Roddy Hart and The Kris Kristofferson Effect
When I was about 24 years old and trying to get noticed as a fledgling songwriter, my then manager phoned me to say that Kris Kristofferson was in town to make a movie and due to play a show in his down time. Kris hadn’t played a solo acoustic set in quite a few years, and the promoter thought that having a support act might help the dynamic of the show. Having listened to some suggested artists, Mr Kristofferson seemed to like what he heard in my very rough and ready demo album “Home Tapes” and so I was asked to play. I said yes of course, but somewhat nervously realised I knew very little of the man I was due to open for.
All the big songs – “Me And Bobby McGhee”, “Help Me Make It Through The Night”, “Sunday Morning Coming Down” – were familiar to me, but I had no real idea about the breadth and depth of his work. To be honest, I was just thrilled to be playing the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall – a venue that had completely altered my musical direction as a young 16 year old when I agreed to take the spare ticket my dad had for a Jackson Browne concert. Oasis and Blur were the order of the day, threatening to soundtrack my youth in an all encompassing manner, but I left the gig that night spellbound and in awe of this long-haired troubadour from California who had made such a vast and impressive room seem so intimate and inclusive with his mesmerising songs. So the venue was special to me already, and I viewed sharing the stage with the guy from Heaven’s Gate as no more than a bonus.
And then we met. There is something about the man that is just so impressive when he walks in to a room. It’s the “Kristofferson Effect”, causing women of all ages to swoon and men want to shake his hand and buy him a beer. Indeed so much has been written about Kristofferson’s wild and colourful past – Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, boxer, airforce pilot, Columbia Records janitor, and then worldwide revered songwriter – that I was equally as taken by his grizzled character and undeniable charisma. But it was the few moments of humility and nervousness about the impending show that gave me my first glimpse of the true measure of the man. Kris was 68 at the time, and used to being accompanied by a band, so it was with a certain amount of confessed trepidation that he would take to the stage alone that night. But before that, there was the small matter of his support act. “I’ll be watching and listening” he said to me, giving me a potent shot to the arm of both adrenaline and utter fear. I stumbled out on to the stage I had so coveted, quite unaware of how important Kris Kristofferson would become to me.
That one show became many, but at the end of my first tour with him I knocked on his dressing room door in the Palace Theatre, Manchester, to thank him for having me. “That song of yours ‘Home’” he told me in all seriousness “I wish I’d written it”. If my face told the story that the song had in fact been written on the tour and owed a huge debt to his own “Help Me Make It Through The Night” Kris was kind enough not to mention it, and I tried desperately to play it cool. “I’m about to start recording my debut studio album, so I’ll send it to you” I said. The fact that someone of Kristofferson’s stature – and a man I had come to admire and respect so much in our short time together – would even have my album in his home record collection was enough to fill me with great joy. His reply, however, almost sent me in to overdrive. “I’d love to sing on it” he said.
Cut to seven years later and the man who so generously gave me my first break in the business by singing on my debut studio album “Bookmarks” has become something of a constant in my musical life. Alongside his wife Lisa and his equally talented offspring, I have been inducted in to a sort of second family – a kind of musical travelling circus that has accepted an outsider into its ranks without question. In the intervening years I’ve played with Kris whenever he’s asked – from Perth’s Concert Hall in Scotland down to the Royal Albert Hall in England – and every time it’s like coming home. Not only has he demonstrated the startling good grace to actually listen to my set each night (definitely not characteristic of most headline acts) but he has been there to offer advice if and when required. Most of all though, I have come to enjoy the sheer visceral thrill of hearing him play to audiences up and down the country and to witness first hand the affection they have for him and his music. As well as the undisputed classics, tracks like “Darby’s Castle”, “Moment Of Forever” and “In The News” (all undiscovered gems for me at least) are testament to his seemingly effortless writing skills. The man has laid his life out in song, and seeing that history replayed each night is a privilege I will always treasure.
And whilst he’s still very much keeping these songs alive, he is also writing and releasing albums in his 70s. In fact, his last three records – all with legendary producer Don Was at the helm – are something of a magnificent trilogy. Direct and unflinchingly honest isn’t something that Kristofferson is a stranger to in song, but add to it the recognition that he is in his twilight years and there is something even more potent and powerful about the new material. So 2012’s Feeling Mortal proves itself to be a rather touching, tender and poignant affair in places. To support the album, Kris has once again been out on the road – I opened for him in Glasgow and Dublin – and so I grabbed a quick chat with him backstage at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall to share some memories with him and hear about his incredible career. And you can hear it on this Thursday’s Roddy Hart Show, from 10.05pm on BBC Radio Scotland.
I will always count myself as very lucky to have been in the right place at the right time to open for Kris Kristofferson in Glasgow all those years ago. On the final night of my latest short tour with him we shared a drink backstage in Dublin. He fixed his gaze on me and said “You and me will always be tight”. I’ve shaken his hand and bought him a beer on many occasions, but I will admit this time that I swooned. And that’s The Kristofferson Effect.