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Premiere: Kris Kristofferson - 'Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down' (Live at Gilley's, 1981)

By Ciara Bains

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When Kris Kristofferson wrote 'Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down' in the late 60s, he was an unknown, ex-army captain working odd jobs in Nashville. By the end of the decade, he'd become one of the most exciting writers in Music City and indelibly changed what people thought of as country music.

Though originally recorded by Ray Stevens in 1969, the song shot to fame after it landed in the hands of Johnny Cash; quite literally. As story has it, Kristofferson flew his National Guard helicopter to Cash's house to deliver him the song's demo tape.

"One afternoon, he was flying a National Guard helicopter and he landed in my yard", Cash described. "I was taking a nap and June said, ‘Some fool has landed a helicopter in our yard. They used to come from the road. Now they’re coming from the sky!’ And I look up, and here comes Kris out of a helicopter with a beer in one hand and a tape in the other. I liked his songs so much that I would take them off him and not let anybody else hear them.”

Cash performed 'Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down' on The Johnny Cash Show in 1970; famously refusing to alter the line "Lord, I wish that I was stoned" when the show's producers asked him to. It then went on to win CMA Song of the Year and hit no.1 on the country charts - Kristofferson's first as a songwriter.

Now, a never-before-heard live version of the song will be available on Kristofferson's new, forthcoming album, Live at Gilley’s - Pasadena, TX: September 15th, 1981, set for release via New West Records on 2nd September. The track is premiering exclusively at Holler today - listen below now.

Recorded at Gilley's, the legendary Pasadena, Texas honky tonk most known for its role in the hit 1980 film Urban Cowboy, the previously unreleased 15-song set was the final date of Kristofferson's 1981 tour.

Backed by an all-star band of Stephen Bruton, Glen Clark, Sammy Creason, Donnie Fritts, Tommy McClure and Billy Swan, the tape recording captures an icon in his prime, the raw energy of the audience surging throughout the record.

"We booked a lot of shows around that time, including some people I didn’t think would want to play the club", shared the late Gilley's co-owner and artist, Mickey Gilley.

"We got some acts that made me think, are you kidding me? Kris Kristofferson was one of those artists that I didn’t think would want to play Gilley’s, because he was such a big name and a tremendous talent. He’s such an amazing songwriter, a great performer, and was a good match for our crowd. It was totally jam-packed every night, but we’d have an especially big crowd whenever an artist like Kris would come to town. I think people just wanted to be a part of what Gilley’s was all about."

“What a great album this is! Classic Kristofferson songs throughout, and live! Kris was in his prime and his vocals were outstanding and very soulful as always", George Strait comments in the record's exclusive liner notes.

"I got to play Gilley's a few times back in those days and this record takes me right back there", he continues. "You can tell the crowd is loving him and he’s loving them right back. That’s what it’s all about. It was an exciting time to say the least. So close your eyes and listen to this record. Imagine you’re right there standing in front of the stage with the man himself looking right at you. I think you’ll get a really good idea of what Gilley's was like back then when Kris played there. What a treat that must’ve been.”

Live at Gilley’s - Pasadena, TX: September 15th, 1981 will be available across digital platforms, on compact disc and standard black vinyl on 2nd September.

A very limited to 300 white vinyl edition will be available exclusively at Texas retailers, while a 750-limited, foil-stamped, opaque metallic silver vinyl edition will be available via Vinyl Me Please.

A limited opaque red with white marble vinyl edition will be available at independent retailers and can be found for pre-order now via New West Records.