Johnny, Waylon & Willie do ‘Desperados Waiting for a Train’ in previously unseen footage.
There aren’t four more recognizable or legendary faces in music—country or otherwise—than those that comprised supergroup The Highwaymen. Formed unintentionally in 1984 in Montreux, Switzerland, when Johnny Cash invited Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings to be guests on a Christmas special he was taping, the foursome found a collaborative creative fire that would etch itself forever into the lore of country music.
“There’s the four of us standing there, grouped around microphones,” wrote Jennings in his autobiography, Waylon: An Autobiography. “The Highwaymen. John, Kris, Willie, and me. I don’t think there are any other four people like us. If we added one more, or replaced another, it would never work.”
Having four established artists known for doing what they want, when they want, work together is the sort of endeavor that can explode brilliantly or implode dramatically with equal ferocity. When it came to playing live for The Highwaymen, it was almost the latter, until the moment when they found a way to come together. Jennings addressed this in his book as well.
“When we first took The Highwaymen out live, it looked like four shy rednecks trying to be nice to each other. It almost ruined it. That didn’t work, for us and the audience, and it was really bothering me, how different we were on stage than when we were sitting around in the dressing room. [At one point] I was fixin’ to quit. I talked to John about it and he was feeling the same way. ‘I get a little nervous,’ he said. ‘I don’t want to look like I’m trying to steal your thunder.’ That was it. We were boring each other and the audience. It may be hard to think of Johnny Cash as intimidated, but that’s the way we were. You can’t have four big guys tiptoeing around each other on stage. Nobody has a good time. By the end of the week, with Willie dancing across the stage and John and Kris singing harmony neck-and-neck, we had the wildest show, and it made us a group.”
Over the course of their decade-long run, The Highwaymen released three records, charted multiple singles, and won a Grammy for Best Country Song for their tune, “Highwayman,” as well as playing barn-burner live shows that will forever rate as “you should have been there.” You can watch part of one of those performances below, featuring the song “Desperados Waiting for a Train,” filmed March 4, 1990, at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.
While there will never be another group like The Highwaymen, their legacy lives on with a celebratory new multimedia box set, The Highwaymen Live—American Outlaws, out May 20. Featuring unreleased footage—including the entire Nassau concert as well as Farm Aid performances—and songs, as well as wildly fun to read liner notes from music scholar Mikal Gilmour, the box set is complemented by a PBS documentary, American Masters—The Highwaymen, ’til the End, which premieres May 27.
Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson will perform June 25 at RiverEdge Park in Aurora.
Gates will open at 6:30 p.m. at RiverEdge Park, 360 N. Broadway St., directly across from Metra’s Aurora Transportation Center.
Online ticket sales start at 10 a.m. March 25 at RiverEdgeAurora.com.
Tickets are $40 through May 31 and $50 starting June 1.
Phone and in-person sales start April 8. For information, call the RiverEdge box office at 630-896-6666, or stop by in person at RiverEdge’s satellite box office at the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, the two living members of country supergroup the Highwaymen, reunited on stage during a star-studded concert in Nashville last week.
On March 16, dozens of artists assembled at the Bridgestone Arena for The Life & Songs of Kris Kristofferson, a concert event that paid tribute to the acclaimed singer-songwriter. During the show, Nelson joined Kristofferson along with Shooter Jennings and Jamey Johnson, who represented the late Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. Although country fans will never get to see the original foursome take the stage together again, Jennings and Johnson were able to channel the spirit of the late icons for their memorable performance.
“Last night at “The Life and Songs of Kris Kristofferson” tribute concert. Bridgestone Arena was completely filled. Every major country star performed…and to me, this was what I loved watching most. The love between Kris and his wife Lisa was so inspiring. What a perfect night. ?@mickeyraphael @shooterjennings #love — at Bridgestone Arena.”
The Life and Songs of Kris Kristofferson
March 16, 2016
Nashville, TN Get your tickets here
On Wednesday, March 16, an extraordinary collection of music stars will come together at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., for the all-star concert event taping of a lifetime, The Life & Songs of Kris Kristofferson. This one -night-only concert event taping, produced by Blackbird Presents, will bring together fans, friends, and music icons to honor the songs of Grammy Award and Golden Globe Award-winning singer-songwriter and actor Kris Kristofferson.
Kristofferson, a Country Music Hall of Fame member, is considered a true poet who helped modernize the genre with songs like, “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” “Me & Bobby McGee,” and “If Loving Her Was Easier”. These are the songs of heartbreak and despair, of love and loss, of yearning and hope. These are the songs so honest that we adopted them as our own. They are the songs of a life led unlike any other: An All-American athlete, Golden Gloves boxer, Army Ranger, helicopter pilot, singer-songwriter, social activist, humanitarian and movie star.
