Janis Joplin at San Francisco’s Winterland in 1967. John Byrne Cooke Estate/Getty Images

The Unlikely Story of ‘Me and Bobby McGee’

“Me and Bobby McGee,” a gentle tune about heartbreak on the road, was written for the voice of a male country singer. Its title character, Bobby, was inspired by a pretty young secretary in the music industry in Tennessee. The country crooner Roger Miller was the first to record the song in 1969. Roy Clark, Kenny Rogers, Charley Pride, and others followed.

So when word spread that Janis Joplin had done a version, flipping Bobby’s gender to male, some were skeptical. Many thought of her as a hard rocker, hollering on stage with the force of an opera singer.

Just three days after making her recording, Joplin was found dead of a heroin overdose on Oct. 4, 1970, at the Landmark Motor Hotel in Hollywood. She was 27.

A day later, Kris Kristofferson, who co-wrote “Me and Bobby McGee,” got a call from Joplin’s producer. He asked him to stop by his Los Angeles office to hear her version of the song.

Kristofferson had to leave the room before the song was finished, he told Performing Songwriter years later: “Afterwards, I walked all over L.A., just in tears. I couldn’t listen to the song without really breaking up.” He wasn’t the only one.

“Me and Bobby McGee” became Joplin’s biggest hit. Over the years, it was covered by Johnny Cash, Olivia Newton-John, Dolly Parton, and Pink. But no one sang it like Janis.

This article is from the California Sun, a newsletter that delivers must-read stories to your inbox each morning . Sign up here.

Get your daily dose of the Golden State.