Some musicians and performers have added single names to pop music’s vocabulary. Kris Kristofferson has added phrases:
“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” “Early morning rain.” “Sunday mornin’ coming down.” “Help me make it through the night.”
In some 50 years in music, Kristofferson — whose last name, admittedly, is one of those recognizable single names — has shown a gift for capturing a mood or image in the rhythm of everyday language, a combination that has turned more than a few of his songs into country and pop standards recorded by scores, if not hundreds, of his peers and spiritual descendants.
Waco audiences will hear for themselves Thursday when Kristofferson, 81, makes a rare concert appearance at the Waco Hippodrome, part of a tour that has him performing this fall in Midland, Oklahoma and New Mexico. Young Waco guitarist Jackson Anderson will perform from 5 to 7 p.m. before the concert in the Hippodrome’s bar area.
The singer-songwriter-actor’s performances in the Lone Star State bring him back to the state where he was born, in Brownsville. He grew up largely in California, attending Pomona College before studying English literature as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. He followed his family’s military tradition with several years in the U.S. Army, where he trained as a helicopter pilot and as a U.S. Ranger.
Music and writing proved too strong, though, and Kristofferson broke with his family to move to Nashville in the 1960s and start a career as a songwriter. His songs won more success for other Nashville performers at first, but his 1971 album “The Silver Tongue Devil and I” and its single “Lovin’ Her Was Easier” started the way to performing and recording success.
There’s a Waco connection from those days, too, with Waco resident Billy Joe Shaver, an esteemed songwriter cut from much of the same cloth as Kristofferson. Kristofferson produced Shaver’s debut album “Old Five and Dimers Like Me” in 1973 and recorded several of his songs, including “Good Christian Soldier.”
Later, in the early 1980s, Kristofferson teamed with another Texan, longtime friend and collaborator Willie Nelson, to form the group The Highwaymen with Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings.
After enjoying success in music, Kristofferson added film acting to his resume in the 1970s with films such as “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,” “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” and, most notably, “A Star Is Born” with Barbra Streisand. Films since then include “Heaven’s Gate,” John Sayles’ “Lone Star,” “Blade,” “Payback” with Mel Gibson, Tim Burton’s remake of “Planet of the Apes” and “Songwriter.”
In decades of performing, songwriting and acting, Kristofferson has logged a shelf’s worth of notable awards: A Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, a Golden Globe for his role in “A Star Is Born,” induction in the Country Music Hall of Fame, a BMI Icon Award and a Johnny Mercer Award from the Songwriter Hall of Fame. Kristofferson’s years as an Army officer also led to his 2003 Veteran of the Year award from the American Veterans Association.
He has more than two dozen albums to his credit and continues to write songs, with his “The Cedar Creek Sessions,” recorded in Austin in 2014, his latest and a 2016 Grammy Award nominee for Best Americana Album of the Year.
He, his third wife Lisa and their children split their time between homes in Maui and California. In 2016, Neil Strauss reported in a Rolling Stone feature that periods of memory loss had led some doctors to misdiagnose Kristofferson with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, but a new diagnosis of Lyme Disease led to treatment that solved much of his memory problems. Since then, he’s been more active as a performer.
Waco audiences also will see him in person before he appears with a galaxy of country stars in the 90-minute CMT television special “The Life and Songs of Kris Kristofferson,” which airs Oct. 27.