HANK WILLIAMS JR.
LEE ANN WOMACK
From blues and rock ’n’ roll to country and hip-hop, the Lone Star State has produced a size-appropriate share of bona fide legends over the decades, but it’s the acoustic guitar-wielding singer-songwriter that perhaps best exemplifies the independent spirit and outlaw mythos of Texas music at its best. By and large, the best Texas troubadours pay little heed to genre fences and the conventional rules of Songwriting 101. They set their own rules, break them at will, and dedicate their lives pursuing not so much the bridge between art and commerce as the golden mean between impeccable craftsmanship and true poetry.
Willie Nelson Has any artist in country music ever had a more distinctive guitar sound than Willie? The Abbott-born songwriter had already penned most of his Nashville-era greatest hits (“Crazy,” “Night Life,” “Hello Walls,” etc.) by the time he finally acquired “Trigger” in 1969, but American music’s most iconic living artist and his beloved Martin N-20 classical have been inseparable ever since. Every record he’s made over the last four-and-a-half decades (and Willie makes a lot of records) has prominently featured his trademark tumbling leads and gypsy-jazz chording, every note plucked out of an instrument with a voice and battle-scarred face as singular as his own behind-the-beat phrasing. Willie, who turns 82 this April, is still as active as ever, and though he doesn’t write near as much as he records or tours anymore, 2013’s Band of Brothers—his first album in many years comprised mostly of originals—proves he can still knock out a stone-cold classic when he fancies. Just listen to “The Wall.”
Townes Van Zandt “Songwriter’s songwriter” is a title that gets tossed around a lot, but when it’s bestowed by no less a giant than Kris Kristofferson upon a recipient as deserving as Townes Van Zandt, take it as gospel. Van Zandt, the scion of a Fort Worth oil family who battled manic-depression throughout his life and died at 52 on New Year’s Day 1997, wrote songs that could be both dazzlingly abstract and devastatingly direct, often in the same verse, and his melodies could be as beautiful as his blues were brutal (weigh the achingly lovely “To Live’s to Fly” against the harrowing “Waitin’ Round to Die.”) He was also a fleet flat picker in the tradition of his hero, Lightnin’ Hopkins, as evidenced on Van Zandt’s Live at the Old Quarter. Recorded in Houston in 1973, the double album is as essential as records in this genre get: 93 minutes of nothing but the poet, his guitar, and a sack of songs so bulletproof, he opens with “Pancho and Lefty.”
Guy Clark A veritable Rock of Gibraltar to his mercurial compadre Townes Van Zandt’s rolling stone, the Monahans-born Guy Clark has called Nashville home for his entire recording career. Generations of younger writers, from Rodney Crowell to Hayes Carll, study his craft and strive for inclusion on his Dean’s List. By the time Clark released his flawless 1975 debut, Old No. 1, a fistful of his most enduring songs (including “Desperados Waiting for a Train” and “L.A. Freeway”) had already been canonized in Texas via covers by Jerry Jeff Walker. Decades later, a host of other esteemed troubadours (many on this list) did right by the master on the terrific This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark. But as proven with every record he’s made up to 2013’s Grammy-winning My Favorite Picture of You, nobody sings a Clark song as definitively as Guy himself, his cigarette-toasted, West Texas drawl fitting every precision-tuned line “like a coat from the cold.”
Kris Kristofferson Even if there were other Texas songwriters who could pad their resumes with “Rhodes Scholar, Army captain, chopper pilot, and silver-screen idol,” Brownsville’s Kris Kristofferson would still stand out from the crowd by merit of being the only one who also wrote “Me and Bobbie McGee,” “Sunday Mornin’ Coming Down,” “Help Me Make It Through the Night” and “For the Good Times.” Although his songs are best known through other voices (most notably Janis Joplin and Johnny Cash), Kristofferson’s writing alone was a game changer, serving notice to the mainstream and rock snobs alike that country music could be every bit as sophisticated and scary smart as Dylan at his best. And damn, was he suave! “I ain’t saying I beat the devil,” he growled on his 1970 debut, sounding like the most interesting man in the world, “but I drank all his beer for nothin’ … Then I stole his song.”
