Perhaps they’re not the most obvious artists to share a stage, but you also won’t find a more inspired pairing than Joan Baez and Kris Kristofferson. They’re two icons who are emblematic of their eras and genres, even as they eventually outgrew them.
Baez, of course, was the raven-haired siren who got her start in Cambridge’s folk scene, famously at Club 47 (now Club Passim), in the late 1950s. Nearly a decade later, Kristofferson was making a name for himself as an astute Nashville songwriter and soon became a pioneer of the outlaw country movement.
Kristofferson and Baez are now on the road together for three dates, including tonight’s performance at Symphony Hall. They’ll play individual sets in addition to a few duets. It’s the first time they’ve toured together, though the idea immediately made sense to them.
JOAN BAEZ AND KRIS KRISTOFFERSON
“It was sort of a no-brainer, but nobody put it together until my brilliant manager suggested it,’’ Baez says.
In August, the Globe got them on the phone for their first joint interview - Baez, 70, on the line from her home in California and Kristofferson, 75, speaking from his in Hawaii.
They chatted like the old friends they are, laughing at shared memories while expressing deep admiration for the other.
Q. You have a long history as friends and collaborators. How did you two meet?
Joan Baez: You tell that one, Kris.
Kris Kristofferson: You know, I was trying to remember.
Baez: As I remember, we were at the Isle of Wight Festival [in 1970].
Kristofferson: Oh, yes!
Baez: Want to take it from there?
Kristofferson: No, go ahead.
Baez: I wanted to sing my set before Jimi Hendrix, but he insisted on setting up, and he set up for a long time and then he played for a long time. In the middle of whatever he was doing, the stage caught on fire. Somebody came and knocked on the little cabin or wherever we were, and Kris was with me and so was Gabe, my son. And they said, “Oh, Miss Baez! The stage is burning down!’’ And Kris said [adopting Kristofferson’s gruff tone of voice], “I didn’t do it!’’
Kristofferson: (Laughs.) I think there might have been some suspicion that I burned it down.
Q. Kris, what was your first impression of Joan?
Kristofferson: I thought she was a great singer and great-lookin’. I wanted to meet her.
Q. In that order?
Kristofferson: (Laughs.) Yeah.
Baez: (Giggles.) Good.
Kristofferson: I didn’t know if I would ever meet her, but we got along together right away.
Baez: Kris, I have a question. I don’t know if I ever asked you, but was I taboo to you and your buddies when you were in the military?
Kristofferson: Well, not to me, because I liked you before all the controversy.
Q. Joan, it seems “Help Me Make It Through the Night’’ might have been the first and only of Kris’s songs that you recorded on a studio album.
Baez: Well, that was stupid of me.
Q. What did you like about that song?
Baez: It’s a brilliant song. Kris said he sent it to me before he sent it to whoever did it.
Kristofferson: Sammi Smith ended up doing it.
Baez: He said, “Well, I sent it to you early,’’ and I said, “I know, but I was too dumb to pay attention to what came in.’’ That’s the answer to that.
Q. Kris, what role did folk music play in your development as an artist? Was it important to you?
Kristofferson: Yeah. It was all just music to me. Some of the best songs, and the best-written ones, were folk songs.
Q. And Joan, how did country music shape you?
Baez: It’s probably shaped me in a big way. I came to it at a good time. [Baez recorded a string of records in Nashville beginning in 1968]. I hadn’t started writing yet, so it became an important part of my repertoire. I didn’t even realize that was going on. They were just good songs. And somebody said, “Oh, you made a country-and-western album.’’ And I guess I kind of did.
Q. Did you learn anything from Kris about songwriting, Joan?
Baez: No. My songwriting has never been what I wanted it to be, except in a couple of places. So mainly when I see Kris stand up in front of a public and sing for an hour and a half stuff that he has written and that everybody recognizes, it makes me kind of sick. (Both laugh.) I can’t do that. I can sing stuff that my public recognizes. Interviewers say, “Oh, Miss Baez, all those hits,’’ and I say, “What hits? Because I’ve only had two.’’ They say, “Oh, you know, ‘Dixie’ [“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’’] and ‘Diamonds & Rust’ and, um, and . . . And I say, “Well, don’t be embarrassed, but that’s it.’’ So Kris’s kind of writing is the kind of song that people can pick up and cover and remember.
Q. Joan, the last time we spoke, you mentioned that you don’t write songs anymore, but you do write poetry. Kris, do you or did you ever write poetry?
Kristofferson: Never. I’ve been making up songs since I was a little boy; my first one was maybe when I was 11. Poetry was a little above me.
Q. What have you always wanted to know about the other person?
Baez: Kris, I got one. Did you really lick the ashtrays at Columbia Records?
Kristofferson: What about the ashtrays?
Baez: You always said you started out by licking the ashtrays at Columbia Records [where Kristofferson once worked as a janitor].
Kristofferson: I said licking ashtrays? That couldn’t be worse.
Baez: No, it couldn’t, but that’s how you said you started.
Kristofferson: I’m not sure I was really licking ashtrays, but I was cleaning them up and emptying them. But [that job] let me get close to a lot of music. I did that for a couple years. Looking back on it, I was so lucky when I think how in the world did I get to know you. I had been a fan for a long time and remember seeing you in the movie with Dylan, “Don’t Look Back.’’ That looked like a very uncomfortable time.
Baez: We both know how easy it is to work with him.
Kristofferson: (Laughs.) Well, I’ve never been quite that close, but he’s still my hero.
Baez: Well, you wouldn’t want to be that close.
Q. What do the two of you collectively represent? Do you see parallels in each other?
Kristofferson: I do. She’s smarter than I am, though. She’s probably the most intelligent singer-songwriter that I ever saw.
Baez: Thank you. I was just thinking that you know much more than I do being a [former] Rhodes Scholar. I always feel like sort of a dummy.
Kristofferson: Not around me you don’t.