How Johnny Cash Got Kris Kristofferson, A Janitor At His Record Label, To Sit In For Recording Sessions


Kris Kristofferson started as a janitor working at Johnny Cash’s recording studio in the late ‘60s. His story was one of ups and downs before fame as he went from being an Oxford University graduate with a Philosophy degree to serving in the US Army and then working odd jobs in Nashville.

Kris was ridden with debt from his son’s medical bills, leading him to work as a janitor at Columbia Records, where Cash discovered him. Cash took such special liking to him that he once refused to go into a recording session if Kris was not included.


Johnny Cash mandated Kris Kristofferson’s presence at recording sessions after he was nearly fired

LAST DAYS OF FRANK AND JESSE JAMES, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, 1986, © NBC / Courtesy: Everett Collection

According to Kris, who is the artist and songwriter behind country classics like “Sunday Morning Comin’ Down,” “Me & Bobby McGee,” and “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” he was banned from recording sessions for letting some people crash in. “For some reason, the woman who was the secretary to the producer blamed me for letting them in there and tried to get me fired,” he recalled.


RELATED: Kris Kristofferson Nearing ‘Final Days’ Amid Health Issues

Kris admitted to how “heartbroken” he felt because he “lived for those recording sessions.” Thankfully, Cash was unhappy about the rule and implored him to “come up there.”

“So I had to go up and sit on the floor,” Kris said, adding that the person who banned him was present as well.

THE LAST DAYS OF FRANK AND JESSE JAMES, from left: Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, (aired February 17, 1986). ph: ©NBC / Courtesy Everett Collection

Cash stood up for Kris

While in the room, Kris felt “uncomfortable” because “this woman who tried to get me fired was watching me the whole session.” He appreciated how Cash “always stood up for the underdog” and helped kickstart his iconic career. “But I thought it was the measure of the man…and that’s something I’ve tried to live up to. He’s been a good example,” Kris added.

THE LAST DAYS OF FRANK AND JESSE JAMES, from left: Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, (aired February 17, 1986). ph: ©NBC / courtesy Everett Collection

Kris believes that without Cash, he may have ended up “a hopeless alcoholic or something.” Cash saw potential in Kris, who was persistent in making sure he did. Kris once flew a helicopter into Cash’s yard with a beer in hand to pitch demo tapes of “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and “Me & Bobby McGee.”

“That didn’t do me any good, landing on John’s property. He wasn’t even there in the house at the time,” he explained, clarifying the infamous story.

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