“Me and Bobby McGee,” the song written by Kris Kristofferson, is a classic blend of blues and country, telling the tragic, romantic tale of a couple of hitchhikers traveling through the south.
Janis Joplin first made the song famous, singing how she’d trade in “all of her tomorrows for a single yesterday” to spend with Bobby, the main character. Joplin’s version was raw and dripping with pain. She recorded it in 1970, a few days before she died of a drug overdose.
The song hit No. 1 in 1971 for Joplin, after it was released posthumously.
But let’s celebrate Kris Kristofferson, the singer, songwriter and actor.
He sang the song as well, including it on his debut album in 1970. Not long after Joplin died, Kristofferson performed “Me and Bobby McGee” in the movie “Two-Lane Blacktop. ” Other big-name performers, including Roger Miller. Kenny Rogers, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Olivia Newton-John and Dolly Parton also provided their personal spin on a truly sad song of country.
However, there was a time when there was a more joyful cover of it. Try November, 2011. That’s when Kristofferson, Darius Rucker, Dierks Bentley and Allison Kraus and others performed it at the White House. Kristofferson, as it should be, started the song, then the other stars took turns with the different verses.
“Tonight we’re transforming the East Room into a bona fide country music hall,” then President Barack Obama said.
That Time When Country Came to D.C.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama desired a celebration of all this country’s beautiful musical genres. She also honored Motown, Broadway, Jazz and Latin.
On this late November night nine years ago, country music made its second appearance for the Obamas.
Steve Gibson, musical director of the Grand Ole Opry, coordinated the program, “Country Music: In Performance at the White House.” Others invited to perform were James Taylor, the pop star who sang country, and the Band Perry.
Rucker and Kristofferson also combined to sing “Pancho and Lefty.”
The Obamas loved the concert. Barack Obama even quoted Charley Pride, who died Saturday of complications due to Covid-19, when he talked about the singers.
Obama said: “There is enough room in country music for everybody.”
He also said country music perfectly touched on all of America and praised it for giving voice to emotions of everyday life.”
The music, he said, used “many threads of our immigrant heritage… the Irish fiddle, the German dulcimer, the Italian mandolin, the Spanish guitar and the West African banjo.”
But Wait, Who Is Bobby McGee And What Inspired Kris Kristofferson To Write About Him/Her?
Actually, Bobby McGee was named for a secretary at Monumental Records. But Kristofferson misheard her name. It really was Barbara “Bobbie” McKee. The character in the song could be a man or a woman.
Kristofferson also said that he was inspired to write the song by the last scene of Frederico Fellini’s ‘’La Strada.’’ That was a movie from 1954. Anthony Quinn played the lead character. At the end, he was mourning the death of a woman he loved.
So, at its best, country music really does pull from this country’s collective heritage.