Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Live from Gilley’s’ Will Transport You to 1981

by Clayton Edwards

Today, Kris Kristofferson released the recording of his 1981 show at Gilley’s in Pasadena, Texas. Putting this record on is like stepping back in time. It offers listeners a chance to hear one of the foremost performers of the Outlaw Country era playing at one of the most iconic venues in Texas. At the time, both Kristofferson and Gilley’s were in their prime.

To understand just how cool this record is, I think we need to talk a little about the venue. Gilley’s was billed as the biggest honky tonk in the world. The club boasted a 6,000-person capacity, mechanical bulls, and a massive dancefloor. It was, at the very least, the most famous honky tonk in the world. A year before Kris Kristofferson took the stage at Gilley’s, the club was the set of Urban Cowboy. The John Travolta-led film made the honky tonk a cultural touchstone.

Fortunately, club operator and country singer Mickey Gilley and his team recorded every performance at the club. He talked about those recordings In the liner notes for Live at Gilley’s – Pasadena, TX: September 15, 1981. “Right next to the club was the recording studio, and we recorded everything that was done onstage. We could record onto the 24-track machine that we had in the studio, then we would do the mixing…we recorded everybody who would give us permission.” That’s how this album came to be.

Kris Kristofferson Live at Gilley’s

Sometimes, you hear a live album that sounds just as clean and pristine as a studio recording. That’s not the case with this album. Don’t get me wrong here. The album sounds great. It’s just rough enough to capture the soul of the live show. Songs like “Me and Bobby McGee”, “The Pilgrim”, and “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” take on a new life in this live setting. The whoops, hollers, and cheers of the rowdy honky tonk crowd add more depth to the listening experience.

This was the final stop on Kris Kristofferson’s 1981 tour. So, he and the band were pulling out all the stops. They played a setlist made up of essential Kristofferson cuts. Seriously, if you’ve ever wanted to introduce someone to Kristofferson, this is the album to do it with.

George Strait’s Praise for the Album

This record is so good that George Strait took the time to write a portion of the liner notes. “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,” Strait wrote. “You can tell the crowd is loving him and he’s loving them right back. That’s what it’s all about.”

George Strait went on to say that this isn’t just a great representation of Kris Kristofferson in the early eighties. It is also a good look at what Gilley’s was like. “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 with Kris played there.”

You can find Kris Kristofferson Live at Gilley’s – Pasadena, TX: September 15, 1981, on all streaming services. However, I highly recommend getting a copy of it on vinyl from New West Records. It sounds so much better.