Kris Kristofferson was born in Brownsville, Texas in 1936. In his youth he attempted a career as a writer, studying at both Pomona and Oxford, and it was whilst in England that he first started writing songs. He also first recorded there under the name Kris Carson, but was unsuccessful. After graduating in 1960 he married and joined the army, becoming a helicopter pilot and being stationed in West Germany. When he was discharged in 1965 he decided to pursue songwriting further, and moved to Nashville.
For his first few years he struggled, and worked both as a janitor at Columbia Studios (where he first met Johnny Cash) and as a commercial helicopter pilot. He did manage to get his song "Viet Nam Blues" recorded by Dave Dudley, who took it to #12 on the country charts. He also released a single of his own on Epic Records, but it went nowhere. However over the next few years his songwriting began to go places, and soon many established country artists were having hits with his songs. He was also introduced by Johnny Cash at the Newport Folk Festival.
In 1970 he signed to Fred Foster's Monument Records, and released his first album. It was a splendid record, Foster's production working brilliantly with Kristofferson's gravelly vocals to create a unique sound. It featured many of the songs that other artists had already recorded, along with some excellent new material. By then his songs were being recorded by numerous top country stars, including Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Bobby Bare, Ray Price, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Drusky, Faron Young and Roger Miller. The album itself was not an initial commercial success, but at the same time he won awards for 'Song Of The Year' from both the Academy Of Country Music (for Ray Price's "For The Good Times") and the Country Music Association (for Johnny Cash's "Sunday Morning Coming Down"). Both songs were #1 country hits, and Sammi Smith's version of "Help Me Make It Through The Night" took the number of country chart toppers he had written to three. Price and Smith also took his songs into the pop charts, the former peaking at #11 and the latter at #8. Kristofferson's ultimate success as a songwriter came in 1971, when Janis Joplin's recording of "Me & Bobby McGee" was released as a single shortly after her death, resulting in a #1 pop hit.
Though the album sold poorly upon its first release, it was soon re-iussed under the title Me & Bobby McGee, following the success of his second album and Joplin's hit. It was soon certified Gold. Looking at it now, it's surely a masterpiece, containing some of the finest country songs of the era. Kristofferson's sound and writing style happily broke free of the conservative constraints of the Nashville country music industry, and made him a forerunner of the 'Outlaw Country' movement.
|> The Silver Tongued Devil And I (1971)
More from Kris Kristofferson