"I seen another soldier who got wasted in the war/ he said he left his soul there overseas/ the notion he defended doesn't matter anymore." - What About Me - Kris Kristofferson.

When Rhodes Scholar Kris Kristofferson last performed here with the Highwaymen in 1995 he strolled incognito to the Melbourne Hilton across the MCG railway bridges.

The singing actor didn't go into character to avoid fans - he chatted to patrons on post Flinders Park concert constitutionals.

He also joined septuagenarian sidekick Willie Nelson for a round of golf at the Yarra Bend public course.

The music and movies of Kristofferson, 69, have been carved deep into the Australian psyche since long before his 1974 debut tour.

Controversy erupted when he and Waylon Jennings performed most of the soundtrack of Tony Richardson directed 1969 Ned Kelly movie starring Mick Jagger.

"Waylon had sung most of the tunes but had a fight with the producer Ron Haffkine," Kristofferson told Nu Country TV before his sixth Australian tour.

"They called me in but I'm not sure if I sang them in the right dialect."

But when the former Golden Gloves boxing champ stepped into the recording ring he didn't spar with Haffkine - creator of Dr Hook and former producer of Bobby Bare.

"Shel Silverstein (the late former Playboy cartoonist, hit writer and childrens' author) wrote the music and Waylon was doing fine until the fight. I just kind of helped out. I'm surprised you remember it. I hardly do."

Kristofferson, father of eight, lives in Hawaii with third wife Lisa - his lawyer spouse of 23 years.

He could be excused for forgetting slabs of his illustrious life that began in Texas gulf city Brownsville.

Kris earned his Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University before becoming an Army Captain, helicopter pilot and parachute jumper in the elite Airborne Rangers and then literature professor at the U.S. military academy at West Point.


He cut unreleased songs as Kris Karson for singer-songwriter-producer Tony Hatch in England during an Army stint in Germany.

The son of two-star Major General Henry Kristofferson quit his West Point post at 29 in 1965 and fled to Nashville with childhood sweetheart Fran and two young children.
The couple wed in 1960 but split in 1967 after his career change.

"Well she married someone who was going to Ranger School," Kristofferson revealed after the split.

"She didn't bargain on me becoming a musician in Nashville."

Success didn't come overnight - he toiled as a chopper pilot, barman and janitor while honing his writing.

His first cut as a songwriter was Talkin' Vietnam Blues - a recitation by famed DJ-TV host Ralph Emery and later a hit for Dave Dudley - until he released the single The Golden Idol in 1966.

Kris's poetic imagery emerged in the line 'watch the face you're wearing disappearing down the drain.'

Marijohn Wilkin - writer of Long Black Veil, Waterloo, Ramblin' Rose and other hits - introduced him to Cowboy Jack Clement.

Wilkin and Kris's latter day bandleader Billy Swan landed him the janitor's job at the CBS Nashville studio where Dylan and Cash recorded.

She said the hell raising songwriter took country music from bars to boudoirs.

"He took country music into the bedroom," Wilkin said.

"It wasn't in the car anymore. It was not out under the moon anymore. It was very private, and it was raw, and it was full of pain and passion. It frightened people."


Ironically, his flying helped him land a chopper on the lawn of the late Johnny Cash's lakeside mansion to pitch songs.

He had given Cash demo tapes while working as a studio janitor on his sessions and Dylan's Blonde On Blonde but was frustrated with the man in black's tardiness.

"I was in the National Guard in Tennessee and flying helicopters at weekends," Kris recalled.

"So one day I decided that would be the best way to deliver the tape personally. I'm lucky he didn't drop me out of the sky with a shotgun because I almost landed on his house. I read somewhere he said that I had a beer in one hand and a cigarette and a tape in the other. But I never drank in a helicopter - it takes two hands and two feet."

Cash angrily pitched the tape into the lake and ordered Kristofferson off his property.

Ray Stevens cut the song first, but Cash eventually heard it and decided to perform it on his TV show.

Network censors objected to one line of the chorus - "on a Sunday morning sidewalk, I'm wishing, Lord, that I was stoned."

Kristofferson sat in the Ryman balcony during the taping, and when Cash reached the line, he looked straight at Kris and sang the line as it had been written.

It was featured uncut in the TV show and became Kristofferson's first #1 hit.

The singer, now celebrating 40 years of writing with new concert documentary DVD, Breakthrough (Oh Boy-Shock), was vindicated.

