Kris Kristofferson's broad career just keeps happening

by Joe Holleman

St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MCT)

4 March 2011


ST. LOUIS — Singer-songwriters? There’s a million of them. Ones that do some acting? The list probably shrinks to a thousand or so.

Throw in rugby player, Rhodes scholar, boxer, helicopter pilot, airborne ranger, Army officer and college professor, and the roster rapidly narrows to one name:

Kris Kristofferson.

Best known for writing “Me and Bobbie McGee,” “For the Good Times” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” along with numerous movie roles, Kristofferson will share the stage Wednesday with fellow legend Merle Haggard at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis, one of a series of joint appearances.

Both performers will remain on stage for the entire concert, which is billed as “Pickin, Singin, Storytellin,” along with Haggard’s backup band, the Strangers.

Still speaking with that honey-over-gravel baritone, Kristofferson comes off a bit shy when asked about his monumental career.

“It all just happened,” he said. “To be honest, I’m amazed that I wasn’t more amazed.”

Kristofferson, 74, said plans for doing concerts with Haggard go back to the early 1970s.

“Roger Miller (“King of the Road”) owned a hotel in Nashville, and he had this room where we’d all get together and play sometimes,” he said. “One night, Merle was there, and he was so friendly. Now Merle was one of my musical heroes starting out, and we talked about touring together. But I had a beard at the time, and Merle’s manager said I’d have to shave.

“Merle just looked at him and said, ‘The next time you see me, I might have a beard.’”

Kristofferson being in Nashville is the kind of story that itself makes for a song. He quit his English professorship at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and landed a job in Nashville, Tenn., at Columbia Records’ famous Music Row recording studios — as a janitor.

Yes, the tale is true: He was sweeping floors in 1966 when Bob Dylan recorded portions of the seminal “Blonde on Blonde” at the studio.

“I didn’t have the guts to speak to him then,” Kristofferson said. “He was different, at least compared to the country-Western artists who normally recorded there. Most guys would come in, record three songs in three hours, then come back the next day.

“Dylan would come in and sit at the piano and just play and write for hours while the other musicians would be hanging out in another room playing ping-pong.”

Asked whether Dylan had a direct influence on his career, Kristofferson chuckled and said: “Dylan has had an influence on everybody. Everybody.”

Kristofferson includes his first musical hero, Hank Williams, among his other influences. Kristofferson said he hasn’t played his tribute song — “If You Don’t Like Hank Williams” — in years. The song was written in 1976, when young country- and folk-rock fans viewed Williams with disdain.

“It’s not just a ‘country’ audience at our shows anymore,” he said. “I don’t think in those terms, and I don’t think listeners think in those terms anymore. So I haven’t felt the need to sing that song. But what the hell, I may break it out again now that you mention it.”

Kristofferson said that after more than 40 years on the road, he still enjoys concert tours.

“But hey,” he said, “I still like mowing my lawn.”

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