be, and to be the creative person I thought I was
designed to be. It extends from there to respect for other
This Old Road is just the latest expression of Kristofferson's
artistic freedom, one that finds the singing, songwriting and
acting legend taking a stark look back at his 69 years, and taking
stock of his life at the moment. "I imagine it's sort of a
reflective look on the whole journey," he said. "The questions
that you ask yourself at this end of the race, reflection on the
things you've learned along the way and the people you've known
and lost. I think each one of the albums that I've done has been a
look at what I'm experiencing, and the sense I'm trying to make
out of it."
The sound of This Old Road is stripped and spare, inspired by the
acoustic tours he's undertaken over the last two years, which have
found him performing with only his own guitar and harmonica
accompaniment. "It's pretty honest," he said. "After I got over
the fear of going out there - not that I'm over that, but once I
got past it - I found out that playing acoustic did put a focus on
the songs that you don't have when you're able to hide in a band."
The native Texan's acoustic performance at Austin's South By
Southwest festival was attended by Don Was, who had produced the
singer-songwriter's 1995 Moment Of Forever album, as well as The
Road Goes On Forever, the third and final album Kristofferson,
Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson recorded as The
Highwaymen. "I thought he was fantastic," Was said. "There were
probably 10,000 people there, and he had 'em all spellbound. I
thought his singing sounded stronger when there was less covering
it up. After the show I said, 'Why don't we just record you like
The two made a dry run by laying down 50 songs in a day in the
comfort of Kristofferson's bedroom at the house in Maui where he
lives with wife Lisa and their five children (he has three more
from previous marriages). Satisfied, they picked 11 to record in
Los Angeles, using an experimental five-microphone setup meant to
allow easy translation into surround sound. "It took about as long
to record as it takes to play it," Was said. The producer notes
with a laugh that the plans for a surround-sound disc were
scrapped, but as a result This Old Road offers an intimate sound
portrait of the conditions in the room where it was recorded,
including the sound of an air-conditioner blowing, a refrigerator
humming and trucks passing by outside.
The arrival of This Old Road came as sweet relief to Kristofferson
fans who had waited 11 years since he last released an album of
new songs. His most recent studio album, 1999's The Austin
Sessions, featured re-recordings of some of the classic songs he's
written, including "Sunday Morning Coming Down," "For The Good
Times," "Help Me Make It Through The Night" and "Why Me." They
were just a few of the tunes that first made Kristofferson one of
Country's most in-demand songwriters in the early 1970s, and
helped him carve out a successful singing career of his own - not
to mention a sideline as an actor in dozens of films, from 1971's
"The Last Movie" to the upcoming "Disappearances."
"Those were interesting days," he said, with characteristic
understatement. "It was like I stepped on a roller coaster in
1970, and for 10 years didn't stop to think. I was doing either a
movie or going around on the road for 10 years there without a
One of the reasons for the decade-long absence from making new
music was Kristofferson's desire not to ride that rollercoaster
again, preferring to spend time at home raising his young
children. There were also record label difficulties and the
resurgence of his acting career, among other distractions. "I had
different things on my agenda, such as a triple heart bypass!" he
said with a laugh. The 1999 operation, he said, "kinda knocked me
out for a little while, but I feel fine."
Despite his well-preserved rugged good looks, Kristofferson turned
70 on June 22. Passing that landmark, he said, has made him
reflective. "I feel real grateful to still be able to do what I
love and make a living at it," he noted. "I think if you last, if
you just stay above ground and keep doing something long enough,
there gets to be more and more people appreciating what you're
doing. It seems to me that I get a respect today that I might not
have gotten 20 years ago, and people are giving me the benefit of
the doubt." Two decades ago, Kristofferson was making a series of
explicitly political albums and publicly criticizing the Reagan
administration's policies in Nicaragua and El Salvador. "I got a
little unmarketable back there in the '80s," he chuckled.
This Old Road is more personal than political, but is nonetheless
suffused with the beliefs and ideals that tell the world
Kristofferson's views. Was believes the album is an accurate
portrait of who Kristofferson is today - a complex, mature man
assessing his blessings while retaining his cutting intellect.
"On the surface, this album would appear to be Kris finally
relaxed and mellowed out," said Was. "But if you dig beneath the
surface, you see that at the same time there's a lot of irony, and
there's a whole lot of edge to it, too. I think he's a brilliant
writer. He's the greatest."