"To me country music was about telling it like it was, about being honest about your life in your music," Kristofferson revealed.

"Pop music was pretty bland, but country music was about cheating, drinking, going to jail. It was the white man's blues music, and that's what I wanted to write."

Major artists were keen to chance voices on songs penned by a writer whose versions polarised radio and audiences alike.


Roy Drusky cut Jody & The Kid in 1968 and Roger Miller was first of many versions of Me & Bobby McGee.

"Back in those days, Mickey Newbury and I were sort of pitching each other's songs, which was kinda neat," Kristofferson recalled.

"But he called me up and said "if you can get down here in the next 15 minutes Roger wants to hear your song. He heard it, liked it and learned it. It was not a big country hit, but it helped me because Bobby Neuwirth heard it and taught it to Janis Joplin. I had been off in Peru with Dennis Hopper, and Dennis just loved Bobby McGee, you know, and I think that's why he took me down there to do music for The Last Movie."

Kristofferson wrote Help Me Make It Through The Night on the top of an oilrig in the Gulf of Mexico while flying choppers.

Johnny Cash's cover of Sunday Morning Coming Down, Ray Price (For the Good Times,) Sammi Smith (Help Me Make It Through the Night) and Waylon Jennings (The Taker) - broke the damn wall.

By 1970 Kristofferson had recorded the first of 20 plus groundbreaking albums.

He has had more than 170 songs cut by 500 plus artists diverse as Presley, Sinatra, Peggy Lee and Marianne Faithful and graced more than 70 movies.


His acting started in 1971 when Harry Dean Stanton invited him to appear in The Last Movie and had him cast as a pot dealer in Cisco Pike with Gene Hackman and Karen Black.

Other early films were Blume In Love, Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid (with Dylan), Star Is Born, Convoy and Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea.

He had roles with fellow Highwaymen in Gospel Road (1973), Hank Williams - The Man And His Music (1980) Songwriter (1984), The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James (1986), Another Pair of Aces (1991) and Be Here To Love Me - A Film About Townes Van Zandt (2005.)

The Townes docco was screened at the Melbourne film festival and will be released on video.

The actor also starred in supernatural thriller The Jacket, filmed in Scotland before his latest European solo tour.

Kristofferson's career was peppered with collaborations - on and off stage.

There was an ill-fated marriage to Rita Coolidge that ran in tandem with a joint career that produced a daughter Casey.

Ironically Booker T Jones - producer of epic Willie Nelson album Stardust - married Rita's sister Priscilla.

Kris and Rita toured Australia here at the peak of their fame that produced a brace of duet discs that won widespread airplay and sales.

They met on a plane in 1971 but split in 1980 - just three years before Kris met third wife Lisa who nursed him after his triple heart by-pass operation in 1999.

''I followed William Blake's words for a long time: 'The road of excess leads to a palace of wisdom," Kris says of the poetic mentor of his academic years.

And he named his youngest son Blake, now 10, after the poet whose inspiration led to his writing in his Oxford university era.


"Killing babies in the name of freedom/ we've been down that sorry road before." - Don't Let The Bastards Get You Down - Kristofferson

Kristofferson's hard-core love songs morphed into social conscience fuelled albums dating back to Repossessed in 1986 and Third World Warrior in 1990.

And, long before the Dixie Chicks were banned from country radio for exercising their freedom of speech, the singer was singing his mind.

"I was surprised the other day to see Merle Haggard defending the Dixie Chicks, that's a good sign for me," says Kristofferson who wrote anti-war song Don't Let The Bastards Get You Down two decades ago.

"I just had to write it. I was so depressed by the continual battering of experience. The murdering of all the visionaries. Whether it was Kennedys, Martin Luther King or Malcolm X, whoever was promoting peace seemed to get killed. I think it's a message that a lot of people need to hear. Hopefully, it gets people thinking about what's going on. I felt it was my obligation to express that. I suppose some people call them political songs but I don't see them like that. They're songs about what's going in the world."

Kristofferson staunchly believes country artists should be free to express their views in song without fear of censorship.

"I don't like to see people attacking other artists because of what they're saying," Kris says.

"I like Toby Keith and I like Dixie Chicks. I think everyone's entitled to express their opinion.

