Watch Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Gordon Lightfoot, and Ronnie Hawkins Perform ‘Me and Bobby McGee’

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Ronnie Hawkins and Kris Kristofferson at the Hawks Nest in 2016

In 2016, four music legends—none younger than 77—came together to perform “Me and Bobby McGee,” the classic song written by Kris Kristofferson (and also credited to Fred Foster). On this occasion, Kristofferson (then 80) and Gordon Lightfoot (a relative youngster, just 77 at the time) joined Ronnie Hawkins at the 81 year-old’s home known as “The Hawks Nest,” in Stoney Lake, Ontario, Canada to lay down their tracks. They were joined later by then-83 year-old Willie Nelson, who contributed his part remotely in his tour bus.

As the Peterborough (Ont.) Examiner noted, the story began in 2015 at the Havelock Jamboree where Lightfoot was performing, and his old friend, Hawkins, paid him a visit. The pair ultimately collaborated on some recordings with producer James McKenty. Months later, while Hawkins was in Florida where he often spent the winter, he was paid a visit by Kristofferson. Hawkins played the songs for his guest and one thing led to another when, several months’ later, Kristofferson flew to the Hawks Nest and the pair recorded a version of “Me and Bobby McGee.”

When Lightfoot arrived, he eagerly agreed to add his vocal. “He laid down the most perfect track,” said McKenty. “It was out of this world. He sings so softly, beautifully, no one does songs with that type of phrasing and pitch.

“I asked Kris if he wanted to take another crack at it after hearing Gordon and he did it far better than the day before. It was like he was performing and by that time there was a small audience there. He rose to the occasion.”

Not long after, McKenty attended a concert where both Kristofferson and Nelson were performing. Nelson was convinced to add his own vocal to the song and the golden quartet was complete. “He was incredible; his phrasing is unlike any others,” said McKenty. The producer had a “high class problem.” “I had four of these great vocalists. I had to edit them, chop some of their work out, and that was torture.”

The video for the epic recording, featuring the four legends, was released on Aug. 5, 2016. It was produced by McKenty and Hawkins’ son, Robin. Sam Weber, Ryan Weber, Steve Kendry and McKenty perform various instruments. McKenty, both Webers, and Leah Hawkins, Robin Hawkins, Greg Keelor (Blue Rodeo), and Travis Good (The Sadies) provide backup vocals. The mp3 is available to order in the U.S. here and in the U.K. here.

Hawkins died on May 29, 2022, at age 87. Lightfoot died on May 1, 2023, at 84.

Kristofferson’s song was first recorded by Roger Miller in 1969, who earned a #12 country single with it. Its most notable version was by Janis Joplin in 1970, just days before her death, for her Pearl album. The song’s posthumous release became her only #1 single. (She first heard the tune when Kristofferson himself sang it to her, and singer-songwriter Bob Neuwirth helped Joplin shape the arrangement she would cut.)

Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Clark, Kenny Rogers & the First Edition, the Grateful Dead, Olivia Newton-John, Waylon Jennings, and Dolly Parton, are among the many others who have recorded the song. Lightfoot himself also featured it in his 1970 album, Sit Down Young Stranger, that included his breakthrough hit, “If You Could Read My Mind.”

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  1. nitabird
    #1 nitabird 8 May, 2023, 15:19

    The recording of “Me and Bobby McGee” by these four guys is wonderful. It’s a great song, and these four old friends are clearly enjoying themselves immensely. RIP Gord and Hawk. You are missed.

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  2. Bob G
    #2 Bob G 3 July, 2023, 12:39

    This beautiful rendition of the all time classic brought tears to my eyes. Hope it did the same for you.

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