If you ask most people who wrote the song Me and Bobby McGee, they’ll say Janis Joplin. But that would be the wrong answer.
It’s not uncommon for songwriters to be somewhat unknown when they aren’t the ones making the song a hit.
We’re taking a closer look at this great oldie to learn who really wrote the lyrics that Janis sang so passionately.
Let’s jump in!
What is the Story Behind Me and Bobby McGee?
Songwriter Kris Kristofferson wrote the lyrics that Janis Joplin made famous. In 1969, music producer Fred Foster approached Kristofferson to write a song for him.
All Foster provided was a title inspired by a woman named Barbara “Bobbie” McKee. She was the secretary at a music studio in Nashville, Tennessee, and Foster had a crush on her.
Kristofferson wasn’t used to writing songs for other people. He wondered how well he could put this piece together when it wasn’t coming from his own inspiration. Apparently, he needn’t have worried because we all know the hit Me and Bobby McGee became.
Who is Kris Kristofferson?
Kris Kristofferson is a singer, songwriter, and actor mostly known among country music fans.
Born in 1936 in Brownsville, Texas, his early interests were sports and writing. He attended Pomona College in California, where he played football and was an English honors student. Kristofferson became interested in songwriting while studying literature and poetry.
After college, Kris joined the Army in 1960 and formed a band with other service members. This was the beginning of what would eventually become a career once he left the Army. He was offered a teaching position at West Point Academy but turned it down to pursue his musical passion in Nashville, Tennessee.
Kristofferson met singer Johnny Cash who decided to take the young songwriter under his wing. Cash introduced Kristofferson at the 1969 Newport Folk Festival, where he performed to his first large audience. This exposure gave Kristofferson the boost he needed for his music career to take off.
His first acting role was as a singer in the 1971 film The Last Movie, directed by Dennis Hopper. He also starred in the original 1976 movie A Star is Born alongside co-star Barbara Streisand. Kristofferson’s acting career has paralleled his musical endeavors over the last 50 years.
Who Else Sang Me and Bobby McGee?
You may be surprised to learn that over 200 musicians have covered Me and Bobby McGee.
In fact, 18 people sang this song before Janis Joplin, including Kris Kristofferson’s version in 1970. Roger Miller was the first to record the tune in 1969 and soon followed by Kenny Rogers and Gordon Lightfoot.
Did Janis Joplin and Kris Kristofferson Date?
Kris and Janis dated each other for a few months before her death in 1970. Kristofferson visited Janis in California in early 1970 with their mutual friend and folk singer Bobby Neuwirth. The visit was only intended to be a short one but lasted much longer.
The pair grew fond of each other and began a short-lived but intense love affair.
Did Janis Joplin Perform Me and Bobby McGee Live?
Sadly, no, Janis Joplin never performed this song live. In fact, she recorded the studio version just days before her death in October 1970. She was going to include it on her upcoming album Pearl.
A few months earlier, Kris sang Me and Bobby McGee to Janis and urged her to record her version.
She did record the song, but Kris wasn’t aware she had done so until the day after Janis died. When he listened to the recording, he couldn’t help but break down in tears.
Pearl was released the following Spring. Me and Bobby McGee became an instant hit, reaching the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Interestingly, the song was Janis Joplin’s only #1 single and the one she is most remembered by.
Kris Kristofferson’s Best Known Songs
Help Me Make It Through the Night
Kristofferson wrote this song in 1970. An interview with Frank Sinatra that he read in Esquire inspired the lyrics. The interviewer asked Sinatra what he believed in, and his response was, “Booze, broads, or a bible…whatever helps me make it through the night.”
This ballad earned Kristofferson his first Grammy Award in 1971 for Best Country Song.
Elvis Presley, Loretta Lynn, and Olivia Newton-John are among the singers who recorded their own versions of the song.
This tune was recorded in 1972 and appeared on Kristofferson’s fourth album, Jesus Was a Capricorn. The track includes backing vocals by singers Rita Coolidge and Larry Gatlin.
Kristofferson wrote the song during a low point in his life after attending a church service. These opening lines express the feelings he was having at the time.
Why me Lord, what have I ever done To deserve even one Of the pleasures I've known
This country and gospel tune was Kristofferson’s only chart-topping single. It reached #1 on music charts in the US, Canada, and South Africa.
It’s Clear Who Wrote Me and Bobby McGee
Now you know the real story behind who wrote the hit single Me and Bobby McGee. Kris Kristofferson is the man behind the often-quoted line, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.”
You’ve likely heard Janis Joplin’s version of this song many times. For a different take on it, check out Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and even Kris Kristofferson’s renditions of this epic tune.