Billy Joe Shaver Armed with an eighth-grade education and a right hand shorted two fingers in a saw accident, Billy Joe Shaver has written some of the finest hardscrabble country songs this side of Hank Williams. The Corsicana scrapper was an Outlaw’s outlaw from the git-go, with Waylon Jennings recording almost an entire album of his songs (1973’s Honky Tonk Heroes) the same year that Kris Kristofferson produced Shaver’s seminal debut, Old Five and Dimers Like Me. Shaver’s songbook from the ’70s is chock full of progressive country classics (“Black Rose,” “Georgia On a Fast Train”), but he recorded many of his best albums in the ’90s with MVP support from his guitar-hero son, Eddy: 1993’s Tramp On Your Street, featuring arguably his best song, “Live Forever,” is a masterpiece. Eddy’s death in 2000 and myriad other obstacles (both health- and legal-related) have knocked Shaver sideways numerous times over the last decade-plus, but 2014’s Long In the Tooth finds the “Old Chunk of Coal” still fit as the proverbial fiddle—and still plenty randy for a born-again Christian soldier.
The Flatlanders: Butch Hancock, Joe Ely, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore We’re cheating here, given that all three of these guys deserve their own spot on this list (along with fellow Lubbock luminary Terry Allen, if only his weapon of choice were guitar rather than keyboards). But even though whip-smart raconteur Hancock (“If You Were a Bluebird”), roots-rocker Ely (“Letter to Laredo”) and cosmic honky-tonker Gilmore (“Dallas”) have all established storied solo careers, any time their stars and schedules align is cause for celebration. Fortunately that happens a lot more nowadays than it used to: After waiting 30 years to follow-up their 1972 debut with 2002’s Now Again, the three amigos have taken to touring and recording together fairly regularly over the last decade.
Rodney Crowell From his salad days as a disciple of Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt in the early ’70s through his stint playing rhythm guitar in Emmylou Harris’ formidable Hot Band, Rodney Crowell wrote a handful of songs that remain some of his most enduring crowd favorites, including “Till I Gain Control Again,” “Ain’t Living Long Like This,” and “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight.” But his best work was yet to come, most notably 1988’s edgy country blockbuster Diamonds & Dirt (which launched a record-setting five No. 1 chart hits) and his 2001 Americana masterpiece, The Houston Kid. Crowell’s continued in strong, prolific form ever since, continually raising his own bar both as a solo artist (see 2003’s splendid Fate’s Right Hand and 2014’s widely-acclaimed Tarpaper Sky) and as a collaborator (as on his Grammy-winning 2013 duo record with Harris, Old Yellow Moon.)`
On March 3, 1990, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson perform at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo at the Astrodome, kicking off their first concert tour as the Highwaymen.
At the 1985 Oscars, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson performed “How Do You Feel About Foolin’ Around” from the film ‘Songwriter’ and the Oscar-nominated “On the Road Again,” from 1980’s ‘Honeysuckle Rose.’
Country music Hall of Famer Kris Kristofferson will be honored at a special tribute concert in Nashville, Tennessee, featuring performances by Willie Nelson, Rosanne Cash, Eric Church and Lady Antebellum.
The singer-songwriter will also perform at “The Life and Songs of Kris Kristofferson,” which will be taped at Bridgestone Arena on March 16.
National Music Council Honors Kris Kristofferson, Charley Pride & Jim Lauderdale
Additional artists include Dierks Bentley, Ryan Bingham, Emmylou Harris, Jamey Johnson, Darius Rucker and Trisha Yearwood. Produced by Blackbird Presents, Keith Wortman is the executive producer and longtime Kristofferson producer Don Was is the music director.
The Grammy Award winner wrote hits like “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” ”Help Me Make It Through the Night” and “Me and Bobby McGee.”
Tickets go on sale at Ticketmaster locations and online at Ticketmaster.com.
Willie Nelson, Lady Antebellum, Dierks Bentley and Eric Church are part of an all-star cast confirmed to perform at a March 16 concert honoring Kris Kristofferson.
Ryan Bingham, Rosanne Cash, Jamey Johnson, Darius Ruckerand Trisha Yearwood are also on tap to perform at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena for The Life & Songs of Kris Kristofferson. The program, to be taped for worldwide video distribution, will also feature a performance from Kristofferson.
Grammy-winning producer and musician Don Was will serve as music director for the concert. Was has produced several of Kristofferson’s albums, including A Moment Forever, This Old Road, Closer to the Bone and Feeling Mortal.
“A major reason for Kris’ enduring popularity is that he’s always been very honest and open about revealing his inner life,” Was said. “In doing that, he has created an incredible body of work that has resonated for decades with millions of listeners. It’s always a deeply moving experience to sing and play his songs.”
Tickets go on sale Saturday (Jan. 23) via Ticketmaster.