WANT TO GO?
Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson
WHERE: Big Sandy Superstore Arena, Huntington
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday
TICKETS: $29.75 and $49.75
INFO: 800-745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.comCHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After almost half a century in music, country music legend Kris Kristofferson tends to tells the same stories over and over, but that's because people keep asking him the same questions -- like the one about a helicopter and Johnny Cash, for instance.
"I probably have answered that question more than any other question anybody has ever asked me," the 76-year-old singer/songwriter and occasional movie star explained.
But, Kristofferson, who performs Saturday at Huntington's Big Sandy Superstore Arena with the equally renowned Merle Haggard, doesn't mind telling it again and separating some of the fact from some of the fiction.
According to legend, Kristofferson got his big break in music by piloting a helicopter onto Johnny Cash's property to bring him a song. Cash was so impressed by the brash, young songwriter, he recorded the song; it became a hit and Kris Kristofferson's career in country music took off.
Kristofferson would later go on to write a vast catalog of songs, including "Me and Bobbie McGee," which became Janis Joplin's signature tune, and "Help Me Make it Through the Night," which was a hit for country singers Sammi Smith and Willie Nelson. Some of the songs were for him, too.
And the music led Kristofferson to acting. Through four decades, he's starred in dozens of films, including the Sam Peckinpah western "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid," "A Star is Born" with Barbra Streisand, the vampire trilogy "Blade" and 2011's "Dolphin Tale."
Kristofferson said the story about the helicopter is a good story. It's just not entirely true.
"John would tell it," he laughed. "And I went along with it. I never contradicted him."
Cash and Kristofferson were great friends and performed together, notably as members of country super group The Highwaymen, but they didn't meet on Cash's lawn. They met at Columbia Studios in Nashville, where Cash recorded songs and Kristofferson had a job sweeping floors.
"I loved that job," Kristofferson said. "I only had it for a couple of years, but it was a good way for a soldier to get accustom to the music business."
In 1965, Kristofferson was a 29 year-old Army captain with a degree from Oxford who'd just turned down an appointment at West Point to go to Nashville.
His family thought he was crazy. He wasn't some backwoods "Okie from Muskogee." Kristofferson was a Rhodes scholar from a prominent military family.
"Old friends and relatives thought I'd lost my mind," he acknowledged. "I know my parents thought country music was a real step down."
He took the job anyway. Emptying ashtrays and sweeping floors had its advantages. While working, he met dozens of artists, including Cash, who he occasionally tried to slip songs to. He was also there, cleaning up, while Bob Dylan recorded portions of his landmark record, "Blonde on Blonde."
Kristofferson still remembers those sessions as startling and unusual. He explained that, at the time, most recording sessions more or less worked through a song an hour.