The compendium of music’s long and winding history is brimming with tales of some of our favourite musicians sharing romantic relationships. Joni Mitchell seems to be at the centre of some of the best-known stories, with David Crosby, Graham Nash and Leonard Cohen all having dated the iconic singer-songwriter at different points.
In fact, that specific era of music, the 1960s and early ’70s, as the counterculture was in full swing, is the one where the most famous instances of icons dating each other are to be found. A defining characteristic of this phenomenon was the way that they were always in a semi-incestuous kind of way. Eric Clapton and Pattie Harrison ring any bells? It comes as no surprise though; free love was the name of the game.
Another brief power couple that existed was Kris Kristofferson and the late psychedelic hero Janis Joplin. Famously, Kristofferson’s song ‘Me and Bobby McGee’, which was first recorded by country star Roger Miller, became a number one hit as a posthumous release by Joplin in 1971.
Kristofferson first met Joplin through their mutual friend and folk singer Bobby Neuwirth in the spring of 1970. At the suggestion of Neuwirth, after they played a show together in New York, Kristofferson accompanied him on a flight to Larkspur, California, to the home of Janis Joplin. What was intended to be a short trip ended up lasting several weeks, and whilst staying at her residence, Kristofferson and Joplin became increasingly drawn to each other.
Kristofferson recalled: “I dug her, but I had itchy feet. I’d get up intending to get out, and in she comes with the early morning drinks and pretty soon you’re wasted enough and you don’t care about leaving.” Soon, they “hit it off” and their romance bloomed. Sharing some innate understanding of each other being Texas natives, it was to be one of the most iconic yet short-lived relationships in all of rock. Sadly, it would only end after Joplin’s heroin overdose in October 1970.
Whilst together, Kristofferson had urged Joplin to record a version of ‘Me and Bobby McGee’, as she loved the track. Eventually, she did decide to release it on her upcoming record, Pearl, which, unfortunately, she wouldn’t even see released. Furthermore, Joplin’s version was recorded only days before her untimely death, making it unlistenable to many.
It is said that Kristofferson was unaware that Joplin had recorded the song, perhaps she was going to surprise him. He heard it the day after her passing, proving too much to bear, he broke down immediately, and to this day, he cannot listen to the song.
“Unfortunately, the first time I heard Janis’s recording of ‘Bobby McGee’ was when I had just gone down because she had died,” Kristofferson remembered. “But, I remember the producer, he asked me to come by his office the next day. He had something he wanted to play me. I didn’t even know she cut it. And, uh, he played it for me and I had to leave the room. It was impossibly hard to hear. So much love and emotion going into the song and knowing that she wasn’t there to enjoy that.”
He concluded: “I love it because of the passion and heart and soul that she put into everything she did. But, in that one, I can hear her saying, ‘Wait until this son of a b**** hears this. He’s gonna die.'”
Listen to Joplin’s stirring version of ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ below.