Kris Kristofferson - Kristofferson Original LP
In the ongoing narrative of American Music, Kris Kristofferson’s story is a most remarkable chapter. After all, how many Rhodes Scholars-turned-Army captains-turned-recording-studio-janitors become first-rate, highly successful Nashville singer-songwriters AND major Hollywood stars? All of the above, and much, much more, happened to Kristofferson (b. 1936), and his songs, especially the batch that appeared on this, his 1970 debut album, were crucial in defining the new “outlaw country” style. His best work evinced a plainspoken eloquence extraordinary even in an idiom famous for it.
After being championed by Johnny Cash, another American original of flinty integrity, he was on his way, via slices-of-life like “Me And Bobby McGee,” “Help Me Make It Through The Night,” “For The Good Times,” and “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.” All depicted people in some way at the ends of their ropes, and each topped the pop or country charts when covered by such notables as Janis Joplin and Cash. But no one interprets Kristofferson like Kristofferson, and while the craggy, smoky voice on this newly-expanded set (including four previously unreleased tracks) may not be golden, it repeatedly strikes pure, storytelling gold.
Johnny Mercer believed that songwriting was a gift. He once told me that he had written over 100,000 songs, but had thrown 99,000 plus away because they were no good. His feeling was that any idea that came to mind no matter how trite had to be written to “keep the channel to the infinite clear.” When Kris Kristofferson came to my office and played me four of his songs it was obvious that his ‘channel to the infinite’ was crystal clear.
Working with him became a joy I can only describe as indescribable. Kris has never written a song I think can be improved. Each word and each note can not be imagined any other way.
Thanks Kris, for allowing me to be in on the birth and growth of your great career, and for sharing your gifts with the world.
— Fred Foster (November, 2000)
I first met Kris Kristofferson at Buckhorn Music, which was songwriter Marijohn Wilkins’ publishing company, located in the Hubert Long building on 16th Ave. in Nashville. He was just passing through town...someone had given him Marijohn’s name and, being a songwriter (I didn’t know that at the time) was checking out the scene. I believe I was there with Chris Gantry—a fine songwriter himself, and a friend. The Music Row area at that time was quite small...not that the area is much bigger now, but there were fewer music-related companies around then. I remember him then as being a clean-cut nice enough type of guy.
A few months later, he moved to Nashville instead of going to West Point to teach English Literature and believe me, that impressed quite a few folks around Nashville! More impressive though was the fact that he never would talk much about it. I found out soon enough that I was right about him being a nice guy. He and his wife and daughter moved into an apartment right on 17th Avenue—not far from where I had an apartment on 16th Avenue above the Talley Ho tavern! So naturally we ran into each other quite often, especially since he was a patron and part-time bartender at the Talley Ho.
We both had the pleasure and honor to work, as he says janitor—I say assistant engineer, at the CBS recording studio there on 16th Avenue. We both agree that it was a fantastic experience for both of us. To be at a recording session when one of your old heroes would be recording and have a reason to be there! “Hey, I work here!”
I also signed with Combine Music as a songwriter about the same time Kris did so we became a litter closer there as well. I became familiar with alot of his songs by helping him put down demos in Combine’s small studio in the back of the building. Some of those songs are on this album.
He was very excited about getting a record contract with Monument Records. Not because he felt he was going to be the next country music superstar, but because it was a great outlet for his songs. He always thought about his songs and a way of getting them to people or an artist that might record one of them. Well, just about anywhere you go in this world today—and I mean anywhere, you’re more than likely to hear one of these songs.
Kris is a songwriter’s songwriter. If you don’t believe it pick up a copy of Willie Nelson Sings Kristofferson. I had the pleasure to work with him as a musician (I say that loosely) and a singer for quite a few years. It was an experience, an adventure and a good time, that is, most of the time. You’ll hear on this album a young Kristofferson—just starting out and hoping someone likes his songs.
— Billy Swan (November, 2000)
Original LP Liner Notes (Monument 18139)
Gild edged gratitude certificates are being issued to Kris Kristofferson for overcoming his reluctance to record, thus making this album possible. To Johnny Cash for his sensitive annotation, and general inspiration. To Jerry Kennedy, whose birth-sign is Leo, and who is Mercury Records’ top Lion in Nashville, for his peerless guitar picking, and his overall creative contributions. And also to Shel Silverstein who got a lot of phone calls, and had the decency to return them whenever he showed up.
