Nearly all of us have had one or more people who were our portals into music and for me that person was my father, HERC SR. It wasn't intentional, this I know, it just happened - he liked music, played it constantly so I picked it up through osmosis and then I was off and running. He never discouraged me, Mom says it was always his first inclination to buy me an album for any occasion and so I received lots of good stuff, stuff he knew I'd like. He never pushed his favorites on me or passed judgement on the stuff I liked. And as the years passed, the tables turned and I began turning him onto lots of good music, paying him back for all the great musical treasures he had bestowed upon me. Yet standing here today, surrounding by so much music in various physical forms from 8-track tapes to vinyl, I find myself seeking comfort in the bands and artists and songs I knew he loved. It is nearly impossible to listen to any song without thinking of him and that makes him immortal.
According to those who knew him best, when Dad came home from Nam, he hadn't changed much on the outside. He brought with him a ton of stuff, had it shipped ahead. Among his most prized possessions were his 8-track tapes. He labeled the sides of the tapes with his label maker and stacked them on a small shelf near his bunk. When he returned Stateside, he built a shelf to hold the tapes so that the labels were visible this way. While over there, he was exposed to a lot of music he hadn't heard before or had dismissed outright (any artist that performed at Woodstock, for example) and grew to like a lot of it. One of his new musical discoveries was Kris Kristofferson. I remember Dad three 8-tracks of Kristofferson including the one pictured above. The other two tapes were The Silver Tongued Devil And I and Jesus Was A Capricorn.
Kristofferson was a fellow Texan, a decade older than Dad, who had been a helicopter pilot in the Army before the skirmish in Vietnam broke bad. He had dreamed of being a novelist but began earning a living as a songwriter rather than a performer. Kristofferson's self-titled first album was released the year Dad became a father for the first time (me!) and it was a stiff on the Pop Albums chart though it made Top 10 on the Country Albums chart. Only when other country and rock artists began covering his songs did the record company re-release it five years later under a new title, the title of the most popular song of his as posthumously released by Janis Joplin: Me and Bobby McGee. The other two albums pictured above came in 1971 and 1972. All three went on to become gold selling Top 50 releases and though Kris continued to release albums, my Dad never bought another one.
Kris got into acting and eventually starred in the remake of A Star Is Born with Barbra Streisand in late 1976, performing three solo tracks on the accompanying Number One quadruple-platinum selling soundtrack album. To capitalize on his increased exposure and popularity, his label issued Songs Of Kristofferson, a compilation album, in 1977. It was my birthday gift for Dad that year and also the first Kristofferson album he had on vinyl.
Flash forward to the mid-Nineties. After moving one last time to Pineville, Missouri, my father unceremoniously dumped his sizable 8-track collection in the trash and put his vinyl collection in a backyard storage shed leaving him with a couple dozen compact discs and a couple hundred cassette tapes as his only sources of music beyond the radio in his truck. I began making and buying him CDs at a crazy rate around the year 2000. I started out from memory just trying to replace the vinyl albums and 8-tracks I remembered he had with CDs. I never came across those first three Kristofferson albums he had on CD but I did buy him the CD issue of Songs Of Kristofferson (which has wildly different cover art) the year before we bought him an iPod which I loaded with 6,000 personally selected songs for him.
To be brutally honest, as gifted as he is as a songwriter and he is recognized as one of the greatest ever, Kris is not that good of a singer. His rough voice is an acquired taste and only your familiarity with the hundreds of covers of his songs help you recognize them when he sings them. Songs Of Kristofferson is not a Greatest "Greatest Hits" album. A great place to start for those of you new to the songs of Kris Kristofferson is the second disc of a double wide set from 1991 called Singer/Songwriter - the first disc contains the originals but that second disc gives you a taste of what other artists did with his songs.