Kris Kristofferson Biography

Kristoffer Kristofferson, 22 June 1936, Brownsville, Texas, USA. Kristofferson, a key figure in the ‘New Nashville’ country movement of the early 70s, began his singing career in Europe. Previously a Golden Gloves boxer and a Creative Literature student at Ponoma College in California, Kristofferson earned a Rhodes scholarship to study literature at Oxford University, England. In 1958 he briefly performed for impresario Larry Parnes as Kris Carson, while for five years he sang and played at US Army bases in Germany. As Captain Kristofferson, he left the army in 1965 to concentrate on songwriting. After piloting helicopters part-time he worked as a cleaner at the CBS Records studios in Nashville, scoring his first success as a songwriter with ‘Viet Nam Blues’, which was recorded by Dave Dudley and reached the country Top 20 in 1966.

Further country hits followed with Roy Drusky (‘Jody And The Kid’ and Billy Walker (‘From The Bottle To The Bottom’), but Kristofferson struggled to launch his own recording career during this period, releasing one unsuccessful single (‘Golden Idol’/‘Killing Time’) for Epic Records in 1967. Johnny Cash soon became a champion of Kristofferson’s work and it was he who persuaded Roger Miller to record ‘Me And Bobby McGee’ (co-written with Fred Foster) in 1969. With its atmospheric opening (‘Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waiting for a train/feeling nearly faded as my jeans’), the bluesy song was a country hit and became a rock standard thanks to a melodramatic cover version by Janis Joplin. Another classic among Kristofferson’s early songs was his grim portrait of an alcoholic on ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’, which Cash recorded and Ray Stevens took into the charts. In late 1969, Faron Young took Kristofferson’s ‘Your Time’s Comin’’ into the country Top 5, while at the start of 1970 Jerry Lee Lewis enjoyed even more success with a Kristofferson/ Shel Silverstein song, ‘Once More With Feeling’.

After signing to Fred Foster’s Monument Records, Kristofferson entered the studio to record his own versions of some of these songs but the ensuing Kristofferson sold poorly. The singer-songwriter enjoyed his first mainstream success in 1971 with the US Top 30 hit ‘Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)’ and the excellent album, The Silver Tongued Devil And I. Two years later he topped the country chart and reached the pop Top 20 with ‘Why Me’, a ballad that was frequently performed in concert by Elvis Presley. In July 1970, Kristofferson had appeared at the Isle Of Wight pop festival while Sammi Smith was charting with the second of his major compositions, the passionate ‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’, which later crossed over to the pop and R&B audiences in Gladys Knight’s version. Knight was also among the numerous artists who covered the tender ‘For The Good Times’, a huge country hit for Ray Price, while ‘One Day At A Time’ was a UK number 1 for Lena Martell in 1979. Kristofferson placed a number of other country hits during the early 70s, including ‘The Taker’ (Waylon Jennings), ‘Come Sundown’ and ‘Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends’ (Bobby Bare), ‘I Won’t Mention It Again’ (Ray Price), and ‘I’ve Got To Have You’ (Peggy Little).

In 1973, Kristofferson married for the second time when he tied the knot with singer Rita Coolidge. The couple recorded three albums and enjoyed a minor pop hit with ‘Loving Arms’ before their divorce seven years later. During this period Kristofferson’s solo career tailed off as he struggled to recover from the critical savaging given to his 1974 concept album Spooky Lady’s Sideshow, and though his late 70s recordings were not without merit they failed to match the sales success of his earlier albums.

Kristofferson had made his big screen acting debut in The Last Movie (1971) and also appeared with Bob Dylan in Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid, but he achieved movie stardom when he acted opposite Barbra Streisand in a 1976 remake of the 1937 picture A Star Is Born. For the next few years he concentrated on his film career (until the 1980 disaster Heaven’s Gate), but some verve returned to his songwriting on his final album for Monument, 1981’s To The Bone. Kristofferson enjoyed greater commercial success with the following year’s The Winning Hand, which featured duets with Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton and Brenda Lee. A further collaboration, Highwayman (with Nelson, Cash and Waylon Jennings), headed the country chart in 1985 (a success repeated on the singles chart by the title track). The four musicians subsequently toured as the Highwaymen (a settlement had to be made with the 60s folk group for the name to be used legally) and issued two further collaborative albums.

A campaigner for radical causes, Kristofferson starred in the post-nuclear television drama Amerika (1987) and came up with hard-hitting political commentaries on his late 80s recordings for Mercury Records, Repossessed (1986) and Third World Warrior (1988). He compèred and performed at the Bob Dylan Tribute Concert in 1992, during which he gave Sinéad O’Connor a sympathetic shoulder to cry on after she was scandalously booed off stage by the audience. Kristofferson’s recording career took an upturn with the release of A Moment Of Forever in 1995.

Kristofferson took another break from his exhausting acting schedule to revisit some of his best-known songs on 1999’s The Austin Sessions. The same year he underwent an elective heart bypass but was soon working as hard as ever. His acting career received a major boost during this period thanks to his repeat appearances as Abraham Whistler in the highly popular Blade movies. In 2003, Kristofferson released the superb live document Broken Freedom Song. The following year he was inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame. In 2006 artists including Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, and Randy Scruggs contributed to The Pilgrim: A Celebration Of Kris Kristofferson released on American Roots. In the same year Kristofferson issued This Old Road, his first collection of new material in over 10 years.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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