The True Story Behind Janis Joplin’s ‘Me and Bobby McGee’
A former Music Row secretary in Nashville served as inspiration for Kris Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee," which later became a posthumous No. 1 hit for Janis Joplin.
Late producer Fred Foster's friend, songwriter Boudleaux Bryant, kept teasing him that he only visited Bryant's offices to see his secretary, Barbara "Bobby" McKee, according to Newswire.
Inspired by the wisecrack, Foster approached Kristofferson, then a young songwriter on his roster. 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, he later told Performing Songwriter.
Although he had doubts he'd be able to put together a song on assignment, Kristofferson delivered. He added a few touches of his own (including softening "McKee" to "McGee"), and the rest was history. Joplin topped the Billboard Hot 100 with "Me and Bobby McGee" on March 20, 1971.
Originally released by Roger Miller in 1969, "Me and Bobby McGee" proved a popular cover choice for a number of artists besides Joplin, who cut a version for her Pearl LP shortly before her death in late 1970.
Listen to Janis Joplin Perform 'Me and Bobby McGee'
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."
Forty-five years after Joplin's success, Barbara McKee Eden was in the audience when Fred Foster earned induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016. Kristofferson also performed their signature song.
Foster was welcomed into the hall by singer Vince Gill, who offered a tribute 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."
Foster, a label executive and music publisher who also guided the early careers of Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson, died in 2019 after a short illness. He also produced a string of hits for Roy Orbison, including "Only the Lonely," "Blue Bayou," "Crying" and "Oh, Pretty Woman."
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