Kris Kristofferson is quick to laugh. He’s even quicker to tout the pickin’ and singin’ of his friend and tour partner, Merle Haggard, while downplaying his own.
But don’t call the Grammy winner’s candor about his own singing and guitar-playing talents — or lack of them, as he sees it — humility.
“That’s just true. That’s not being humble at all,” said Kristofferson, laughing, calling from his tour bus before a solo gig in Tucson on Thursday evening.
Kristofferson and Haggard will take the stage together Sunday night at Pechanga Resort & Casino.
And, according to Kristofferson, the two American singer-songwriter icons have gotten used to the double bill.
“We may not go out alone again,” he said, chuckling again.
The two share the stage for the entire show, with Kristofferson singing alongside Haggard and his band.
“I go out and do an intro – just one song – and then introduce him. And then we do all the stuff together,” said Kristofferson, noting that there really isn’t a set list for the tour. “I tell you what. It changes every night. … It’s really kind of improv. We’re up there saying pretty much what we feel at the moment. It’s great fun.”
Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson
When: 8 tonight and 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Pechanga Resort & Casino’s indoor theater, 45000 Pechanga Parkway, Temecula
More info: 877-711-2946, pechanga.com
For Kristofferson, performing with Haggard still is somewhat of a mind-boggling reality, despite the fact that they’ve been longtime friends.
“Somehow I’ve gotten to be on the same stage with him,” he said. “He’s one of the big heroes in my experience.”
“’Cause he’s so good,” he said, laughing. “Merle’s like Hank Williams to me. He could sing the alphabet if he wanted. I would like it. He and (Willie Nelson) are triple threats.”
But then what does that make Kristofferson? The singer-songwriter has amassed his own notable career over four decades, having penned numerous hits songs for others, like Johnny Cash’s rendition of “Sunday Morning Coming Down” that won Country Music Association’s 1970 song-of-the-year trophy.
Others include Roger Miller singing Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee,” as well as Ray Price’s rendition of “For the Good Times,” which won song of the year at the 1970’s Academy of Country Music Awards.
Kristofferson probably is best remembered for his role in the star-studded group, the Highwaymen, featuring Cash, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. Their single, “Highwayman,” was the Academy of Country Music’s 1985 single of the year.
But the member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame also has amassed a lengthy film career, including the role of “Reed Haskett” in the recent box office hit “Dolphin Tale.”
“I really never expected it to be as popular as it is. It was a great experience working with the people. Working with the dolphin was cool, too. The director (Charles Martin Smith) … is a guy that I’ve known for years,” he said. “I’m really pleased that he film is doing so well. You know, kids like it a lot.”
Just as with his singing career, Kristofferson is amazed at the people he’s been able to work with in films over the years, naming Barbra Streisand from “A Star Is Born” as an example.
“If you think about it logically, there’s no reason you’re about to do these things,” he said. “I’ve gotten to work with people I really respect and care for. And I’m still doing that. I fell very blessed.”
Kristofferson is working on a new album with producer Don Was, who recently produced his previous two albums – 2006’s “This Old Road” and 2009’s “Closer to the Bone.”
The two are working on picking out 20 to 30 songs, Kristofferson said. The album is being recorded, so a release date is yet unknown.
Kristofferson said he ongoing film and music careers have never gotten in the way of each other.
“I really have always, since it started, taken one when the other let off,” he said. “I’ll probably keep acting as long as they ask me to. God knows how long that will be.”
The same is true for this music. The longtime writer, who has been writing songs since age 10, will always be writing.
“I think it’s just the way I express what’s inside me. And it probably will stay that way,” he said. “I don’t write as fast as I used to, or as often. But I’ll probably be writing till they throw dirt on me.”