BY FOGGY OTIS | FROM THE SUMMER 2023 ISSUE OF UKULELE
Penned by Kris Kristofferson (though co-credited to producer Fred Foster, who suggested the idea to him), “Me and Bobby McGee” has been recorded by dozens of artists through the years, starting with country singer Roger Miller in 1969. The most famous version, however, was cut by Janis Joplin for her Pearl album just days before her death in October 1970. Both the album and the single of “Me and Bobby McGee” were released the following January, and both reached No. 1 on their respective charts.
In reimagining this song for ukulele and vocal, the best place to begin is at the source. I listened to the original recording, paying particular attention to the arrangement, noticing how it starts out quietly with just vocal and guitars. When the drums enter, Joplin “pulls her harpoon” (harmonica) from her bandana and she’s off, taking us along for the ride. I capture all of this with the basic strumming pattern similar to that shown here in notation—note the muted strums on beat 2 and the “and” of 3, which lend a percussive effect.
The chords aren’t complicated—G, C, D, and G7 for the first verse and chorus, followed by a climb to A, D, E, and A7 for the rest of the song. While strumming the open G in the first verse, I like to lift my second finger from the chord shape, then place it back down. I do the same thing with my third finger on the open D chord. These moves make the accompaniment more interesting while providing a nice complement to the vocals.
In the transition to the chorus from the verse, I play the D chord with a first-finger barre across strings 4–2 at the second fret, placing my second finger on string 2, fret 3, to create a Dsus4 chord. Similarly, in the second verse, I play an Esus4 chord by placing my second finger on string 2, fret 5, and on the open A chord, I sometimes add my second finger to string 3, fret 2, for Asus4. Suspended chords like these are great for conveying a wide range of moods, from somber reflection to joy. Have fun with it, make it your own, and uke on!
Due to copyright restrictions, we are unable to post notation or tablature for this musical work. If you have a digital or physical copy of the Summer 2023 issue of Ukulele magazine you will find the music on page 41.