On the Web: kriskristofferson.com
Photographer: Mary Ellen Mark
Photo courtesy of New West Records.
- Therese Bawden and Kris
Kristofferson at concert (Photo Courtesy of Therese)
- Penrith Panthers on 16th August
- Kris and James (Photo Courtesy of
Panthers on 16th August
- Kris Kristofferson
- Country music icon, acclaimed
singer/songwriter, film star, Rhodes scholar, political and social
activist, poet – all these things come to mind when one thinks of
Nashville legend Kris Kristofferson.
His induction into the US Country Music Hall of Fame during the
CMA Awards at the Grand Old Opry in November last year was a
fitting tribute to one of country music’s most noteworthy
songwriters and his extraordinary life.
Country music fans are set to rejoice because Kristofferson -
writer of such gems as “Sunday Morning Coming Down”, “Me And Bobby
McGee”, “Help Me Make It Through The Night”, “For The Good Times”
and “Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)” -
has announced an extensive Australian tour for July/August.
These days Kristofferson’s preferred performance mode is in
intimate theatres solo acoustic (guitar/harmonica), where fans can
share stories of his life and music. Keen to see as much of
Australia as he can, the tour will take in 14 cities from Cairns
to Darwin, from Hobart to Adelaide and all points between. This
will be a very special chance to receive an insight into the man
and share an evening with one of country’s greats.
It will be 68-year-old Kristofferson’s first visit to Australia
since he toured with friends Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Waylon
Jennings, better known as country music super group The
Highwaymen, who released three hit albums across a ten year span.
In fact it was country’s other hell raiser Johnny Cash who is
credited with being the spark that lit Kristofferson’s career.
With both grandfathers and his father members of the US armed
forces, Kristofferson was raised an army brat, becoming an Army
captain and helicopter pilot. Earning a prestigious Rhodes
scholarship to Oxford University, he moved to the UK and earned
his masters degree in Literature. He arrived in Nashville in 1965
with dreams of becoming a songwriter and took up a job as a
janitor at Columbia Studios, where he met Johnny Cash.
When Cash covered ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ and then introduced
the fledgling singer/songwriter at various concerts, it kick
started Kristofferson’s career. It was also the beginning of a
lifelong friendship that sadly ended with Kristofferson delivering
the eulogy at his friend’s funeral in Nashville last year.
During his 40-year career, he has notched up an enviable
collection of number one songs, albums and awards (from Grammy’s
to country music’s prestigious CMA Awards).
But most importantly, he was one of the first of the ‘renegade’
country artists, a rough diamond who changed forever the
traditionally conservative country music world. More than 450
artists, from Janis Joplin to Marianne Faithfull, have recorded
In addition to music, he has also made his mark on film. A role in
Dennis Hopper’s “The Last Movie” in 1971 was the first of more
than 50 feature films, from Sam Peckinpah's "Pat Garrett and Billy
the Kid" to co-starring with Barbara Streisand in "A Star Is
Born". He remains in strong demand and is currently shooting a
movie in the US.
His recent solo albums 1990’s “Third World Warrior” and 2003’s
live “Broken Freedom Song” (Oh Boy Records/Shock) are politically
and socially charged as his work as a human rights activist has
become more prevalent. Performed acoustically with guitar and
harmonica, “Broken Freedom Song” shows the master storyteller
still knows how to captivate an audience, promising Australian
fans an unforgettable evening.
Special guest artist for all shows will be nine-time Golden Guitar
winner James Blundell, also performing solo acoustic. Blundell’s
new single ‘Postcards From Saigon’ and album ‘Deluge’ have
re-awoken audiences to the talents of this popular
- Has a BA in Creative Literature
- Graduated from Pomona College in
Claremont, California 1958
- Rhodes Scholar
- Present wife 1983 - Lisa Meyers - 5
- 1973- 1980 - Rita Coolidge (divorced)
- 1960 - 1969 - Fran Beir (divorced) 2
- Underwent elective heart bypass in
- Dated Janis but did not write the
song "Me and Bobby McGee" for Janis, he found out after
she died that she had all ready recorded it. The song was a hit
for Roger Miller in 1969
- He got his start in the music
business by landing a helicopter in Johnny Cash's backyard,
presenting him with a song
- Print out and have