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Kris Kristofferson: American-of-all-trades

Ted AlvarezVail, CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily
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In his extremely prolific career, Kris Kristofferson has rubbed shoulders with greats and become one himself in the process: He wrote songs for Johnny Cash and Janis Joplin, has performed with Cash, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings as part of The Highwaymen and acted in classic films like A Star is Born and Lone Star. He was even a Rhodes Scholar.But to a younger generation, hell always be Whistler from the Blade trilogy.I was over in Sweden (for a concert), and while the guy that was interviewing me was talking, the kids (in the background) were saying, Whistler sings? Kristofferson said. I thought that was cool.

Cool, indeed. To nearly any generation, 71-year-old Kristofferson is a keystone of cool. Before achieving notoriety as a performer, he wrote Me And Bobbie McGee, which went on to be a massive hit for Roger Miller and Janis Joplin. As his country career blossomed, his film career followed, and he became the toast of both of Hollywood and Nashville.In reflecting at this end of my life, it seems like one of the best parts or blessed parts is the fact that these guys who were my heroes ended up being my best friends, he said. Roger Miller, Johnny Cash, Waylon, Willie I even got to know Muhammad Ali. They all are down to earth, and theyre all larger than life. Im still in awe of Bob Dylan. I probably know Willie the best, and hes certainly one of the funniest human beings on our planet.In his career as a musician Kristofferson has gone on to win armfuls of CMAs and Grammys, but this year he received Country Music Televisions Johnny Cash Visionary Award, which holds a special place in his heart.Because it has Johns name on it, it was a mark for me, Kristofferson said. I had to think that I never wouldve imagined getting that maybe 30 years ago. If I had known that back then, it sure wouldve gotten me through some hard times.Kristofferson received the award on the heels of his latest release, This Old Road, which drew rave reviews and has been hailed as a major musical comeback. Most of the songs showcase nothing but Kristoffersons dusty voice and his unadorned acoustic guitar work, but in stripping down his music, Kristofferson has made his work more present and vital than ever.I was really pleased with the reception of the last album, he said with a grizzled laugh. I think I was trying to do what I do live. I wouldnt have done it at all if (producer) Don Was hadnt of suggested it. But Id been performing just me and the guitar, (and) whatevers working on the road seems to be working on the album. It puts a focus on the lyrics. Theres very little dazzling footwork.

When asked which work he prefers film or music Kristofferson doesnt hesitate.I dont identify with (the film) world as much as the music, he said. But I enjoy it. Its a form of expression that Ive come to appreciate over the years. Also, a big difference is I can always go on the road, and films have to be offered by someone else.Interestingly, Kristofferson acknowledges that his writing career is the true father of his twin successes. Kristofferson attended Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar for writing and literature.Well, (most important) would be the writing I would imagine with performing music, I wouldnt done any of em if I hadnt been a writer, he said. I was skeptical about performing my own music, even. I certainly didnt make it on vocal talent or by performing my stuff.Despite his modesty, plenty of fans would likely beg to differ, as would his record label. This Old Road has them begging for a follow-up.Ill probably be recording again theyve asked me at the record label to get one together again, and I have some songs for it already, he said.Until then and in between films Kristofferson will take to the old road, bringing outlaw tales and country heartache with him. For me, being onstage means I try and be as honest in communicating as I can, whether its film or music, he said. I know the roles I have to play are really different sometimes. The guy I played in Lonestar was a pretty evil guy. But I try to do it as honestly as possible. Im trying to do the same thing onstage as in film in that I want people to believe Im telling the truth.Part of that truth is that even though hes enjoyed a great amount of worldly success, he still carries himself like a world-weary troubadour, scrounging for every last gig he can and acting surprised that hes in demand at all. And you know he means it.Its one show after another I just go where I can get a gig, Kristofferson said. Right before (Beaver Creek), Ill be playing in Ireland and England, which is pretty cool. But Ive always liked it in Colorado, he said. For some reason, we get along.Arts & Entertainment Writer Ted Alvarez can be reached at 748-2939 or talvarez@vaildaily.com.


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