Hear a Rare First Recording of Janis Joplin’s Hit “Me and Bobby McGee,” Written by Kris Kristofferson

“You can’t think of that song with­out think­ing of Janis,” says Kris Kristof­fer­son of Janis Joplin’s raw, bit­ter­sweet, posthu­mous­ly released “Me and Bob­by McGee.” Kristof­fer­son, who wrote the song, only heard Joplin’s ver­sion after her death, when he returned to Cal­i­for­nia after play­ing the Isle of Wight in 1970. He met the pro­duc­er of Joplin’s last album, Pearl, in L.A., who told him to come to the stu­dio “to play me her record­ing of ‘Bob­by McGee.’ And it just blew me away. Just blew me away.” Above, you can hear a rare record­ing, pos­si­bly the first take, and pos­si­bly one of the ear­ly ver­sions Kristof­fer­son heard in the stu­dio.

Many peo­ple have assumed Kristof­fer­son wrote the song for Joplin, but that’s not the case: he didn’t know she was record­ing it at all. It was writ­ten, in 1969, about a woman, Bar­bara “Bob­by” McK­ee, who worked as a sec­re­tary in song­writer Fred Foster’s build­ing. Fos­ter gave Kristof­fer­son the title “Me and Bob­by McK­ee,” Kristof­fer­son mis­heard the last name, assumed it was a man, and wrote the famous lyrics, inspired not by Bar­bara but by Fed­eri­co Fellini’s La Stra­da, in which Antho­ny Quinn and Giuli­et­ta Masi­na trav­el togeth­er on a motor­cy­cle as a per­form­ing duo. (The Louisiana ref­er­ences come in because Kristof­fer­son was work­ing as a heli­copter pilot in the Gulf at the time.)

In La Stra­da, Quinn “got to the point where he couldn’t put up with [Masi­na] any­more and left her by the side of the road while she was sleep­ing,” says Kristof­fer­son. Lat­er, when he finds out she has died, he “goes to a bar and gets in a fight. He’s drunk and ends up howl­ing at the stars on the beach.” In a par­al­lel to this mourn­ful scene, Tom Brei­han at Stere­ogum describes how Kristof­fer­son, after hear­ing Joplin’s ver­sion of the song, “spent the rest of the day walk­ing around Los Ange­les, cry­ing. He prob­a­bly wasn’t alone. A lot of peo­ple prob­a­bly cried when they heard Joplin singing ‘Me and Bob­by McGee.’” A lot of peo­ple still do.

A long list of famous singers has cov­ered the song, orig­i­nal­ly record­ed by Roger Miller—just about any­one you might name in folk and coun­try. But Joplin “made it her own,” Kristof­fer­son says, and it’s no emp­ty cliché. Writ­ten as a coun­try song, Joplin doesn’t quite sing it that way, and she “doesn’t real­ly sing it as blues or psy­che­del­ic rock either,” writes Brei­han. “Instead, she just lets it rip, her phras­ing imme­di­ate and instinc­tive,” howl­ing at the stars like Antho­ny Quinn. “Joplin might’ve nev­er hitch­hiked across the coun­try with any­one named Bob­by McGee,” but she “did what great inter­preters do.” She made the song “about Janis Joplin, because that’s what Janis Joplin made it.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Janis Joplin’s Final Inter­view Get Reborn as an Ani­mat­ed Car­toon

Janis Joplin’s Last TV Per­for­mance & Inter­view: The Dick Cavett Show (1970)

Janis Joplin & Tom Jones Bring the House Down in an Unlike­ly Duet of “Raise Your Hand” (1969)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him @jdmagness

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Comments (11)
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  • Tom Hutchinson says:

    Every song Joplin per­formed she made about Janis Joplin! I am not a music any­thing. I did teach my self to play piano by ear after watch­ing Richard Mans­field Dick­in­son play songs at Drau­gons School Of Busi­ness dur­ing his lunch breaks.

    I ask him how he could play with­out music sheets. His reply was by ear from then on I fought myself.

    This is the gift Janis Joplin left for us!

    My favorite is the Rose. I cry every time I play it.

  • Tammy Graves says:

    Janis Joplin the great­est there
    Ever was miss you janis
    But we all know your fans that
    You sing on in heav­en to the rest
    Of the angles. On look­ing down
    On all of us god bless you for
    What you left behind for your fans
    To lis­ten to for eter­ni­ty, then for all the new baby boomers

  • Belinda A Ortiz says:

    Such a raw but almost per­fect record­ing
    Of a woman who has a voice with many dif­fer­ent rhymes. Peo­ple tell me i resem­ble Janis. #1.…she was very very unique voice. A tal­ent­ed woman from my State of Texas.

  • gary long says:

    Janis was a great per­former her voice was her own style and will also be loved by her fans

  • Karla Mckeel says:

    Janis became who she was in spite of her critics.For that, as well as her musi­cal prowess. Will for­ev­er endear her to my heart.

  • Daniel says:

    Janis has left a very won­der­ful place in our hearts and spir­its that shall nev­er be for­got­ten.…

  • So old casey says:

    Who cares, I think she took a real good tune and screwed it up

  • Dennis Osborne says:

    A sad end for some­one so tal­ent­ed. Cheers Den­nis O.

  • roses4vita says:

    Appar­ent­ly your views of music & musi­cal leg­ends are blind­ed by your opin­ions

  • Aj says:

    Janis The Peal of Music Nev­er For­got­ten Nev­er Lost. Been 60 years for Me and That’s a Life Time Eter­nal. May I Join You One­day In Heav­en. Lets Sing The Blues.
    Love You. Aj

  • Paula Denise Henry says:

    Is there a video of the per­son play­ing the piano on Janis Joplin’s Me and Bob­by McGee?

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