By Brian Ives
Welcome to Radio Feedback, Radio.com’s weekly feature where we ask artists to wax nostalgic on the first time they heard themselves on the radio.
Before country legend Kris Kristofferson was a famous recording artist, Hollywood leading man and a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, he was a struggling songwriter trying to get his material recorded by better-known artists. And when he was starting out in the mid-’60s, songwriters were generally not welcome in the studio. Kristofferson, though, was an exception … of sorts. He spent a lot of time in the studio, although the reason why was less than glamorous.
“I was a janitor at Columbia Recording Studios in Nashville at the time,” he told Radio.com.
In fact, that was the gig Kristofferson was holding when he first heard one of his songs on the radio. “It was probably ‘Jody and the Kid,’ he recalled. “A song you probably don’t even know. That was the first good song that I wrote that got recorded.”
“Jody and the Kid” was recorded the 1968 version by country singer Roy Drusky, and it reached No. 24 on the country singles chart. Kristofferson’s own version of the song would later appear on his second studio album, The Silver Tongued Devil and I.
So, while he was sweeping floors in the studio, did he happen to mention to any of the artists recording there that he had a hit record?
“No, I didn’t talk to anybody in there, because songwriters weren’t allowed to be in the sessions back then, until Bob Dylan and people like that,” Kristofferson said. He was referencing the sea change that happened when Dylan introduced the idea of singers writing their own songs to the music industry. “I was fortunate to be the janitor.”
In fact, he worked in the Columbia Studios in 1966 when Dylan recorded his landmark album Blonde On Blonde there. He never approached Dylan, though, for fear of losing his job.
Years later, Kristofferson and Dylan would costar in the 1973 film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, and in 1986 Dylan covered Kristofferson’s song “They Killed Him” on his album Knocked Out Loaded.
Kristofferson did become friends with Johnny Cash while working his janitor gig, though. Cash recorded Kristofferson’s song “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” turning it into a No. 1 hit in 1970. Years later, the two of them also collaborated as members of the supergroup the Highwaymen (which also included Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings).
In 2010, indie label Light In The Attic Records released Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends: The Publishing Demos, a collection of the demos Kristofferson recorded while working as a janitor at Columbia Recordings Studios in Nashville. That collection doesn’t include “Jody and the Kid,” but it does have early versions of a number of now-classic Kristofferson songs like “Me and Bobby McGee,” “If You Don’t Like Hank Williams,” “Just the Other Side of Nowhere” and the title track.
Kris Kristofferson’s most recent studio album is Feeling Mortal, released in 2013.