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  • He made it through the night

    Kris Kristofferson is back on tour at age 70, singing the hits he wrote in the Louisiana oil fields
    Wednesday, November 29, 2006
    By Ron Thibodeaux

    Mention Kris Kristofferson to women of a certain generation and they'll still swoon over his performance as the bare-chested, bad-boy rocker opposite Barbra Streisand in "A Star Is Born" 30 years ago.

    Their kids know him best as Whistler, the grizzled mentor to vampire Wesley Snipes in the "Blade" trilogy.

    Those are notable bookends for a film career that has taken Kristofferson from "Heaven's Gate," the debacle that torpedoed Academy Award-winning director Michael Cimino's career and bankrupted United Artists studio, to "Lone Star," one of the most critically acclaimed movies of the 1990s, and from "Big Top Pee-Wee" to "Planet of the Apes" to the endearing "Dreamer."

    For all that, Kristofferson remains an accidental movie star true to his first calling, singer/songwriter. The only member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame whose résumé includes Rhodes Scholar and Army helicopter pilot, he's back out on tour at age 70, promoting a powerful new album, "This Old Road."

    During a stop in Louisiana this month for a performance at the Paragon Casino in Marksville, he reflected on a musical career that produced the likes of "Me and Bobby Magee," "Why Me" and "Help Me Make It Through the Night," and how it was influenced by his time in the Louisiana oil fields before he caught his first break.

    Kristofferson turned down an instructor's post at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to try and break into the music business in the 1960s. Unable to get any closer than a janitor's job at the Columbia Records studio in Nashville, Tenn., he came to Louisiana and took a job with Petroleum Helicopters Inc. of Lafayette, flying between the Louisiana marshes and offshore petroleum facilities.

    "That was about the last three years before I started performing, before people started cutting my songs," he recalled. "I would work a week down here for PHI, sitting on an oil platform and flying helicopters. Then I'd go back to Nashville at the end of the week and spend a week up there trying to pitch the songs, then come back down and write songs for another week."

    That was several lifetimes ago for Kristofferson, who now lives with his wife and the youngest of his eight children in Hawaii when he's not globe-trotting to make music or motion pictures. Don't expect him to take his music publisher's advice to leave that life of luxury behind and get back to the Oil Patch.

    "Bob Beckham told me, 'You know, that was the most productive time for you, because you didn't have anything to do but write songs,' " he said. "I can remember 'Help Me Make It Through The Night' I wrote sitting on top of an oil platform. I wrote 'Bobby Magee' down here, and a lot of them."

    As the composer of "Me and Bobby Magee," Kristofferson deserves some of the credit for bridging Janis Joplin's popularity beyond '60s stoners to the American cultural mainstream. Originally a country hit for Roger Miller, the song was recorded by rock's first female superstar shortly before her death from a drug overdose in 1970 and was the monster hit off her posthumous "Pearl" album in 1971.

    CONTINUED   1 | 2  Next

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