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Music | "Words and Music"

Kris Kristofferson and Mickey Newbury:
A Texas Connection

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by Dorothy Hamm
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There was another important songwriter in Nashville in the 60s, a Houston, Texas lad by the name of Mickey Newbury. Signed by Acuff-Rose in 1964, within a few years Newbury had cut quite an indelible swath in the music world. Tom Jones had a hit with Funny Familiar Forgotten Feelings, Eddy Arnold hit with Here Comes the Rain Baby, Solomon Burke hit with Time Is A Thief, Andy Williams hit with Sweet Memories and Kenny Rogers, a friend of Newbury's from school days in Houston, hit with Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In.

He called himself a country artist, mostly because it wasn't cool to be country at that time, but his songs were universal, rising to the top of country, pop, rhythm & blues and easy listening charts. For a complete listing see: Discography at: http://www.mickeynewbury.com. Newbury would be inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1980.

Newbury and Kristofferson became friends and it was Newbury who introduced Kristofferson to Roger Miller who was the first to record, Me and Bobbie McGee. When I asked about his friendship with Newbury, Kristofferson said:

"Mickey played the most important role of any single songwriter in my life. You could see a change in my writing after I met him. In particular, Sunday Morning Coming Down. Mickey was a true songwriter and really good at it. I feel real grateful to have known him."

Kristofferson and Newbury would each go their separate ways but remained lifelong friends. Harry Dean Stanton caught a Kristofferson performance and thought he would be perfect for the role of Cisco Pike in a movie by the same name, and just like that, Hollywood moved into Kristofferson's path. It was not anything he had previously pursued he says. Newbury, who possessed one of the most beautiful voices anywhere, recorded several albums of his own songs, but his reluctance to tour as a performer put him at odds with record labels. He left Nashville in the 1980s, and moved to the Oregon coast with the love of his life, Susan Pack. Kenny Rogers had introduced the couple when Susan, a singer and a former Miss Oregon, had toured with Rogers's group The First Edition. Newbury died at his home in Oregon in 2002 after a lengthy battle with emphysema. He and Susan had four children, Chris, Leah, Stephen and Laura Shayne.
San Francisco Mabel Joy Video Shoot, Kris Kristofferson
San Francisco Mabel Joy Video Shoot
L to R, Waylon Payne, Sarah Jannett, Laura Shayne Newbury Hunsucker, Kris Kristofferson, Kacey Jones. Courtesy Kacey Jones
In a chain of events that support the theory that life is a circle, Kacey Jones, a Nashville-based singer, became friends with Newbury's mother Mamie, a beautiful, feisty lady who lives near Houston. Their friendship led to Jones recording an album of Newbury's songs. (http://www.kaceyjonessingsmickeynewbury.com) One of the songs, San Francisco Mabel Joy, has been recorded by a wide range of artists, from Joan Baez to David Allen Coe. It tells a poignant story of a young farmer who hops a freight train in Georgia and ends up in L.A. Homeless and lonely he falls in love with a lady of the evening, Mabel Joy. He has an unpleasant encounter with a merchant marine at Mabel Joy's door and ends up in prison.

It's a story that lends itself very well to video production and this spring collaborators came to Austin, Texas to add film to the song Newbury wrote more than 40 years ago. Waylon Payne, son of the late Sammi Smith plays the young farmer. Newbury's youngest daughter Laura Shayne plays Mabel Joy. Kristofferson plays the merchant marine. There are also cameo appearances by Mamie and Newbury's brother Jerry. The video is expected to air on the major music video channels but it can also be viewed at: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6349916019740296537

Kristofferson recently marked his 70th birthday. Among numerous ACM, CMA and Grammy awards was induction into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in Carthage, Texas in 2003. When he is not recording, touring, making movies, music videos, accepting awards and other honors, he lives in Hawaii with his third wife and their five children.

"I'm flattered to be recognized. It validates your feeling about whether you are doing the right thing," he said when asked how it feels to be the recipient of so many accolades. But I get most of my validation from my 8 kids and 2 grandchildren," he said.

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Dorothy Hamm
"Words and Music" Column
- June 8, 2006 column

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