KRIS KRISTOFFERSON: Yeah, in fact I got to sing it with him on Ricky Skaggs’ TV show. I harmonised with him and he did a great job on it. Of course a lot of people did. Ray Price made it a big record.
SL: The line I love in Sunday Morning Coming Down is ‘Your cleanest dirty shirt’.
KRIS KRISTOFFERSON: You’re looking at it! (Laughs) I was more or less describing what my room looked like, you know. My life at the time was pretty much like that and it was autobiographical.
SL: It has some funny lines but it is also very tragic.
KRIS KRISTOFFERSON: Well, that’s life: half comedy and half tragedy. It continues to be that way the older you get. The first guy that cut it was Ray Stevens. He cut a great version but they didn’t know how to market him with that kind of a record. He had done those novelty songs like Guitarzan and The Streak. Johnny Cash said that I flew up to his house in a helicopter with the song, but I don’t believe I did. I was surprised when he did it on his TV show and that is the version that they used for the record. He stood up for the lyrics as that was another song that was controversial. The television networks didn’t want him to say ‘Wishing Lord that I was stoned’ and I remember being advised that I could change it to ‘Wishing Lord that I was home’ which was not the same thing. John didn’t tell me one way or the other which one he was going to do. I would have lived with whatever he did because I idolised Johnny Cash: anything he did was okay with me. I was watching the show from the balcony in the Ryman where they were filming. When he got to that line, he looked up at me and sang, ‘Wishing Lord that I was stoned.’ It offended a lot of people, but it saved the song for me. The song wouldn’t have been nearly as strong without it.
SL: You came over to this country and appeared at the Isle of Wight festival. What went wrong that day?
KRIS KRISTOFFERSON: It would be easier to say what went right. (Laughs) Nothing went right! They hated me and it was my third gig in show business. The Algerians were tearing down the outer wall and making so much noise they couldn’t even hear us. Billy Swan was on the stage and he thought that they were going to shoot us.
SL: He told me that nothing short of rifle fire would make you leave the stage.
KRIS KRISTOFFERSON: That’s what I said, and Billy came over and said, ‘Don’t say that.’ (Laughs) They hated Jimi Hendrix, they hated everybody, except on the last night when Leonard Cohen charmed them at four o’clock in the morning. They burning down the concession stands and burning trucks and he went out on stage in his pyjamas and took 20 minutes to tune up. I said, ‘They’re gonna kill him.’ They were brutal to Jimi Hendrix, to Joan Baez, to Tiny Tim for crying out loud, and he won them over.
SL: At the same time you were making albums, you making films. One that is now regarded as a classic although it wasn’t at the time is Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid.
KRIS KRISTOFFERSON: One of Sam Peckinpah’s regular stunt men put it very well. He said, ‘Sam likes to be surrounded by chaos.’ In my experience he was surrounded by turmoil the whole time: usually it was fighting with the studio and in Pat Garrett he was fighting with them all the time. He was fighting the good fight as he was trying to make a good piece of art. I saw it on TV the night before last.
SL: I liked Bob Dylan’s soundtrack.
KRIS KRISTOFFERSON: I loved it. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door was in that scene where Slim Pickens was dying and it was the strongest use of music that I had ever seen in a film. Unfortunately Sam didn’t include it in his Director’s Cut. Sam had a blind spot there. He thought that the producer had forced Bob on him to make the film commercial and I don’t think he appreciated who Bob was. I thought Dylan was great in the film, he looked great and you couldn’t take your eyes off him, and his music was fantastic.
SL: You have made a lot of films but you rarely write music for them.
KRIS KRISTOFFERSON: I could have played my own music in A Star Is Born as I was playing a musician but my publisher wouldn’t split the publishing with Barbra’s company. Barbra and Jon Peters required that and so I ended up just doing the music that they had.
SL: Getting the script for that film must have been a bit terrifying when you saw that you had to do a duet with Barbra Streisand.
KRIS KRISTOFFERSON: There were a number of scenes that looked terrifying, Getting in the bathtub with her was one although that got to be one of the most fun scenes that I ever got to play. (Laughs) The film was on such a big scale compared to anything that I had done before and it was pretty audacious for a guy who hadn’t any more experience than me. I thought we pulled it off and it came off well.
SL: But I meant having to make a record with her where she has such a remarkable range.