The True Story Behind Janis Joplin’s ‘Me and Bobby McGee’
Forty-five years after Janis Joplin posthumously took the song to No. 1, the producer who hired Kris Kristofferson to write "Me and Bobby McGee" has been inducted to the Country Music Hall of Fame — and the former Music Row secretary who inspired the song was in the audience to see it happen.
Newswire reports that producer Fred Foster has confirmed the story behind the song, which started when Foster's friend, songwriter Boudleaux Bryant, teased him that he only visited Bryant's offices to see his secretary, Barbara "Bobby" McKee. Inspired by the wisecrack, Foster approached Kristofferson, then a young songwriter on his roster. As Performing Songwriter detailed in a 2008 article, Foster pitched the idea for a song he titled "Me and Bobby McKee" — with the twist in the hook, of course, being that the "Bobby" in question was female.
Although he had doubts he'd be able to put together a song on assignment, Kristofferson delivered, adding a few touches of his own (including softening "McKee" to "McGee"), and the rest was history.
Originally released by Roger Miller in 1969, "Me and Bobby McGee" proved a popular cover choice for a number of artists — including Joplin, who cut a version for her Pearl LP shortly before her death in late 1970. Foster admitted to Performing Songwriter that he had doubts as to whether Joplin would be able to sing anything outside the rock genre, but he said her version proved him wrong; in fact, after her death, "I couldn’t listen to the song without really breaking up."
An array of country luminaries were on hand to witness Foster's Country Music Hall of Fame induction on Oct. 17 — including Kristofferson, who performed their signature song in front of a crowd that numbered Barbara McKee Eden among them. Foster was welcomed into the Hall by singer Vince Gill, who offered a tribute to the beloved producer and label founder with a combination of humor and respect.
"I think he liked the way I sing because I sing like a girl, and he was fond of girl singers," Gill told the audience. "Fred Foster is a man who has been a champion of great artists all these years. He champions great songwriters, champions great singers and great musicians."
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