Even though it was written by Kris Kristofferson and first recorded by Ray Stevens in 1969, it was Johnny Cash who made it a hit when he released a version of the song in 1970, on his live album The Johnny Cash Show. Most recently Willie Nelson released his own version of the song on his 2011 album, Remember Me, Vol. 1. Yet, my favorite version is the one shown in the video below, performed by Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson together: two country music legends.
What to say about the two performers? Well, as for the first, a lot of what I have to say about him, as well as other country music icons, I already said on several other posts—but then again, what could I say about the great Johnny Cash that has not been said better by others more qualified than me? On the contrary, by pure chance and without any design or purpose, I never mentioned Kris Kristofferson before. So, it’s time to right that wrong.
|The cover art for Highwayman (album)|
As for the song, here is an interesting account:
Kris Kristofferson wrote this song while living in a run-down tenement in Nashville when he was working as a janitor for Columbia Records - a strange occupation considering he had a master's degree from Oxford University and risen to the rank of captain in the US Army. But Kristofferson wanted to be a songwriter, so he turned down a professor position at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and swept floors at Columbia waiting for his break.
In the military Kristofferson learned to fly planes and he worked as a commercial helicopter pilot in Nashville, and the story of how he got his demo tape of this song to Cash has become legend: He flew his National Guard helicopter to Cash's front yard, where he landed and delivered the tape. The story is often skewed to imply that Cash had never met Kristofferson, but they had known each other since 1965. In a 2008 interview with the San Luis Obispo Tribune, Kristofferson explained: "I knew John before then. I'd been his janitor at the recording studio, and I'd pitched him every song I ever wrote, so he knew who I was. But it was still kind of an invasion of privacy that I wouldn't recommend.
To be honest, I don't think he was there. He had a whole story about me getting out of the helicopter with a tape in one hand and a beer in the other.
John had a pretty creative memory but I would never have disputed his version of what happened because he was so responsible for any success I had as a songwriter and performer. He put me on the stage the first time I ever was, during a performance at the Newport Folk Festival."
In a 2009 Rolling Stone article about Kris Kristofferson that was written by Ethan Hawke, it explains that Kris made Johnny Cash listen to the song before removing the helicopter. After hearing it Cash said he "liked his songs so much that I would take them off and not let anybody else hear them."
Cash recorded the song live on The Johnny Cash Show, and before the show, ABC censors asked him to change the lyrics, "Wishing, Lord, that I was stoned" to "Wishing, Lord, that I was home." Cash sang it the way Kristofferson wrote it, and even stressed the word "stoned."
Nice story, isn’t it? And now, enjoy the song!