The Pilgrim: A Celebration of Kris Kristofferson producer notes
When American Roots Publishing released our first CD, Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster, we were astonished at the attention it received from the media and music lovers all over the world. Although we cherished it, we never could have predicted that so many people would delight in our little album.
The praise culminated with a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album at the 2005 Grammy Awards. At the Grammy after-party, between champagne toasts, ARP Vice President Tom Frouge and I began talking about our new dilemma. How in the world would we find a project for our New Great American Songbook Series to follow the now Grammy-winning Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster? While I think we were both daunted at the thought of the task that lay before us, Tom pointed out the obvious. We actually have a relationship with a significant American songwriter.
I have been working with Kris Kristofferson formany years. There is no doubt he is one of America’s most exceptional and important songwriters. There had been some talk around Nashville about one of the major record labels producing a tribute to Kris, but I had an inkling that it wouldn’t happen. Tribute CDs aren’t typically big sellers and in today’s climate at the majors, the bottom line is what matters most.
I said to Tom: “If we can get the family (Willie Nelson, Rosanne Cash, Jessi Colter, Shooter Jennings) and then work from there, man, we could make a fantastic album.” Tom agreed. Thus, The Pilgrim: A Celebration of Kris Kristofferson became our pet project for the remainder of 2005 and early 2006.
But the story starts earlier. Al Bunetta of Oh Boy Records hired me to work Kris’s Broken Freedom Song: Live From San Francisco album in June, 2003. I had just returned from two weeks in Italy, a much-needed vacation after I was fired from my job as a television producer for speaking out against the war in Iraq. My friend Al knew I needed work (my name was mud in the mainstream country music industry in Nashville) and he was kind enough to call on me for the Kristofferson project.
I was so excited I called my sweetie Paul who was still in Europe working on Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising Tour. “Baby, Al Bunetta just hired me to work the new Kris Kristofferson record,” I shouted. Long pause. “Kris Kristofferson?” Paul asked. “Isn’t he the guy from (Wesley Snipes movie) Blade?
I laughed. My Paul is not exactly hip to country music. “Well,” I said, “That’s not the first thing I think about when I hear the name Kristofferson, but yes, I think he was in that movie.”
In retrospect, that conversation with Paul may have been the seed for the album. It got me to thinking that although I always thought of Kristofferson first and foremost as a songwriter, there are likely legions of fans that know him only as an actor. There are likely people out there completely unaware that Kris is a songwriting legend. As Peter Cooper notes in his liner notes, Kris changed the songwriting landscape in Nashville. In this town, he is revered for his songwriting, as he should be, and every music person in Nashville is a fan or has been influenced by Kris’s work.
Although I had an absolute blast working on the Stephen Foster tribute, dreaming up this album has been an extraordinary experience. Kris is a man I’ve come to know and love. This is our collective love letter to him—a gift for his 70th birthday and a token of our admiration and respect for his musical legacy. Kris’s songs will live forever, and I am proud and happy to add this record to the national archive. It has been especially heartwarming to witness Kris’s reaction to these recordings…a moment in time I will remember affectionately for the rest of my life.
As always, there are many people to thank for an endeavor like this one. At the top of the list is Lisa Kristofferson. Lisa is Kris’s wife, best friend, mother of their five children, and champion of his work. I’m continually amazed at how she keeps it all together and rolling forward. Lisa and the younger kids go everywhere with Kris and they are one of the finest families I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. Thank you, Lisa, for your belief in me, your help in pulling this project together, your continual personal support, and the laughs on the road. You are a friend to many and we are all better people for knowing you.
To Tracy, Kris Jr., Casey, Jesse, Jody, Johnny, Kelly and Blake Kristofferson, the heritage is yours. Thanks for understanding its importance and keepin’ it going.
Tom Frouge, my partner, my friend, my counselor you are the best, best, best and I can’t imagine managing ARP without you. I’m glad you were born and the universe saw fit to bring us together.
A special thank you to Peter Cooper for donating his time and talent to write the amazingly insightful liner notes. Thank you, also, to Peter’s colleagues at The Tennessean for allowing him to contribute to this project. There was no other choice than Peter to tackle the task at hand. I’ve not met a journalist who understands Kris and his legacy more than Peter.
The American Roots Publishing board of directors: Emmylou Harris, Steve Wozniak, Cameron Strang, Dale Cockrell, Stephen Bond Garvan, Tom Frouge, Dave Marsh, Steve Fishell, Kathi Whitley, and Bobbie Eakes. Can you believe we’ve come this far? Thanks for believing and pushing on in spite of everything else going on in your busy lives. Earnest thanks also to Cameron and New West Records for distributing Beautiful Dreamer internationally, which generated much of the resources for us to complete this CD.
When we started working on this project, Dave Marsh, Tom and I agreed from the beginning that the only way we would do it is if we could count on Willie Nelson, Rosanne Cash, Jessi Colter and Shooter Jennings being part of the record. Kris’s history with Willie, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings insisted that they be included, and I couldn’t fathom doing an album of Kristofferson songs without the four of them contributing. Steve Fishell, Mark Rothbaum, John Leventhal, Dan Gillis and Marc Dottore were instrumental in helping us secure recordings from these four artists. We are sincerely grateful to all. This album wouldn’t be complete without them.
After the first four artists, there were obvious choices of artists who had clearly been influenced by Kris and we knew were fans. We reached out to Emmylou Harris (and her friends Jon Randall, Sam Bush and Byron House), Rodney Crowell, Todd Snider, Shawn Camp, and Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis knowing they were natural choices for the album, loved Kris, and could take Kris’s compositions and make them their own. Although we expected great things from all of them, we are humbled by their imaginative choices and fabulous performances. Thank you.
Then there were the wildcards. Tom and I (with some interesting aid from Lisa Kristofferson) threw around names of artists we thought would be cool to have on the album and not the usual suspects. Furthermore, it was a goal of Tom’s we represented through our choices the scope and breadth of Kris’s influence (after all, his songs have been covered by everyone from Janis Joplin to Ray Price to Al Green) as well as his political and social consciousness as a songwriter and activist. We’re thrilled that Brian McKnight, Jill Sobule, Lloyd Cole, Patty Griffin, Charanga Cakewalk, Russell Crowe & The Ordinary Fear of God, Gretchen Wilson, Marta Gómez and Marshall Chapman were inspired to contribute. Of course, we couldn’t have a musical prodigy like Randy Scruggs in the room without him contributing a track. Special thanks to Steve Fishell for jumping in enthusiastically when we needed him. As always, you rock, Brother.
All of these artists donated their talent to further our mission of preserving American culture through music, literature and art. We are enormously grateful. It’s clear to me after our first two projects that our music community abounds with benevolent and compassionate souls. I am privileged to live and work among them.
Kris, thanks for the incredible ride and for believing in me. Working with you is inspirational.
As always, to Paul Whitfield for daily encouragement, love, support, and indulgence. I love you.
This record is dedicated to my daughter, Michelle Lynn Brockman, with the wish that it inspires her to create her own wonderful life.
February 9, 2006