Night with Janis Joplin, A
Lyceum Theatre

Me and Bobby McGee ~ Janis Joplin

janis-150Janis Lyn Joplin was an American singer, songwriter, and music arranger, from Port Arthur, Texas. She rose to prominence in the late 1960s as the lead singer of Big Brother and the Holding Company, and later as a solo artist. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Joplin #46 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. She died in Los Angeles, California of a drug overdose at the age of 27.

There is so much this woman accomplished in her short life, and I could spend hours writing about it. Her music was probably one of the most influential things in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Don McLean is widely believed to allude to Janis Joplin in his song “American Pie” with the lines “I met a girl who sang the blues / And I asked her for some happy news, / But she just smiled and turned away”. McLean has not denied nor confirmed the belief.

Me and Bobby McGee

Me and Bobby McGee” is a song written by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster, originally performed by Roger Miller, and later by Janis Joplin, who topped the U.S. singles charts with the song in 1971.

Some sources incorrectly state that Gordon Lightfoot issued the first recorded version. In fact, Lightfoot sang this new song after a detailed tribute to Kris Kristopherson in a CBC broadcast from the summer 1969 Charlottetown (Prince Edward Island) Festival. In his introduction, Gordon clearly referred disparagingly to the Miller version and said he intended recording it himself “the way it should be done.” According to another story, Kristofferson popped his head into the studio with freshly written verses as Roger Miller was recording the song. Regardless, Miller was the first artist to have a hit with the song, peaking with it at No. 12 on the US country charts in 1969. Lightfoot’s version hit No. 13 on the pop charts and No. 1 country in his native Canada in 1970. In a 2008 autobiography, Don Reid and Harold Reid of the Statler Brothers say Kristofferson promised it to them, but when they later inquired about recording it, they learned Miller had already cut the song. The Reids say there were no hard feelings, and were happy about Miller’s success with the song. The song was later included on a Statler Brothers album, but was not released as a single.

Janis Joplin also covered the song for inclusion on her Pearl album only a few days before her death in October 1970. Kristofferson had sung the song for Joplin, and singer Bob Neuwirth taught it to her. Kristofferson, however, did not know she had covered it until after her death (the first time he heard it was the day after she died). Joplin’s version topped the charts to become her only number one single and only the second posthumous number one single in rock & roll history (the first was “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding). In 2004, the Janis Joplin version of this song was ranked No. 148 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Kristofferson performed the song live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 and a CD and DVD of the event were issued 30 years later as Message to Love: The Isle of Wight Festival 1970. The Janis Joplin version was used prominently in the epilogue of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s epic film of Berlin Alexanderplatz.

In the original version of the song, Bobby is a woman; Janis Joplin, who was a lover and a friend of Kristofferson’s from the beginning of her career to her death, changed the sex and a few of the lyrics in her cover. Kristofferson states he did not write this song for her, but the song is associated with her. Especially, he has said, in the line, “Somewhere near Salinas, Lord, I let her slip away.” In a conversation with director Monte Hellman called “Somewhere Near Salinas”, available in the supplements to the Two-Lane Blacktop Criterion Collection DVD release (a film in which Kristofferson’s version is used on the soundtrack), Kristofferson states that the film La Strada was an inspiration for the song and remarks on the irony of how a song inspired by a classic “road movie” should come to used in another.

The line about “Bobby and I Sang the Blues”, was adopted by Don Mcclean for the song “American Pie” when he met a girl who “Sang the Blues”, hoping for some “Happy News”, but “She just smiled and turned away”.

The line: “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose/ But nothing ain’t worth nothing but it’s free”, is listed in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations under Kris Kristofferson’s name.

Me and Bobby McGee – Kristofferson

Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waiting for a train
And I’s feeling nearly 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 playing soft while Bobby sang the blues.
Windshield wipers slapping time, I was holding Bobby’s hand in mine,
We sang every song that driver knew.

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,
Nothing don’t mean nothing honey if it ain’t free, now now.
And feeling good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues,
You know feeling good was good enough for me,
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee.

From the Kentucky coal mines to the California sun,
Hey, Bobby shared the secrets of my soul.
Through all kinds of weather, through everything we done,
Hey Bobby baby? kept me from the cold.

One day up near Salinas, Lord, I let him slip away,
He’s looking for that home and I hope he finds it,
But I’d trade all of my tomorrows for one single yesterday
To be holding Bobby’s body next to mine.

Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose,
Nothing, that’s all that Bobby left me, yeah,
But feeling good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues,
Hey, feeling good was good enough for me, hmm hmm,
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee.

La la la, la la la la, la la la, la la la la
La la la la la Bobby McGee.
La la la la la, la la la la la
La la la la la, Bobby McGee, la.

La La la, la la la la la la,
La La la la la la la la la, ain`t no bumb on my bobby McGee yeah.
Na na na na na na na na, na na na na na na na na na na na
Hey now Bobby now, Bobby McGee, yeah.

Lord, I’m calling my lover, calling my man,
I said I’m calling my lover just the best I can,
C’mon, hey now Bobby yeah, hey now Bobby McGee, yeah,
Lordy Lordy Lordy Lordy Lordy Lordy Lordy Lord
Hey, hey, hey, Bobby McGee, Lord!

Yeah! Whew!

Lordy Lordy Lordy Lordy Lordy Lordy Lordy Lord
Hey, hey, hey, Bobby McGee.

  • Audio from the 1971 album, Pearl:

janis-pearl

Play Me and Bobby McGee - by Janis Joplin