“It was a thrill to get one of the best songs,” says John Doe of covering Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee,” for the upcoming LP, Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down: A Tribute to Kris Kristofferson, due out in late February.
“I tried to make the sound of it and atmosphere surrounding it more what I thought what the story was about, which is melancholy, with a good deal of regret but at the same time moving forward,” says the X singer/bassist. “Janis Joplin’s version is more about her as a singer and making it pretty brash. I tried to get a little more atmosphere and the regret this character has for losing a person that was a soul mate.”
Assembled by San Francisco-based writer/certified Kristofferson freak Nick Tangborn, the seventeen-song album began in earnest after Tangborn offered to write Kristofferson’s biography, only to learn the man in question was already at work on his own memoirs, chronicling over thirty years as a musician and actor. Tangborn decided to do the next best thing and release a tribute on his own label, Jackpine Social Club. “It seemed like Kristofferson is a guy who to most of our generation certainly is remembered mostly as the guy in the A Star Is Born poster, in the naked embrace with Barbra Streisand.
“Most people of our generation don’t realize he was and is a pretty amazing songwriter, who wrote some of the most covered songs in country music, as well as pop crossover hits like ‘Me and Bobby McGee,'” Tangborn continued. “I thought it would be great to get some of my favorite artists, artists I’ve liked for a long time and new artists I’ve recently found and get them to take his songs in directions they probably haven’t been before.”
Joining Doe in paying homage are a jumbled blend of punks, crooners, psychedelic and roots rock acts, including Tom Verlaine of Television, Mark Kozelek of the Red House Painters, the Mother Hips, Jon Langford of the Mekons, Polara and Kristofferson’s own guitarist Stephen Bruton, who retools a version of “Borderlord,” a song he co-wrote with Kristofferson.
Kelly Hogan chipped in a version of “Why Me,” offering an agnostic’s take on Kristofferson’s religious tune. Hogan says she first became a Kristofferson fan during her initial tenure in a band.
“When I was really starting to work in a record store and starting to cover songs in the Jody Grind that’s when I got a total hard-on from his songwriting,” says Hogan. “It’s super deceptively simple, sort of what I like about Randy Newman’s songwriting. The details are so simple that it’s got you like a fish and you don’t know what happened and you’re standing in your own guts.”