This is one of those opportunities that only comes along once in a lifetime, so when our initial phone interviews with Kris Kristofferson didn’t happen, we caught up with him in person at the Grand West Casino in Cape Town after his show. I scored my tjommie, Albert Frost some tickets and asked him to join me, because it only seemed fitting to have one of South Africa’s guitar legends interview one of the world’s songwriting legends, 77-year old Kris Kristofferson. At the end of our interview (we had already said our goodbyes, packed up and were on our way out), Kris told us that his favourite book, was a very old book about Africa. It was his favourite book, because it was given to him by his favourite person – his father…
Albert: Welcome to South Africa.
Kris: Its great, thank you.
Albert: Have you been here before, because there is this vicious rumor that you played rugby in South Africa many years ago?
Kris: I played rugby many years ago, but not in South Africa, in fact my cousin and another friend of mine started a rugby team in college where I was and as a matter of fact we ended up winning the championship…
Albert: Are you kidding me? I thought rugby was a very South African thing…
Kris: Yeah well when I went to England after that – I had a scholarship to go study at Oxford – they really didn’t want me to play because they didn’t think that Americans could play rugby and while I was still there, this guy from Westpoint, Pete Dawkins (he is an all American)… I was boxing over at Oxford and our heavyweight was also the captain of the rugby team.. and I told him about Pete Dawkins and I said you gotta get him onto the team…
Albert: Because he is tough enough…
Kris: Right… So he played on the college team and he was so good that the newspaper started writing about him and the next thing you know he’s on the blue team, playing against Cambridge. He had a very uniquely American Football thing, you know the line-out? He’d throw it out like in the middle of the field… but that was a long time ago…
Albert: Yeah, I would assume you haven’t played rugby in a while…
Kris: Oh, are you kidding me? Hahaha! I haven’t done ANYTHING for a while…
Albert: Well, that’s why we become musicians. I’m a guitarist myself, a blues player and I’ve been touring this country for the last two decades, so I know what it is like doing nothing. I’m quite good at that.
Kris: Well, you know it is better than working for a living, hehehe.
Albert: Ja, well when you do what you love, you don’t have to work a day in your life. But let’s move on. You moved around a lot as a kid because your father was in the military. Did that influence your writing a lot?
Kris: Well, I don’t think it hurt me, but even when he wasn’t in the military, we moved around because he was a pilot for Pan American Airways.
Albert: That leads me to my next question. Have you landed any helicopters in old buddies’ back yards lately?
Albert: We don’t know if that’s a myth or anything…
Kris: Well… the myth part was that John wasn’t even there when I landed.
Albert: Yes, that’s what I read
Kris: He acted like he… I mean he told people later that he was there, you know? But I landed and gave him a tape of a song I wanted him to record and he never cut it either
Albert: Hahahaha! That is bizarre.
Kris: That was pretty audacious of me to to land the helicopter..
Albert: Very! How old were you when you did this?
Kris: I think I was 33 when I got out of the army…
griff: This was more or less a year before you started acting, right?
Kris: Yeah, actually it was even before I was performing on stage because I am not a great singer and in Nashville there are a lot of great singers but when I started working in the club at the same time… it was in Los Angeles.. and I guess for some reason they were looking for new blood and so I got in a movie the same week that I performed first on stage. I didn’t even sing my own demos. I was writing for a publisher and they would get somebody who could sing, haha! Eventually that worked, but at the time I didn’t have any illusions about this because there were a lot of good country singers.
Albert: Needless to say it must have been one of hell of a thing to be part of The Highwaymen.
Kris: Aah, can you imagine?
Albert: I can’t even imagine. You guys must have had the biggest jols!
Kris: Listen, they are all my heroes. There was like Waylon and Willie and John and everyone and I’m down at the end… I was their janitor
Albert: That must have been great company to keep. That must’ve been inspiring.
Kris: It was great. My parents and people who I’d been to college with thought I had gone crazy because I was working as a janitor at the recording studio for two years. It was great for me because I was able to be at sessions with people like Bob Dylan where no other people could be… but I had to be there…
Albert: Because you were cleaning it up?
Kris: Because I was cleaning it up, hahaha! When I look back, I’m surprised that I had the audacity to do that but I loved Nashville from the time I went there. There were like two streets and it was the music business and all they cared about was the art. Music came first. Music was it. That’s what really mattered. I feel blessed.
Albert: Well, it is clearly evident that you love what you do.
Kris: Oh yes!
Griff: Do you still get the shakes? Because your daughter asked Albert if he still gets the shakes?
Albert: Kelly was telling us that she gets the shakes and I still get it after thousands of shows
Kris: Of course I do! You’re so vulnerable. I mean you’re up there singing your soul…
Albert: But that is what comes across. The fact that you actually do what you love and you mean it
Kris: I feel so blessed that I had the guts to do it when I shouldn’t have because the current singers in Nashville are really good singers. When I arrived there I wasn’t even singing my own demos, my own songs.
Albert: You were kind of singing each others songs in those days?
Kris: Well I would sing them to someone that my publisher would hire and he would sing them on a tape and that’s how I would pitch the song. With their voices.
Albert: So you would get someone else to sing it to sell it?
Kris: Yeah, but it all turned out for the better
Albert: I reckon, haha! It is still kicking. So you are obviously still in contact with Willie Nelson?
Kris: Oh yeah, Willie is my best friend
griff: You guys smoked weed on the Whitehouse’s roof. Is that true?
Kris: I think so. Listen, if Willie was there and I was there, we did it. Willie doesn’t care where he smokes and even in Texas which is not a very liberal place he doesn’t worry a bit. Willie, you know, was the hero of the serious songwriters and he was my hero way even before I met him.
Albert: I think he is a fantastic guitar player
Kris: A really great guitarist and great singer. His phrasing is unique. He is totally his own artist and he is the same guy all the time. He is a rare person.
Albert: And he also enjoys a bit of weed..
Kris: Yes, all you need to do is breathe the air around him at any time, hahaha!
Albert: Hahaha, and off you go…
Kris: Willie has no fear. He gets busted and gets away with it. He is a unique person and if you ever get to meet him, you’ll know what I mean. You go on his bus and you feel better already…
Albert: Hahaha, or get very paranoid. Unfortunately we have to go now, but it was so nice meeting you and enjoy the rest of your stay in South Africa.
Kris: Thank you guys. And you have a beautiful country. Nice talking to you too.
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