LOS ANGELES -- Kris Kristofferson is being given a lifetime achievement award during the Grammy Awards celebration, but he doesn't think that will be the highlight of the weekend.
Kristofferson will be joined by Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Blake Shelton for a performance during Sunday's Grammy Awards telecast, and any excuse the 77-year-old singer-songwriter and actor can find to get together with his lifelong friends is a good one.
"It's so much of a pleasure to be with these guys," Kristofferson said Friday afternoon following Grammy rehearsals at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. "One of the best parts of my life has been the guys who are my real heroes are my closest friends. Willie is the closest friend I have. And Merle, the first time I met him in Nashville, people told me to stay away from him because I had a beard and the hair. I was supposed to be one of them long-haired hippies, and we were friends from the moment that we met."
While Haggard says the recognition is "overdue," Kristofferson admits to being a little embarrassed about his award. He'll be saluted Saturday at a special gathering that will include Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr of the Beatles. Kristofferson humbly wonders why he's being honored at the same time.
"Can you believe that?" he asked. "Listen, I was in the Army when they were big stars. I had five years of janitor work and pick-and-shovel jobs before I'd ever get to be a singer and a songwriter. ... The Beatles and Bob Dylan are the ones who are the superheroes that changed music in my lifetime. Remember what pop music was like before them?"
Kristofferson's peers think he had a similar impact on country music, one that continues to reverberate as the genre becomes more cosmopolitan.
"Well, he upgraded it," Haggard said. "He made it a little more sophisticated. He took it to New York."
As for Shelton, who bolted back to a taping of "The Voice" after rehearsals, Haggard thinks he fits right in with the group: "He's the big dog right now."