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Kris Kristofferson (1936 - )

Actor, Songwriter, Singer

By Johnny Cash: The booklet of The Winning Hand

When Kristofferson was a janitor at CBS in Nashville in the late 60's, he was told he would be fired from his job if he tried to pitch songs to me while I was recording. I saw him with a broom and a trash bag in his hand many nights before I officially met him. One night I noticed he had mopped the hallway outside the studio about twenty times and he kept cutting the glass window as I was singing whatever it was that I was singing.

I asked June, "Who is that guy with the broom, and what's he up to?"
" That's Kris Kristofferson," she said, "a songwriter."
" Kris who?" I asked.
" Kristofferson," she repeated slowly, then spelled it.
" I don't want to hear any new songs now", I said.

She paused studying me, then looked around to see if anyone was watching, she said, "Will it be alright if I take a tape from him and put it in my purse? That way no one will know and he won't get fired."

She gave me the tape when I got home and I looked at it. Two songs: "The Golden Idol" and "The Best Of All Possible Worlds." Our bedroom hung over Old Hickory Lake; I opened the lakeside door and threw it far out into the water. "You should have listened to that," June said.

" I'm not interested," I replied.

The next night we recorded again. Ole blue eyes was there behind the glass door and again June came home with a tape in her purse. I looked at the writing on the tape box. Kris Kristofferson, "Vietnam Blues", "The Golden Idol" and "The Best Of All Possible Worlds". I opened the door and threw it out into the lake. June just looked at me.

The next night I recorded again and when we got home, she put the tape on the machine. At first I paid no attention, but halfway through the song I said, "Who's that?" "That's Kris Kristofferson singing The Golden Idol," she said. When the song ended, I said, "That man's a poet, pity he can't sing."

The lights were being turned out and I was just listening to all the songs of the night in my mind and June kept the tape recorder running. When the last song was over, we went into bed. "Sunday Morning Coming Down is a good song," I said. "So is The Golden Idol," said June. "Maybe," I replied uninterestedly.

The weeks and the months went by. I had dozens of Kristofferson songs on dozens of tapes. One day while working on a special album project, I cleaned up my office of everything that didn't relate to the project I was into. I threw all of Kris's songs into Old Hickory Lake.

One Sunday afternoon I was taking a nap and June came in and said, "I'm sorry to wake you up, but I have to." "What's wrong," I asked, alarmed. She held up her hands to quiet me down and said, "You know how the tourists have been coming by hundreds, by land and water?" "Yes," I said, "so what are they doing now?" "Taking pictures as always, but some fool has just landed in our yard in a helicopter," she said.

I jumped up, put on my pants and ran out the upstairs door, and there sat a National Guard helicopter, with its big blade idling. As I approached, out stepped Kris Kristofferson, with a beer in one hand and a tape in the other. I stopped, dumbfounded. He grabbed my hand, put the tape in it, grinned and got back into the helicopter and was gone, a bit wobbly, but almost straight up, then out high above the lake where all his songs lay on the bottom. He disappeared through the clouds. I looked at the tape of "Sunday Morning Coming Down" and "Me And Bobby McGee".

Back in the house I said to June, "You gotta admire that guy's guts. What a way to get a song to me." "He gave you both of those before and you threw them in the lake," she said. All afternoon and into the evening I listened to the two songs.

I was in the middle of the season taping my weekly TV show for ABC. On stage at the old Ryman Auditorium the following Thursday night, with cameras rolling, I said, "Here's a song written by Kris Kristofferson. Don't forget that name, Kris Kristofferson. You're gonna hear it a lot." I sang Sunday Morning Coming Down. Kris came to the house a couple of weeks later. He had been in Peru or somewhere, but everybody had told him, I had sung his song on TV. Then he kept on coming back and bringing friends for me to meet, people like Vince Matthews, Eddie Rabbitt and Chris Gantry. I remember on one visit, they all helped June get ready for a big dinner she was planning. I saw Kristofferson hauling a fifty pound trash can full of ice out the door.

" Hey, Kris," I said. "We're going to the Newport Folk Festival next week. Want to come up and be my special guest ?" "What?" he said, unbelieving. "Yeah,"I said. "Come on up to Newport. We'll get you on."

Kris and Vince Matthew hitchhiked to Newport, Rhode Island. "Man, I'm scared," he said backstage. "You can kill them, Kris," said June. "Just get out there and sing your songs. That's all you have to do." He looked at her and grinned. "I believe I can do that," he said.

Yet, when he was introduced, he stood behind the curtains, unsure that his name had actually been spoken over the public address system. "That's you," June turned to him and said, "That's you," and she put her foot against his rear and pushed him on the stage.

He stole the show. He did four songs and they kept screaming for more. Five minutes into the next act, the crowd was still begging for more of Kris Kristofferson. That night after the show, we all went to my room and we all congratulated Kris. "You stole the show, Kris," I said, "I'm proud of you. You deserve being the high point of the whole Newport Folk Festival." He was shy and at a loss of words.

" I'd like to steal this show," said June. Everybody got quiet and turned to her. "I'm pregnant," she said. We all cried, It was an answer to a prayer for a long time. The doctor had told June she could not get pregnant. "His name is going to be John Carter," I announced. "The baby isn't due until next March (1970), and how do you know it will be a he." "If it's a girl, it'll be Rachel Carter Cash, but it'll be a boy."

The next day the New York Times gave Kris the credit he deserved. He was the star of the Newport Folk Festival.
Labour Day 1974, Kris was the first person I saw when Roy and Barbara Orbison took us through the mob of photographers at the emergency door at Vanderbilt Hospital.

John Carter had been in a jeep with a dozen other kids. My sister was driving not more than ten mph, but making a short turn, a wheel hit a rock and over it went. No one was badly injured, but first reports had really scared me. At our farm seventy miles away, we were notified that John Carter had a 50/50 chance to live. The late Governor Frank Clement's father, Bob Clement, I recently learned, got on the radio and told the police in Middle Tennessee, "Johnny Cash's boy has been hurt and is in Vanderbilt. Cash and his wife, June, are in Hickman County headed that way. Open the gates for him."

Bob Wootton drove us at 110 mph all the way. June stayed on her knees all night and into next day. In the hallway just outside the intensive care unit, Kris, Larry Gatlin, Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings, Vince Matthews, and many others kept the vigil with us. Kris and Gatlin kept telling me jokes trying to make me laugh, trying until even they too were tired to try to keep me from worrying about my boy. Kris never let up. He'd put an arm around me and say, "He's gonna be OK. I know, I know, do you hear. I know it, Cash."

"How do you know it," I mumbled. He grinned at me and said, "How'd you get that scar on your cheek. June hit you with a high-heel shoe?" I couldn't help but grin. Three days later, John Carter walked out of the hospital, completely healed, and never since has there been any indication he was injured. Just recently I wished I had a joke to tell Kris when he stood a long vigil in that California hospital. His daughter, Tracey, was in intensive care from a motorcycle accident, but all I could do was say, "She's gonna be alright, buddy, I know she is. I just know."

In 1976, I got some grappling hooks and a long rope. For an hour I stood on the shore by the house and tossed the hooks a long way into the water and kept dragging them back.

All I could pull in was a couple of telephones I had thrown in the lake, a couple of shoes I had worn around '69 or '70 that had ruined my feet. Not one tape did I find. I expected to drag in at least one or two reels of tape as many times as I threw the hooks out.

Possibly Kris' tapes had been devoured by an aquatic tapeworm. ("Pardon me, Kris, but I didn't mean for that last line to sound like William Blake. Or you.")