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Biography: Kris Kristofferson

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Add two parts soldier, one part pilot, three parts actor, and four parts singer-songwriter - you may end up with Kris Kristofferson!


Kristofferson is perhaps the most versatile member of the country super-group, the Highwaymen.

 

An "Air Force brat" born in Brownsville, Texas, back in 1936, Kristofferson was pushed to excel at an early age.  As is common with children of military personnel, he moved around a lot as a young man and was pushed towards a career in the armed forces.  After graduating high school, he attended Pomona College where he was part of reestablishing the Rugby Club.  With a keen interest in philosophy, music, and sports, he graduated with a BA in literature in 1958.  He earned a Rhodes scholarship to the University of Oxford where he began writing music.  Performing under the name Kris Carson, he met with little success.  While in England, he became enthralled with the works of William Blake - especially those dealing with the creative soul.  After graduating, under pressure from his family, he married his old high school sweetheart and joined the U.S. Army.

 

Kristofferson joined the army in 1960.

 

While working for Uncle Sam, Kristofferson made his way up to Captain.  He became a certified helicopter pilot and also completed Ranger School.  All this time he continued working on his music and while stationed in Germany formed his own band.  He was even offered a position to teach English Literature at West Point, but to his family's dismay he turned it down to become a full-time musician.  Having decided to not pursue a military career, Kristofferson was disowned by his family.  Even with his later success, they never reconciled.  As if things weren't bad enough, he also went through a nasty divorce.  At the age of 29, despite all his hard work and achievement, he found himself broke and alone.

 

According to Kristofferson, "Me and Bobby McGee" was written while sitting on an oil rig.

 

Kristofferson moved to Nashville after being honorably discharged from the Army.  Going from odd-job to odd-job, eventually he got a gig as a janitor at Columbia Records.  When not sweeping floors, he flew helicopters to and from oil rigs in south Louisiana.  While times were tough, many of his greatest songs were written during this time, including "Help Me Make It Through the Night" and "Me and Bobby McGee".  Although he wasn't recording his own material, other musicians had taken a liking to his work and began performing it.  Finally, in 1966, Dave Dudley made the charts with "Viet Nam Blues", written by Kristofferson.  Although he couldn't make the charts with his own recordings, Kristofferson's songs began charting regularly under other performers - including popular acts like Jerry Lee Lewis.

 

Kristofferson gave his demo tapes to Johnny Cash by landing a helicopter in his back yard.

 

With several charting song to his credit, Kristofferson finally had his break as a performer when he was introduced by Johnny Cash during the Newport Folk Festival.  In 1970, he released his debut album Kristofferson.  The album flopped at first, but was released the following year as Me & Bobby McGee to great success.  Even though he was now known nationally as a recording artist, he was happy to let other artists continue charting with the songs he wrote.  Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, among others, were among this new group of artists to perform his work.  Two of his songs were chosen as Song of the Year for 1970 by competing music associations, the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association, a feat no other artist has duplicated since.  The Janis Joplin cover of "Me and Bobby McGee" hit #1 on the charts and stayed there for weeks following her untimely death.  After releasing another album, the Silver Tongued Devil, Kristofferson started his long career in acting with the Last Movie.  Another album was released in 1972, Border Land, and Kristofferson won award after award at that year's Grammy's.

 

Janice Joplin and Kristofferson dated shortly before her death.

 

The 1970's saw Kristofferson balancing his music and acting careers.  Six more solo albums were produced, five of which charted in the County Top 25 (including the #1 Country album hit, Jesus Was a Capricorn).  Several collaborative works were also created during this time with Rita Coolige (who he would marry in 1973), all of which were successful.  He also appeared in eleven more movies by the end of the decade, one of which (A Star Is Born) won him a Golden Globe Award.  Topping off the decade was his participation in the historic Havana Jam festival in 1979.  Not bad for a man who 14 years earlier couldn't even afford a new pair of shoes!

 

Kristofferson starred along side Barbara Streisand in A Star Is Born.

 

The 1980's brought even more success for Kristofferson, even though he divorced Rita Coolige in 1980.  He partnered with Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and Brenda Lee to release the Winning Hand, which peaked at #4 on the Country album charts.  He and Nelson went on to form the Highwaymen supergroup with Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash.  In 1983, he remarried to Lisa Meyers, who he is still with today.  Furthermore, the Songwriter's Hall of Fame inducted Kristofferson in 1985.

 

The Highwaymen: Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson.

 

With the 1990's and 2000's, Kristofferson focused more on his acting than his music, although he still put out some great material including the Austin Sessions and Closer to the Bone.  With his acting, he did everything from TV to movies to voice work for video games.  Some of his more famous works during this time include roles in Blade, Fast Food Nation, and Fallout: New Vegas.  In 2009 he was honored as a BMI Icon at the BMI Country Music Awards.  As a side note, he has 48 different BMI Country and Pop Awards.

 

Kristofferson is still releasing new material after 50 years of performing!

 

After being involved in so many different kinds of media, we're certainly very happy he decided to use country music as a platform for so much of his work.  And as such a prolific artist, there is no shortage of material to choose from!  If you'd like to see more about Kristofferson, you can visit his homepage at www.kriskristofferson.com.  Join us on Thursday, January 17th, at 7 PM as we feature Kristofferson on our Live in Texas program!

 

Discography:

(1970) Kristofferson - #10

(1971) The Silver Tongued Devil and I - #4

(1972) Border Lord - #6

(1972) Jesus Was a Capricorn - #1

(1973) Full Moon (with Rita Coolidge) - #1

(1974) Spooky Lady's Sideshow - #11

(1974) Breakaway (with Rita Coolidge) - #19

(1975) Who's to Bless and Who's to Blame - #23

(1976) Surreal Thing - #17

(1977) Songs of Kristofferson - #8

(1978) Easter Island - #21

(1978) Natural Act (with Rita Coolidge) - #24

(1979) Shake Hands with the Devil

(1981) To the Bone

(1982) The Winning Hand (with Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and Brenda Lee) - #4

(1984) Music from Songwriter (with Willie Nelson) - #21

(1985) Highwayman (with the Highwaymen) - #1

(1986) Reposessed

(1990) Third World Warrior

(1990) Highwayman 2 (with the Highwaymen) - #4

(1992) Live at the Philharmonic

(1995) A Moment of Forever

(1995) The Road Goes on Forever (with the Highwaymen) - #42

(1999) The Austin Sessions - #26

(2003) Broken Freedom Song: Live from San Francisco

(2006) This Old Road - #36

(2009) Closer to the Bone - #29

 

Songs on KBEC 1390:

"Me and Bobby Magee"

"Why Me" - #1