In June 2014, legendary songwriter Kris Kristofferson hosted a three-day impromptu jam session at Cedar Creek Recording in Austin, Texas. It had been a while since Kris had recorded and here was a chance to lay down some of his favorite compositions with a live band. With Shawn Camp on lead guitar, Kevin Smith on bass, Michael Ramos on keyboard, and Mike Meadows on drums, the group ran through twenty-five of Kristofferson’s best-loved songs. On the final day, Kris’s dear friend Sheryl Crow came in to sing a duet of “The Loving Gift,” a song made famous by Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash that Kris had never recorded.
Two years later, Kristofferson will release The Cedar Creek Sessions just days before his 80th birthday, June 22, 2016.
At eighty years old, few songwriters can look back and see that they have transformed an entire American musical art form. In a single line, Kristofferson turned modern music into viable contemporary literature: “Freedom’s just another word,” he wrote, “for nothing left to lose.” For years, those words from his song “Me and Bobby McGee” served as the hippie generation’s most resonant mantra. Today, songwriters from Belfast to Belleville replay the classic when seeking inspiration. Kristofferson’s first recording of the song as a demo, while working as a janitor at Columbia Records in 1968, signaled only the beginning of his lasting contributions to the creative arts.
As his most famous lyric suggests, Kristofferson has lived a Renaissance man’s life. The Brownsville, Texas native served as an Army Ranger and helicopter pilot as a young man. He earned early prestige as a Rhodes Scholar who won an Atlantic Monthly short story competition. Fans know that Kristofferson fought as a Golden Glove boxer. Of course, many simply know him as a movie star (Cisco Pike, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Heaven’s Gate, Blade and more than 50 others). Kristofferson solidified marquee status in a blink when Barbra Streisand cast him in her hit remake of A Star Is Born (1976). For nearly four decades since then, he’s defined diversity as an actor with roles in films as varied as Songwriter (1984), Big Top Pee-wee (1988), Paper Hearts (1993), Lone Star (1996) the critically acclaimed Fast Food Nation (2006), and the hit family story Dolphin Tale (2011, 2014).
A Star Is Born made Kristofferson a sex symbol, but he had more substantial plans from Day One. “I always felt that I was going to be some kind of writer,” he told The Guardian in 2010. For more than four decades, Kristofferson’s deep-browed craftsmanship has had broad influence on peers and followers. “There’s no better songwriter alive than Kris Kristofferson,” legendary country songwriter Willie Nelson told the Associated Press in 2009. “Everything he writes is a standard, and we’re just going to have to live with that.”