By 1969, Kris Kristofferson had been a Rhodes Scholar, a captain in the Army and a janitor at Nashville’s Columbia Records studio. What he had yet to become was an internationally recognized songwriter and successful artist on his own. That year, however, two of his most recognizable songs were cut for the first time, setting him on his way. Yet, both “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down” were first cut by acts whose success with them would pale in comparison to the hits both songs would later become.
The former was recorded first by Roger Miller, and would go on to be a posthumous Number One pop hit for Janis Joplin in 1971. The latter, first cut by Ray Stevens, became an award-winning smash thanks to Johnny Cash, who recorded it for his album, The Johnny Cash Show. Penned in his run-down apartment while Kristofferson was going through a divorce, the tune earned him a CMA Song of the Year trophy in October 1970, the same week it sat atop the country chart.
But accepting the CMA honor provoked uneasy feelings from the man who was obviously more at home behind his guitar than front-and-center on a star-studded television special. After his name was called by musician Roy Clark, Kristofferson walked to the stage and stood for several seconds with his back to the audience (which you can see at the 22-second mark in the video player above). Whether he was painfully shy, a little stoned, or a combination of the two, remains up for debate. But, indisputably, Kristofferson had arrived.