DIARY - 21 JULY 2005 - KRIS KRISTOFFERSON
AND NED KELLY
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.
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.
had sung most of the tunes but had a fight with the producer Ron
Haffkine," Kristofferson told Nu Country TV before his sixth
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.
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
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."
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
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.
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
It was featured uncut in the TV show and became Kristofferson's first
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
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
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.
DEAN STANTON AND MOVIES
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.)
Townes docco was screened at the Melbourne film festival and will
be released on video.
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.
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.
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
''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
And he named his youngest son Blake, now 10, after the poet whose inspiration
led to his writing in his Oxford university era.
POST WAR SONGS
babies in the name of freedom/ we've been down that sorry road before."
- Don't Let The Bastards Get You Down - Kristofferson
hard-core love songs morphed into social conscience fuelled albums
dating back to Repossessed in 1986 and Third World Warrior
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
"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."
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.
SHIPWRECKED IN THE 80'S
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
humour songs date back to the seventies when he wrote If You
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.
the time I wrote it in the eighties my family had just fallen part,"
"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."
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.
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,
"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."
own mortality was tested early when Waylon Jennings died at 64 on February
"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."
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."
supported by James Blundell, is promoting DVD Breakthrough, 2003
CD Broken Freedom Song - Live From San Francisco and new movie
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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