Kris Kristofferson: The Devil And The Details

He was an unrepentant hell-raiser with a gift for poetic storytelling. And he changed the way songs were written in Nashville.

krisandbobby Bobby Bare, Sr. (left) and Kristofferson at Monument Studios in Nashville, circa 1970. Photos by Al Clayton

On August 26, 1970, Kris Kristofferson was unknown to almost anyone not in the habit of studying the writers’ credits on country-music singles. Yet there he was on an island in the English Channel, on stage at the Isle of Wight Festival, facing down half a million European hippies who were loudly uninterested in what he was trying to do. With his dark brown bangs obscuring his right eye and his long hair curling over a brown suede jacket, he told the unruly crowd, “We’re going to do two more in spite of anything except rifle fire.” When that failed to get a reaction, he told his band, over his left shoulder, “I think they’re going to shoot us.”

He wasn’t going to back down. He strummed his acoustic guitar and began “Me And Bobby McGee,” a track from his debut album, Kristofferson, released just four months earlier. The song had been a modest country hit for Roger Miller the year before, but few in this crowd had ever heard the soon-to-be-famous refrain, “Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.” That aphorism took on an ominous edge as packs of young men restlessly roamed between unsanctioned bonfires, yelling as they went. Finally, the always cantankerous Kristofferson stalked off stage mid-song, giving the crowd the finger as he went.

The songwriter turned 80 this summer, and he’s now greeted by adulation nearly... Sign In to Keep Reading

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