Janis Joplin – Me and Bobby McGee

Me and Bobby McGee turned into Joplin’s signature song. The song was on her last album Pearl. this was a slightly different vocal for Janis. There is more control in her voice in this one. The producer Paul A. Rothchild was working with Janis to use her voice more efficiently so she could continue to sing later on in her career. Unfortunately, she never got a chance.

This was Janis Joplin’s only top ten hit although her songs are still played today.

This was released after Joplin died of a heroin overdose. Her death gave the album a lot of attention, and Pearl went to #1 in the Billboard Album Chart in 1971. It was the second song to hit #1 in the US after the artist had died…”Dock Of The Bay” by Otis Redding was the first.

The song was written by Kris Kristofferson: “I had just gone to work for Combine Music. Fred Foster, the owner, called me and said, ‘I’ve got a title for you: ‘Me and Bobbie McKee,’ and I thought he said ‘McGee.’ I thought there was no way I could ever write that, and it took me months hiding from him because I can’t write on assignment. But it must have stuck in the back of my head. One day I was driving between Morgan City and New Orleans. It was raining and the windshield wipers were going. I took an old experience with another girl in another country. I had it finished by the time I got to Nashville.” 

 

From Songfacts

This was written by Kris Kristofferson, who has written hundreds of songs for a wide variety of artists. Kristofferson would become a successful solo artist and appear in several movies, but it was Janis Joplin’s hit cover of this song that brought his career to the next level. “‘Bobby McGee’ was the song that made the difference for me,” he told Performing Songwriter in 2015. “Every time I sing it, I still think of Janis.”

The founder of Kristofferson’s record label, Fred Foster, rang him just as the struggling musician was about to leave Nashville for his helicopter pilot sideline job. He said that he had a song title for the songwriter – “Me And Bobby McKee.” Kristofferson recalled in Mojo magazine March 2008 that his label boss suggested: “‘You could make this thing about them traveling around, the hook is that he turns out to be a she.'”

Kristofferson was not sure at first. “I hid from Fred for a while but I was trying to write that song all the time I was flying around Baton Rouge and New Orleans. I had the rhythm of a Mickey Newbury song going in the back of my mind, ‘Why You Been Gone So Long,’ and I developed this story of these guys who went around the country kind of like Anthony Quinn and Giuletta Masina in (Fellini’s) La Strada. At one point, like he did, he drove off and left her there. That was ‘Somewhere near Salinas, I let her slip away.’ Later in the film he (Quinn) hears a woman hanging out her clothes, singing the melody she (Masina) used to play on the trombone, and she told him, ‘Oh, she died.’ So he goes out, gets drunk, gets into a fight in a bar and ends up on the beach, howling at the stars. And that was where ‘Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose’ came from, because he was free from her, and I guess he would have traded all his tomorrows for another day with her.”

The song’s final defining image came to Kristofferson as he was driving in heavy rain to the airport for the flight home. “I went, ‘With them windshield wipers slapping time and Bobby clapping hands we finally sang up every song the driver knew.’ And that was it.”

Fred Foster used a secretary’s name as inspiration for the title. Her name was actually Bobbi McKee. By naming the character in the song “Bobby,” it made sure a female singer could sing it without changing the name, since “Bobby” could refer to a man or woman. 

This was first recorded in 1969 by a country singer named Roger Miller, who is known for his hit “King Of The Road.”

Kris Kristofferson released this in 1970 on his first album, Kristofferson. A year later, when it became a hit for Joplin, Kristofferson’s album was re-released as Me And Bobby McGee to take advantage of the song’s new popularity.

The lyrics tell the story of two young lovers who travel together, but break up so they can discover the world on their own. The characters in the song were a lot like Joplin, who was known as a free spirit.

In the March 2006 issue of Esquire magazine, Kristofferson was asked where he was when he came up with the line, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” His reply: “I was working the Gulf of Mexico on oil rigs, flying helicopters. I’d lost my family to my years of failing as a songwriter. All I had were bills, child support, and grief. And I was about to get fired for not letting 24 hours go between the throttle and the bottle. It looked like I’d trashed my act. But there was something liberating about it. By not having to live up to people’s expectations, I was somehow free.”

The line, “I pulled my Harpoon from my dirty red bandana” can be interpreted two ways. The more sanitized version considers the “Harpoon” as a slang word for harmonica. The second interpretation considers it a hypodermic needle, since a bandana was often used to tie off the arm before an addict shot up. 

The version on Joplin’s 1995 Greatest Hits album 18 Essential Songs contains an alternate version recorded as a demo.

Jerry Lee Lewis covered this in more of a country style several months after Joplin’s version was released. His version hit #40 in the US.

This was Joplin’s only Top 10 hit. She was a very influential and well-known singer, but her bluesy sound kept most of her songs off the pop charts.

The same year Joplin’s version was issued, Kris Kristofferson released The Silver Tongued Devil and I, which was a successful album and finally solidified his place as a singer/songwriter.

