Kris Kristof­fer­son is grate­ful for a life­time of mak­ing mu­sic, he tells Iain Shed­den

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music - The Kris Kristof­fer­son tour be­gins in Perth on March 30 and ends in Cairns on April 27.

KRIS Kristof­fer­son likes to get out and about on his trac­tor, keep­ing the grass down and his dogs’ com­pany on his sprawl­ing property near Hana on the Hawai­ian is­land of Maui. It’s quiet, the way he likes it. “The people here are very pro­tec­tive of me,” he says in his warm, slightly mis­chievous tone.

At 77 Kristof­fer­son could be for­given for want­ing some pri­vacy af­ter a life­time in the spot­light. In­deed no one would be­grudge him if he chose to do noth­ing more than spend time with his fam­ily and cruise around the place he has called home for 24 years; but that’s not what the singer, song­writer and ac­tor is about.

At the end of this month Kristof­fer­son ar­rives in Aus­tralia for a na­tional tour — not of state cap­i­tals but also tak­ing in Glad­stone, Mackay and Al­bury along the way, 21 shows in 27 days, all of it con­ducted by bus. “We’re do­ing a lot,” he ad­mits, “but I’ve al­ways en­joyed play­ing in Aus­tralia be­cause the au­di­ence and I con­nect. We seem to have the same taste I guess. I’ve al­ways felt com­fort­able there.”

His re­turn to these shores of­fers fans the chance to hear Kristof­fer­son clas­sics such as Help Me Make It Through the Night, Sun­day Morn­ing Com­ing Down and Me and Bobby McGee as well as ma­te­rial from his re­cent al­bum Feel­ing Mor­tal. His isn’t the voice most read­ily as­so­ci­ated with those hit songs. It would be eas­ier to list the artists who haven’t sung a Kristof­fer­son com­po­si­tion but Elvis Pres­ley, Ja­nis Jo­plin, Gla­dys Knight, Wil­lie Nel­son and Dolly Par­ton are among the most cel­e­brated.

His own voice, he says, “was never very good but I have no trou­ble with it”. In­deed, he was seen and heard in fine form world­wide in Jan­uary, when he per­formed with his close friends Wil­lie Nel­son and Merle Hag­gard at this year’s Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. He’s plan­ning to make an al­bum with those bud­dies af­ter his Aus­tralian visit. Then there’s an­other movie, Dol­phin Tale 2, to pro­mote when it comes out later this year. He has just fin­ished film­ing that one, al­though he doesn’t sound par­tic­u­larly smit­ten with the process. “I’m look­ing for­ward to go­ing back on the road,” he says. “I’m get­ting a lit­tle sick of do­ing the movie.”

Sick or not, Kristof­fer­son rightly con­sid­ers him­self for­tu­nate to have en­joyed two ca­reers in the past 45 years, com­bin­ing his tal­ents as a song­writer and per­former with roles in movies, from Pat Gar­rett and Billy the Kid, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Any­more and A Star is Born in the 1970s through to the more re­cent Blade se­ries and the two Dol­phin films.

“I can’t com­plain,” he says. “It’s some­thing I’ve been do­ing since I was al­most 30 and I’m 77 now. I’m just grate­ful that I can still do some- thing cre­ative, but I’d rather do the mu­sic than the movies. With movies you’re wait­ing all the time … and then you go out and do a few things that don’t mat­ter.’’

That’s a some­what self-dep­re­cat­ing point of view. Few would his dis­miss his tal­ents as an ac­tor or mu­si­cian so read­ily. In­deed Kristof­fer­son’s life in pub­lic and in his pre-fame years paints him as some­thing of an ac­tion man. A child of the mil­i­tary through his fa­ther, the young Kristof­fer­son spent his for­ma­tive years mov­ing from one army base to an­other in the Amer­i­can south. He ex­celled at sport and as a stu­dent, grad­u­at­ing in lit­er­a­ture from Pomona Col­lege in Cal­i­for­nia and then be­com­ing a Rhodes scholar at Ox­ford, be­fore join­ing the army and ris­ing to the rank of cap­tain. It was only when he left the army, in 1965, that his love of mu­sic steered him to Nashville in the hope he could make it as a song­writer. Un­like his aca­demic en­deav­ours, song­writ­ing was a school of hard knocks. “It took me about five years to make a liv­ing at it,” he says, “but it was worth it ... I didn’t care if I was work­ing as a jan­i­tor for a cou­ple of years or as a he­li­copter pi­lot out in the Gulf of Mex­ico. I was do­ing what I love to do.”

He says song­writ­ing al­ways felt like “what I was sup­posed to be do­ing. Even as a lit­tle kid I was mak­ing up songs. Hank Wil­liams was my first hero, when I was still in school. He and Johnny Cash were the guys who re­ally drew me to mu­sic. Now, when I look at my life, I can’t be­lieve I went from be­ing that per­son to the one I be­came, on stage with Johnny Cash and Way­lon Jen­nings and Wil­lie Nel­son and the guys who were my he­roes.’’

That posse of per­form­ers, known col­lec­tively as the High­way­men, recorded two suc­cess­ful al- bums and toured the world. Kristof­fer­son and Nel­son, the two sur­viv­ing mem­bers of the quar­tet, re­main best friends. Nel­son also has a home on Maui. “He’s an amaz­ing hu­man be­ing,” Kristof­fer­son says. “He’s very funny and he hasn’t changed a bit. And he’s one of the best gui­tarists and best song­writ­ers in the world. He’s to­tally his own per­son.”

It was dur­ing his stint as a he­li­copter pi­lot for the Louisiana-based Petroleum He­li­copters In­ter­na­tional in the late 1960s that Kristof­fer­son wrote some of his land­mark ma­te­rial. Sun­day Morn­ing Com­ing Down, for ex­am­ple, which gave him a hit in 1969 (recorded by Ray Stevens) and was fol­lowed by his own ver­sion and a No 1 hit for Johnny Cash in 1970, came to him while on an oil rig. So too Me and Bobby McGee, a song that has been cov­ered by scores of artists in the past 40 years, took shape in the Gulf of Mex­ico, al­though its ori­gins are more com­plex.

Coun­try artist Roger Miller was the first to record the song and had a hit with it in 1969, but the most recog­nised ver­sion is by Ja­nis Jo­plin, re­leased in 1971 soon af­ter her death. Kristof­fer­son had been see­ing Jo­plin in the months be­fore she died. He says she made the song her own. “To me it’s val­i­da­tion,” he says. “When you hear some real artists like Ja­nis do­ing your song it be­comes their song too.”

Kristof­fer­son had a string of re­la­tion­ships with women dur­ing his prime, in­clud­ing with Bar­bra Streisand, Joan Baez and Rita Coolidge, his sec­ond wife. He has been mar­ried for 33 years to Lisa Mey­ers and they have five chil­dren. “I’ve got eight kids and they all like each other,” he says. “When they’re to­gether all I hear is laugh­ter so I can’t help but feel blessed.’’

Kristof­fer­son has been hav­ing prob­lems with his mem­ory and at a re­cent per­for­mance in the US had to be prompted with one of his lyrics. He’s up­beat about it, how­ever, putting it down to age. “I’m older and my mem­ory’s gone. But I feel like I’m the same per­son,” he says. “I’m very grate­ful for the life that I’ve had. It has taken me all over the world. And I can’t say it was hard work … I re­ally don’t think of it as work. I guess be­cause I’ve been do­ing it since I was 11.”

Kris Kristof­fer­son;

right, in 1971

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