What makes a song so popular that you can sing along years after you first heard it? In the late 1960s in San Francisco, we were introduced to many psychedelic rock tunes from our hometown performers. So how did a Country-Western song, first recorded by Roger (“King of the Road”) Miller, give one of our rock icons a number one hit after she died? This is the story of Janis Joplin’s version of “Me and Bobby McGee,” and how her music lives on.
The song was composed in 1969 by singer, songwriter, musician and actor Kris Kristofferson, with songwriter and music producer Fred Foster. Miller was the first to record it. In the original lyrics, “Bobby” is a woman. Joplin had a close relationship with Kristofferson and changed the lyrics, making Bobby a man in her version. Here is Joplin singing the song, with her lyrics displayed, and a photo-collage, including a photo of Joplin sitting on her psychedelically painted Porsche in front of our Palace of Fine Arts:
Many people remember Joplin as the lead singer of Big Brother and the Holding Company. She left her native Texas for the City in 1963 and lived in North Beach and the Haight. Her emotionally charged performances became very popular. The song, “Piece of My Heart,” is associated with Joplin and the band. Their version is listed in Rolling Stone magazine’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” But her only U.S. number one single hit was “Me and Bobby McGee.”
It was well known that she used hard drugs and drank way too much of her favorite American liqueur, Southern Comfort. She died in October of 1970 at the age of 27. The official cause of death was an overdose of heroin. In 1971, the song “Me and Bobby McGee,” from her album titled Pearl, topped the charts.
Fast forward 42 years, you can revisit Joplin’s music with the new musical, “One Night with Janis Joplin.” Here is Joplin’s brother, Michael, talking about the production along with a sample from the show:
The Bay Area production is currently playing south of San Francisco at the San Jose Repertory Theater company. For details about the show running through October 6, check out:
And the show has opened on Broadway in New York City: