Two country legends, one legendary country song.
In the entire history of country music, there are few songs as iconic as “Sunday Morning Coming Down.”
Written by the amazing singer/songwriter and Highwaymen member, Kristofferson, Sunday Morning Coming Down was originally published by Ray Stevens in 1969.
It was then released by Johnny Cash The following year, Kristofferson recorded the number-one song himself for his 1970 debut album. Kristofferson.
It became one of the greatest country songs of all time, being covered by Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Lee Lewis and others, but perhaps more importantly, it propelled Kristofferson’s career as a singer/songwriter to new heights.
But how did Kristofferson come to cash? Now that’s a wild story…
In case you didn’t know, Kristofferson is quite a man…a Rhodes Scholar, Oxford graduate, Captain and helicopter pilot in the US Army, graduate of Ranger School…Kristofferson seemed to excel at anything he set out to do .
While studying English at Oxford, Kristofferson began honing his craft as a singer-songwriter. After retiring from the military in 1965, he moved to Nashville to pursue a career in music.
Move to Nashville
According to an interview by Cowboys & Indians, He credits Nashville with saving his life:
“I think if it hadn’t been for Nashville. I probably would have gone to Vietnam because I had been in the army.
I definitely wasn’t doing what I thought I should be doing. And I think I probably would have become a hopeless alcoholic or something.”
Kristofferson’s cousin got him into the music scene, but he didn’t really have much success and took a job as a janitor at Columbia Records.
Working at the record label, he often bumped into the likes of George Jones, Bob Dylan, and Johnny Cash, but these music stars weren’t exactly looking for songs from the guy who swept the floors.
He later took a job as a helicopter flight instructor with the National Guard, but when he wasn’t flying down in the Gulf he was still throwing up songs in Nashville.
Landing of his helicopter in the cash house
Perhaps his most infamous helicopter flight was when he landed the thing in Johnny Cash’s backyard to try to get Cash’s hands on some of his demo tapes.
According to Cash, Kris landed with a beer in one hand and the demo in the other, walked up to him half drunk, gave him the demo of “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and “Me & Bobby McGee” and left the same way he did came.
However, Kristofferson doesn’t quite remember the story as Cash described it.
In fact, according to Kris, Johnny wasn’t even there:
“Well, I’ll admit that happened, but it didn’t do me any good to end up on John’s property. He wasn’t even in the house at the time.
I think he told the story about me getting off the helicopter with a beer in one hand and a cassette in the other. But he wasn’t even in the house.
And I would never have drunk while flying a helicopter.”
June wasn’t home either…
Kris used to give June demos for Johnny to listen to, but unfortunately for Kris, when June played demos for Johnny, he threw most of them in the lake.
“She wasn’t there either… but you know what? I didn’t want to disagree with either of them.”
Anyway, the helicopter stunt was enough for Johnny to take notice. Cash was a fan of “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and performed the song live shortly after. He even invited Kris to perform with him at the Newport Folk Festival.
He finally recorded it, it was an absolute smash, and the rest is history.
In an episode of the johnny cash show, Cash explained eloquently What the song meant to him:
“I suppose all of us… all of us have been ‘a drifter at heart’ at some point, and today, like yesterday, there are many who are on that path that goes out.
They may not be looking for work, but rather for self-actualization or understanding of their lives…trying to find meaning in their lives. …
Many who have drifted – myself included – have felt no closer to peace of mind than a dingy back room on a lonely Sunday morning when it’s raining all around you.”
Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson play Me and Bobby McGee in 1985.
https://www.whiskeyriff.com/2023/01/16/kris-kristofferson-landed-a-helicopter-in-johnny-cashs-yard-to-deliver-his-sunday-morning-coming-down-demo/ Kris Kristofferson landed a helicopter at Johnny Cash’s farm to deliver his ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ demo