I feel you have to share the information that you have and tell the truth as you see it. And I always felt country music did that. Steve Earle ruffled some feathers along the way. But I think Steve is a great artist and a concerned American. "

Kristofferson's latest album Broken Freedom Song - Live From San Francisco (Oh Boy-Shock) - was recorded at Gershwin Theatre at San Francisco State University on July 1, 2002, on the eve of the latest Gulf War.

It features an eclectic mix of the singer's vitriolic anti-war anthems and love songs.


"Well, you fight like the devil just to keep your head above water/ chained to whatever you got that you can't throw away/ and you're shooting through space on this rover of life that you're riding/ and it's whirling and sucking you deeper down every day." - Shipwrecked In The 80's - Kris Kristofferson

Kristofferson's humour songs date back to the seventies when he wrote If You Don't
Like Hank Williams You Can Kiss My Arse
for Hank Jr's album Habits Old And New.

In more recent times he recorded wrote Sky King - a parody of Big Bad John - that dates from his Army days.

"I sang it for Jimmy Dean and he howled with laughter," Kris said of the veteran who charted with the song.

He also recorded The Race - a parody of Larry Henley penned hit The Wind Beneath My Wings with the lyric "you are the shit beneath my feet."

But Shipwrecked In The 80's was far more reality rooted.


"At the time I wrote it in the eighties my family had just fallen part," Kristofferson revealed.
"The company I was recording for had sunk. My manager, a wonderful old guy I had been with since I started, got sick and died and my song agent died as well. And the film I was in, Heaven's Gate, was the biggest bomb of all time."


"Got a song about a soldier, riding somewhere on a train/ empty sleeve pinned to his shoulder, and some pills to ease the pain/ started drinkin' in El Paso: he was drunk in San Antone/ telling strangers who were sleeping how he hated going home." - Broken Freedom Song - Kris Kristofferson.

Kris also enjoyed a three-album career with fellow singing actors Cash, Willie and Waylon as The Highwaymen.

Kris named one of his sons after Cash who died at 71 in September 12, 2003.

"Johnny Cash was an inspiration and a friend but more of a mentor or something," he says.
"As much as I got to know him and work with him on the road I never got over the feeling that he was larger than life. He was just one of the giants. He should have been up there on Mt Rushmore. He was such a powerful presence wherever he was whether he was working on a stage or in the White House. He stood up for the underdog and he did a lot of stuff he didn't need to do, like singing in prisons and singing for Native Americans. John did so much for me. The first big hit I had was when he did Sunday Morning Coming Down. He made it Record OF The Year and he put me on stage for the first time at Newport Folk Festival. He started my whole performing career and he was a close friend right up to the end. I was talking to him on the phone every day when he was in hospital. There will be never another like him. It was obvious that he was real sick. He was still working, still trying hard and still recording a lot after June died. He spent all his time in the studio, I guess just trying to have a reason to get up, you know. But I wasn't really surprised to see him go so soon after her because she used to take care of him."


Kristofferson's own mortality was tested early when Waylon Jennings died at 64 on February 13, 2002.

"Waylon was a real close friend," Kristofferson revealed.

"We fought all the time. Waylon fought with everyone all the time. But jeez, he was like a brother. And he's the guy, on his own, without any these self help programmes or rehab places, was able to kick one of the heaviest habits of drug abuse that I have ever seen. But I guess eventually it took its toll, the years of abuse. I really miss him. He was so good with my kids. I talk to Jessi, his widow all the time. I think of Waylon when I'm singing Shipwrecked. And John as well."


Kristofferson has pleaded with his acting, singing and golf partner Willie Nelson, 72, to hang in there.

"I said to Willie the other day 'man don't get sick. There ain't many of us left,"' Kris added.
Willie recently released his belated reggae album Countryman (Lost Highway) and has recovered from the throat ailment that caused him to cancel his February tour of Australia.

The Don Was produced disc features Willie performing reggae versions of historic country tunes dating back to his sixties writing era.
Meanwhile Willie's mate - singing Texan crime novelist Kinky Friedman - borrowed from Kristofferson for his Texas Gubernatorial campaign that runs until next year.

< Kristofferson with current wife Linda

He told CNBC his new campaign slogan is "Friedman's just another word for nothing left to lose."

Kristofferson, supported by James Blundell, is promoting DVD Breakthrough, 2003 CD Broken Freedom Song - Live From San Francisco and new movie The Jacket.

CLICK HERE for Tonkgirl's extensive tour dates for Kristofferson whose sojourn ends at the St Kilda Palais on Saturday August 20.

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