Did you know? Me and Bobby McGee
New month, new musical conductor. This month, Cathy from Curious As A Cathy gets to choose our themes.
Cathy is wanting us to share some music trivia. I thought I would share a piece that I recently learned from an article online.
On January 11, 1971, Janis Joplin’s infamous Me and Bobby McGee was released as a single. Now, just in case this isn’t common knowledge, her song is a cover version of Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster’s original song. It might actually come as a surprise to at least a few people. But what’s more notable – and tragic – about the song is that Joplin’s version came out just four months after she died, which was on October 4, 1970. She was only 27.
Me and Bobby McGee went on to become Joplin’s only number-one single, which was released on her posthumous album Pearl. The album sold over four million copies, so yeah, I think it’s safe to say that this song is kind of a big deal. While Kristofferson does indeed get the credit he deserves for penning the original; it’s Joplin who stole his thunder.
But what is it that makes this song so epic? What’s the real story? Well, you’re about to find out…
The Beginning of a Journey
This epic journey of an even more epic song started in 1969, with Kris Kristofferson, who at the time was a struggling musician. He had just signed to Monument Records and was about to head to Nashville for another job when he was briefed on an idea for a song by Fred Foster, the record label’s founder.
Kristofferson only half-heartedly wanted to do the song, which was meant to be called Me and Bobby McKee. Kristofferson later recalled that he thought he heard “McGee,” and so he named it accordingly. And this is when it all began…
While Kristofferson did agree to write the song, he later admitted that it took him a very long time to develop all the components of the track.
Little Did He Know…
Little did he know that his very own song would eventually be sung by the likes of Janis Joplin (as well as many others) and go on to be highly respected among country music fans, aficionados, and casual listeners alike. He probably also didn’t anticipate the kind of following his song would emulate.
So, who is this “Bobby”?
What many people don’t know is that Bobby was actually a woman. And that woman was Barbara “Bobby” McKee, a secretary at an office that Fred Foster (from Monument Records) would see on Nashville’s Music Row. And Bobby was clearly the apple of Foster’s eye, if he made all these trips to see her. Foster’s friend can even attest to it… Bobby was the 29-year-old secretary to Boudleaux Bryant, a composer and friend of Foster that worked in the same building.
Looking for Inspiration
Bryant would taunt Foster that the only reason he would even come to his office was to see Bobby. In response to all the teasing, Foster promised he would make a song about her. And that’s when he contacted Kristofferson, who had to then look for inspiration to produce the next big hit. Just the name Bobby McGee wasn’t enough to go off of.
Kristofferson was influenced by people and films, not just fellow musicians. “For some reason, I thought of ‘La Strada,’ this Fellini film, and a scene where Anthony Quinn is going around on this motorcycle, and Giulietta Masina is the feeble-minded girl with him, playing the trombone. He got to the point where he couldn’t put up with her anymore and left her by the side of the road while she was sleeping,” he explained.
Inspired by the 1954 Film La Strada
Later in the film, he sees this woman hanging out the laundry and singing a melody that a girl used to play on the trombone. He asks her, “Where did you hear that song?” And she tells him, “It was this little girl who had showed up in town, and nobody knew where she was from, and later she died.” That night, Quinn’s character goes to a bar and gets in a fight. “He’s drunk and ends up howling at the stars on the beach,” Kristofferson described.
Kristofferson said the feeling from the end of the movie is what he went off in regards to Bobby McGee, as well as what the song structure was going to be. He changed some details to focus on a rich American-style landscape, but the intimate ideas remained the same.
Making it American
The ambiguity of the name Bobby worked to his (and the record label’s) advantage. What it did was make it easy for both male and female singers, from all over, to cover it as well as for listeners to relate to it. Janis Joplin wasn’t the first musician to cover the song, by the way. Roger Miller, Dolly Parton, Gordon Lightfoot, and Kenny Rogers and The First Edition all did their own versions before Joplin got her hands on it.
Did you learn something new today? Did you know that the original Bobby was female?
I know we're all really busy, but I was wondering if you wouldn't mind popping over to my most recent battle of the bands. It only takes a few minutes to listen to the two contenders and to cast a vote in the comments there. Pretty please, with cherries and whipped cream? It would mean a lot to me. Thanks.
Today’s post is part of the Monday’s Music Moves Me blog hop, hosted by X-Mas Dolly, and co-hosted by Stacy Uncorked, Curious as a Cathy. , and Ramblin with AM. Be sure to stop by the hosts and visit the other participants. If you have a MUSIC* post, feel free to join in the fun! *sorry non-music posts are not permitted in this blog hop.