Ron Galella/WireImage
Johnny Dodd
March 23, 2016 12:30 PM

Seventies songbird Rita Coolidge‘s headline-making romance and marriage to singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson may have ended in divorce in 1980, but she says the two still share a “bond” that has endured over the past three and a half decades.

“Kris and I have a connection and we laugh at stuff that nobody else gets,” Coolidge tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “We just have a bond that is beyond any kind of understanding.”

The 70-year-old songwriter and Grammy-winning singer, who performed and recorded with Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Joe Cocker, is best known for her 1977 hit “Higher and Higher.”

In her new memoir, Delta Lady, the Tennessee-raised grandmother looks back at her life in and out of the recording studio, including her often tumultuous relationship with Kristofferson, now 79.

The two met on a plane ride from L.A. to Memphis in 1971 and fell for one another almost instantly. “I like to say that it was ‘love at first flight,’ ” laughs Coolidge, who has been married for the past 12 years to a retired computer science professor. “We literally talked all the way to Memphis.”

When the flight landed, Kristofferson decided against traveling on to Nashville, where he had a business engagement, and got off with Coolidge. “Before we went to sleep that night we’d picked out a name for our first child,” she recalls. “There was no doubt in my mind that we were going to be together.”

The couple performed together for much of the 1970s, winning two Grammys before their high-profile split.

When asked if there’s any chance the couple would ever perform together again, she just smiles.

“Never say never,” replies Coolidge, who is going into the studio next month to begin work on her 21st solo record and admits she’d “love for Kris to sing” on the album. “There are still people who would be happy if we came out in wheelchairs just to sing one more time.”

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