— Fred Foster
Kris was goin’ for a poet
A songwriter he would be
One of those dreamy people
Some people hate to see
Kris, he took slices of life
And salted it down into rhyme
He picked his own days and his ways
He arranged his own meter and time
Kris, he went out a sowing
Wild oats high and low, up and down
Now he’s bringing it into the harvest
And the thresher hums sweet with the soul
(Poems don’t come from machines
Machines can’t set life into rhyme
And you can’t manufacture soul
Nor “gauge” and “chop” soulful lines)
Kris, he was goin’ for lonesome
Taking himself over the road
But he’s got a receipt for the toll
And he’s come to get paid for the load
But Kris, he was goin’ for hungry
A helicopter pilot he mad
His rhymes were in time with that chopper
And his words were as slick as the blades
(But poems and songs though they’re pretty
Can slip right over the head
And tunes from the hungry be pleasant
They’re worth what they bring you in bread)
So Kris, he was goin’ to sell ‘em
His ragged Levis cried “don’t fail”
But to most song-singers that got ‘em
They were just one more piece of mail
Kris, he went for an oil rigger
And down in the gulf on the rig
His melodies still were bubbling
Still goin’ for striking it big
But like the oil that covers the water
His songs covered everyone’s floor
From five years of sending his demos
And leaving them at every door
Kris, he was making a movie
Upon the screen his face would be
And while on a horse in Peru
His songs went on network TV
Someone had finally noticed
And singers of soul sang along
Now we’ve got to dig in our closets
For that lost Kristofferson song.
P.S.Kris, he was goin’ for a singer
And up to the top would he go
When Kris was goin’ for a Grammy
(Next year I’ll say)
“Hell I heard that song five years ago.”
— Johnny Cash
There have been two songwriters of mythic stature in the history of music row. First was Hank Williams, who wrote what the blue collar man was thinking and feeling but was afraid to say. Then came Kris Kristofferson who wrote what the learned and scholarly were thinking and feeling but were reluctant to say.
The beginnings of the Kristofferson legend can be learned in this album. Released in April, 1970, and titled simply Kristofferson, it initially sold 32,000 copies. The following year, when Monument Records worked a distribution deal with Clive Davis and CBS (now Sony), the album, retitled Me And Bobby McGee, with new cover art (represented on the back of this CD’s booklet), “went gold in a month” recalls Kris’ producer and then Monument chief Fred Foster.
In the sixties, when he was recording all of those classic Roy Orbison songs, Fred often wondered what it would feel like to be Fred Rose and be sitting in a room with Hank Williams (Fred was Hank’s publisher) hearing those songs for the first time. Those thoughts must have been running through Fred’s mind the day Kris first sat in Fred’s office and played him “To Beat The Devil,” “Jody And The Kid,” “Best Of All Possible Worlds,” and “Duvalier’s Dream.” Foster approved the publishing deal Bob Beckham offered Kris (Beckham ran Fred’s publishing company, Combine Music) and then looked at Kris and said “We’ve got to make a record!”
The music row myths surrounding Kris’ songs are rivaled only by the legends concerning his love life. Yes, he really was the ‘silver tongued devil,’ (that’s another story), and yes, he really did land a helicopter on the lawn of Johnny Cash’s Hendersonville home in a successful attempt to pitch the country star his songs.
Name a song and there seems to be a great story about it. For example, “Me And Bobby McGee”—songwriters Felice and Boudreaux Bryant had a young lady working with them named Bobby McKee. Legend has it that Fred Foster was asked if he and Bobby had a thing for each other and Fred allegedly replied, “What, me and Bobby McKee? NEVER!” Was this how an idea was born, or was it that Fred was just intrigued by her name? Different stories are told at different times.
Although Kris’s songs began to get covered in 1968 (Roy Drusky took “Jody And The Kid” to #28, someone named Bill Nash cut “For The Good Times” but it didn’t chart, Ray Stevens cut “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” in an over produced version, and Dave Dudley had recorded “Vietnam Blues,” a forgotten number 12 on the country charts), it wasn’t until 1970, Kris’ songs found their audience. Along with the release of this debut album, Kris had major hits with Ray price (“For The Good Times”), Johnny Cash (“Sunday Mornin’ Coming’ Down”), Sammi Smith (“Help Me Make It Through The Night”), Bobby Bare (“Come Sundown”), Waylon Jennings (“The Taker”) and, of course, Janis Joplin (“Me And Bobby McGee”).
Songwriter Mickey Newbury once compared Nashville in the late sixties to Paris in the twenties or Hollywood in the thirties. To others, it seemed like Greenwich Village in the early sixties. Kris was at the center of a group of talented “hippie troubadours” who were hell bent on writing great country songs. Besides Kris, this group included, Newbury, Guy Clark, Donnie Fritts, Chris Gantry, Martha Sharp, Lee Clayton, Billy Joe Shaver, among others.
This group of guitar hustlers (not a briefcase writer among them) hung out, smoked, drank and did all sorts of mind altering crap in an attempt to come up with that unique idea, that special turn of a phrase that would make their fellow songpoets wish they had come up with.
“In the sixties, Nashville was in darkness,” songwriter Chris Gantry told me. “When Kris arrived the lights went on.”
The first rays of that light can still be heard in the songs on this album.
Al (Cooley) Bianculli
VP, A&R Atlantic Records