Music

'Me and Bobby McGee': The Story Behind the Song

"Me and Bobby McGee" has become a rock classic over the years. Co-written by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster, this iconic song was first conceptualized with just a title -- inspired by a real person.

Foster had a bit of a crush on Barbara "Bobbie" McKee who was a secretary on Nashville's music row. When he pitched the title to Kristofferson, he misheard the name as "Me and Bobby McGee," and the name stuck. Kristofferson found inspiration for his lyrics from a film, as he explained to Performing Songwriter:

"There was a Mickey Newbury song that was going through my mind--'Why You Been Gone So Long?' It had a rhythm that I really liked. I started singing in that meter. 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," Kristofferson told Performing Songwriter. "Later in the film, he sees this woman hanging out the wash and singing the melody that the girl used to play on the trombone. He asks, '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 goes to a bar and gets in a fight. He's drunk and ends up howling at the stars on the beach."

The emotional feeling at the end of the film dictated the lyrics and overall mood of the song. Kristofferson changed the details,  mentioning California and Kentucky to focus on the American experience, but that same raw emotion is evident in the lyrics.

Due to the gender-neutral name of "Bobby" male and female artists gravitated to cover the song. It could tell a completely different story depending on who is singing it. In 1969, Roger Miller first recorded the song, which peaked at number 12 on the country charts. Miller's recording led to a huge influx of interest from other singers of all different genres.

Numerous artists including Gordon Lightfoot, Charley Pride, and Kenny Rogers, covered the song before Janis Joplin's version, which was posthumously released on her 1971 album Pearl. "Me and Bobby McGee" became Joplin's only number one hit and is widely considered one of the greatest songs of all time.

The song has become a beloved classic, covered by over 50 artists over the years. From Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash to The Grateful Dead and Olivia Newton-John, the story of Bobby McGee has continued to live on in music history. We can't wait to see what new artists will breathe new life into "Me and Bobby McGee".

'Me and Bobby McGee' Lyrics

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 McGee

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 McGee
La da da

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

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'Me and Bobby McGee': The Story Behind the Song