Kristofferson performed an acoustic version of this song when Joplin was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2013. Kristofferson, who had a brief affair with Joplin, recalled hearing her rendition on the day of her death. He explained to Rolling Stone magazine: “Her producer gave me the record and it was pretty hard to listen to. I was listening to it at my publisher’s office where we used to hang out, there was nobody there and I was playing it over and over again just so I could hear it without breaking up.” >>

The B-side of the single was a song called “Half Moon,” which also appeared on the Pearl album. That song was written by John Hall and his wife Johanna. It was the first song they wrote together, and a huge break for the couple, who were able to buy a buy a house and a sailboat with the royalties. John Hall got a lot of credibility in the rock realm from co-writing it, and his career took off. A few years later, he formed the group Orleans, which had hits with two songs he wrote: “Still The One” and “Dance With Me.”

Me and Bobby McGee

Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waitin’ for a train
And I’s feelin’ near as faded as my jeans
Bobby thumbed a diesel down, just before it rained
It rode us all the way to New Orleans

I pulled my harpoon out of my dirty red bandanna
I was playin’ soft while Bobby sang the blues, yeah
Windshield wipers slappin’ time, I was holdin’ Bobby’s hand in mine
We sang every song that driver knew

Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose
Nothin’, don’t mean nothin’ hon’ if it ain’t free, no no
And, feelin’ good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues
You know, feelin’ good was good enough for me
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGhee

From the Kentucky coal mine to the California sun
There Bobby shared the secrets of my soul
Through all kinds of weather, through everything we done
Yeah, Bobby baby kept me from the cold

One day up near Salinas, Lord, I let him slip away
He’s lookin’ for that home, and I hope he finds it
But, I’d trade all of my tomorrows, for a single yesterday
To be holdin’ Bobby’s body next to mine

Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose
Nothin’, that’s all that Bobby left me, yeah
But, feelin’ good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues
Hey, feelin’ good was good enough for me, mm-hmm
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGhee

La da da
La da da da
La da da da da da da da
La da da da da da da da
Bobby McGhee, yeah

La da da da da da da
La da da da da da da
La da da da da da da
Bobby McGhee, yeah

La da La la da da la da da la da da
La da da da da da da da da
Hey, my Bobby
Oh, my Bobby McGhee, yeah

La la la la la la la la
La la la la la la la la la la la la la la la
Hey, my Bobby
Oh, my Bobby McGhee, yeah

Well, I call him my lover, call him my man
I said, I call him my lover did the best I can, c’mon
Hey now, Bobby now
Hey now, Bobby McGhee, yeah

Woo
La da, la da, la da, la da, la da, la da, la da, la la
Hey, hey, hey Bobby McGhee, yeah
La da, la da, la da, la da, la da, la da, la da, la
Hey, hey, hey, Bobby McGhee, yeah

Author: badfinger20

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

34 thoughts on “Janis Joplin – Me and Bobby McGee”

  1. Not really a fan of Janis’s but this is one of the all time classics- a great song- and I’ve heard probably a dozen or so different versions but nothing will top this one. .. This would be one of those songs I wish I would have wrote and not just because the royalty checks $$$$$$$ would be large.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Man, I love that song! This must have been the first Janis Joplin tune I ever heard – what a great blues vocalist and what a shame she passed away so early! BTW, have you ever heard the original? I can’t say I’m a Kris Kristofferson fan, though I’m finding the more I hear from him, the more I’m intrigued. There’s just something about him!

    Like

    1. I loved her vocals…probably one of the strongest there was in popular music. It is a shame she passed so early. Like Hendrix I would have loved to see what she would have done.
      I will say this about Kris…he is a great songwriter. I do like what I’ve heard from him…he is different as an artist.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved reading all of the information on the song. I couldn’t remember where I had heard of the Fellini movie, La Strada, but you reminded me it was when Kris was talking in a segment of Ken Burns’ Country Music series! He talked about his parents disowning him also when he gave up a brilliant career in the military. He didn’t talk about the oil rig and drinking and owing child support. It’s a great song and I’m sorry Janis didn’t get a chance to see her verson hit #1.

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    1. Oh you can compare her to anyone BUT…Bolton…Janis had soul…that is something that Mr. Bolton lacks.
      She was working on toning her voice down so she would have it later in life…that never came.

      Oh that looks awesome. That is one city in Texas I would love to visit.

      Like

      1. LOL! Yeah. Bolton is pretty bad. She did have soul but, the screaming…that’s why I thought about Bolton. He totally screwed up Laura Branigan’s How Am I Supposed To Live Without You.

        It is a shame she died so young.

        Austin is different. No doubt. It was cool to work there.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Now if you say Bon Scott…or Brian Johnson of AC/DC uh ok…I see that…. She was learning to control it and I think it would have served her well…but we will never know.

        It has to be expensive to live there.

        Like

      3. Bon Scott sounded like he had a frog in his throat, more so than screaming (another face that didn’t match the voice). You have a point with Brian Johnson. He is a controlled scream.

        It wasn’t bad when we got there in July 2002. It is NUTS, now. Off the charts…

        Liked by 1 person

      4. You know, I never went to one of those. SXSW, yes. Frank Erwin Center, yes. Austin Convention Center, yes. The Backyard, yes. Austin Paramount, yes. Scottish Rite Theater, yes. ACL…nope. Go figure.

        Liked by 1 person

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