‘Me and Bobby McGee’ is remembered as one of Janis Joplin’s finest hours. The song is one that Joplin poured her heart and soul into, with her distinctly powerful vocals giving the track that special ingredient that only she had the key to unlock. The track is about a real person who wasn’t famous, but this song doesn’t exist without them.
Joplin’s version of the Kris Kristofferson track topped the charts and was only the second song to reach top-spot posthumously. She had passed away in October 1970 in tragic circumstances after losing her battle with addiction when she was only 27-years-old. She was known for living her life in the fast lane and, during her short but remarkable career, she made herself an unstoppable force that was undoubtedly the voice of her generation. Her cover of ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ encapsulates everything that was enthralling about Joplin, but, little did she know that there was a real person who the track would have been impossible without.
It tells a poignant story of two lost souls, who hitch a ride from a truck driver and take a ride through the deep south of America before parting ways once they reach California, to the regret of the singer. “But I’d trade all of my tomorrows for one single yesterday / To be holdin’ Bobby’s body next to mine,” sings the narrator.
Due to ‘Bobby’ being a gender-neutral term, it fits seamlessly into Joplin’s wheelhouse, and people didn’t question the real Bobby McGee’s identity. The inspiration for the track is Barbara McKee, known as Bobbie. She was the secretary of a friend and colleague of Fred Foster’s, Boudleaux Bryant and Foster then suggested to Kristofferson that he write a song called ‘Me and Bobbie McKee’, which he then did. Little did he know how the song would change the course of his career.
In Twang – The Ultimate Book of Country Music Quotations, Kristofferson recalled: “I had just gone to work for Combine Music. Fred Foster, the owner, called me and said, ‘I’ve got a title for you: ‘Me and Bobbie McKee,’ and I thought he said ‘McGee.’ I thought there was no way I could ever write that, and it took me months hiding from him, because I can’t write on assignment. But it must have stuck in the back of my head.
“One day I was driving between Morgan City and New Orleans. It was raining and the windshield wipers were going. I took an old experience with another girl in another country. I had it finished by the time I got to Nashville.”
McKee’s last name is now Eden. At the time of the song being penned, she was a 29-year-old working as Bryant’s secretary and nicknamed Bobbie. “Fred came in and said, ‘I want you to meet the real Bobby McKee and here’s Kris Kristofferson to sing your song for you,'” Eden recalled to the Star Tribune in 2015. “It was great! I loved it, of course. Kris said he couldn’t sing very good, but he’ll try. But I just thought it was the most fantastic song I had ever heard.”
Kristofferson initially gave the song to Roger Miller who had a hit with the track in 1969, before releasing his version on his debut album Kristofferson, which came out in 1970. When Eden heard the song on the radio, she couldn’t quite believe it, noting: “Then I started hearing it on the radio and I would just go crazy every time I heard that song.”
Eden has been memorialised forever in history on this track. This accolade was something she never expected, but, she has remained forever grateful about. Having a song named after you is always a pleasure, but, ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ is no ordinary song and is a true highlight in Janis’ Joplin’s career that remarkably wouldn’t have existed without Eden.