“Me and Bobby McGee” was one of the most beloved songs ever recorded by rock icon Janis Joplin. But, did you know that it was actually written by singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson?
Well, it was. And, what put the songwriter on the path to writing the iconic song was a record producer named Fred Foster. Details about the history of the song were shared by Kristofferson and Foster during interviews with the Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum. Foster passed away in 2019.
After Kris Kristofferson completed writing “Me and Bobby McGee,” he learned that Janis Joplin had performed it during a show in Nashville. This was before she recorded it.
“I had no idea how she knew it,” Kristofferson said during the interview.
Bob Dylan’s Road Manager Taught ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ to Janis Joplin
Kristofferson would later learn that Bob Neuwirth – the road manager for Bob Dylan at the time – taught the song to Janis Joplin. Neuwirth would introduce Kristofferson to Janis Joplin. And, she would later go on to record “Me and Bobby McGee.”
“We hit it off,” Kris Kristofferson said of his relationship with Joplin. “I spent about a month up there in her house living … she was quite different from anything I’d experienced before.”
After Joplin died, Kristofferson had the chance to hear her version of his song. It was painful for him.
“Unfortunately, the first time I heard Janis’s recording of ‘Bobby McGee’ was when I had just gone down because she had died,” Kristofferson recalled. “But, I remember the producer, he asked me to come by his office the next day. He had something he wanted to play me. I didn’t even know she cut it. And, uh, he played it for me and I had to leave the room. It was impossibly hard to hear. So much love and emotion going into the song and knowing that she wasn’t there to enjoy that. …
“I love it because of the passion and heart and soul that she put into everything she did. But, in that one, I can hear her saying, ‘Wait until this son of a b**** hears this. He’s gonna die.”
Janis Joplin died in 1970.
You can listen to Janis Joplin sing “Me and Bobby McGee” below.
A Secretary’s Name Helped Inspire Kris Kristofferson to Write ‘Me and Bobby McGee’
During the interview with the Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum, Kris Kristofferson said it was Fred Foster who came up with the title “Me and Bobby McGee.”
Foster then said he came up with the title thanks to a conversation with a secretary. This secretary’s name was Barbara McKee, but at first, Foster said he had a difficult time remembering her name. Later, he learned that her nickname was “Bobby.”
Foster said he loved the name “Bobby McKee” so much that the hair on the back of his neck stood up. He immediately went to his office and called Kris Kristofferson with the idea for a song. The up-and-coming star said he would think about it.
The name of the song became “Bobby McGee” because that’s what Kristofferson heard Foster say that day. Also, the lyrics for the song came from Kris Kristofferson’s experience traveling to and from his job working on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.
Looking at the lyrics, this influence is easy to see. “Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waitin’ for a train / When I’s feelin’ near as faded as my jeans / Bobby thumbed a diesel down just before it rained / And rode us all the way into New Orleans.”
Once Kristofferson completed the song, Foster immediately fell in love with it. The rest, as they say, is music history.
You can watch Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster talk about the creation of “Me and Bobby McGee” below.