Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Kris Kristofferson: An American icon

Many are familiar with Kris Kristofferson through his songs and/or movies. If you dig further into his biography, the portrait of of a true icon and renaissance man is revealed. Last week, I had the good fortune to catch Kris's first set at the Zeiterion Theater( I had to get back to the Narrows to close the Ottmar Liebert show). The show was magical. Armed with just his guitar, a croaky voice and bagful of great songs, Kris enraptured the crowd.

Kris is a man of many talents and accomplishments. He's a Rhodes Scholar who joined the US Army achieving the rank of Captain. He became a helicopter pilot stationed in West Germany and a member of the 8th Infantry Division. In 1965, after his tour of duty, he was offered a position at West Point as an English professor. He turned it down to pursue a career as a songwriter.

He met Johnny Cash while sweeping floors at Columbia Studios in Nashville. Along with sweeping floors at Columbia Studio, he also flew helicopters off oil rigs in Louisiana. He would come back to the studio and pitch some of the songs he had written while flying from rig to rig. Songs like" Me and Bobby McGee" and "Help Me Make it Through the Night" Legend has it, he grabbed Johnny Cash's attention by flying his helicopter into Johnny's backyard to bring him some tapes. In the late 60's people began taking notice of him and he had success with others singing his songs "Jody and the Kid", "Bottle to the Bottom and "Darby's Castle"

Hi big break came when Janis Joplin(his girlfriend at the time) recorded "Me and Bobby McGee" which became a mega hit. He then started to focus on acting with great films, like "Cisco Pike" "Alice Doesn''t Live Here Anymore" and his big hit "A Star is Born" In the mid 70", he married Rita Coolidge and, they did a record together but the hits dried up due to the changing music industry. His rough hewn approach was much out of favor in the era of disco and the like.

In the  early 80's he hooked with his old buddies. Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash to form The Highwaymen. They had a lot of success and they released two great records. He continued acting and recording through the 80's andd 90's In 2007, he released his first album of original material in 11 years, This Old Road. It is a brilliant album that is both intimate and insightful.

At the Zeiterion, he opened with "Bobby McGee" he commented "that if it was good enough for Janis , it should be good enough for anybody". I couldn't agree more.  His ragged and intimate approach brought the vivid imagery and characters in his songs to life. He plowed through greats like "Help Make it Through the Night", "Casey's Last Ride" and "Here Comes that Rainbow Again" He interspersed songs from his new record "Close to the Bone" and they held up great to the classics. This was just the first set. At 74, Kris is as vital a songwriter and presence as he ever was. Do yourself a favor and check out what Kris has been up to lately.

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