Baby please don’t go: Bob Dylan’s take on an all time blues classic

Baby, Please Don’t Go

Baby please don’t go is often reported as the song that everyone who has sung the blues or played in a blues band has worked on, mostly while trying to get an authentic blues sound out of the music.  We’ve all done it, and most of us (certainly including me) have failed, because the song appears so simple and yet is just so hard to deliver in a way that keeps the listener’s interest.

I’ve included it on this site as Dylan has recorded it, as you can hear via the link above, and as I was specifically asked to do a review.  There are, as you might have gathered several other songs on the site not written by Bob, and indeed one that hasn’t been recorded by him, but was included in his radio programme.  No reason why not to include them.

The song seems to have its roots in a collection of slavery songs based around the “Long John” theme in the 19th century, that transmuted in the first decade of the 20th century to become songs like Alabama Bound and Charlie Patton’s “Elder Green”.  And indeed there are songs that have mention of Alabama Bound, Elder Green’s in Town, and Don’t Leave Me Here, all within one version, and which give a very strong link the Baby Please Don’t Go.   The earliest versions appear to emerge around 1907/8, mutating all the way from there on.

During its evolution the song moved from the rural ethos of southern slavery to the more modern urban feel.   It soon became part of the Delta Blues repertoire and by the 1940s the title “Please don’t go” was in use and by this time the main propagator of the song was Big Joe Williams.  Verses came and went in the song, although I must admit that there are some Dylan verses in the song that I’ve never heard used elsewhere.  But I’m not that much of an expert on the blues.

After that it seemed to have become an obvious song for all the big names of the blues. Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Little Walter, and many more all gave it their own take.  Gradually the title evolved with “Don’t you leave me here” being a popular title for a while.   Eventually it became the “Baby please don’t go” that everyone who has tried to perform the blues has murdered one way or another.

If you are interested in the origins the Big Joe Williams versions from the mid 1930s are one that gives a lot of feel of the earlier versions.  If you want to hear what the real blues sounded like at that time (and remember this is the music that really influenced Dylan) just click on that link and play it through.

If you go searching you can also find recordings by  Lightnin’ Hopkins, John Lee Hooker and Big Bill Broonzy.  Like I say, everyone’s done it.

As I have mentioned, Dylan adds many other verses, but here are the key lines that turn up in everyone’s version from the 1940s onwards…

Baby please don’t go
Baby please don’t go
Baby please don’t go
Back to New Orleans
You know it hurt me so
Baby please don’t go.

Turn your lamp down low
Turn your lamp down low
Turn your lamp down low
Don’t drive me from your door
Baby please don’t go
Baby please don’t leave.

In Britain there was a big interest in the blues in the 1960s and many white bands took to covering blues classics.  Blues artists from the USA, when they toured England, were revered in a way that I suspect was not always the case in their home country.

So everyone picked up on the song, and I think many of us old timers will particularly recall the version by Them, which some have suggested had Jimmy Page playing on it (although he wasn’t in the band), in the mid 1960s.  It became a huge hit, and a classic in its own right.   Them at the time consisted of  Van Morrison, Alan Henderson, Ronnie Millings, Billy Harrison and Eric Wrixon.

Although the song evolved from the original blues, through the 1930s blues and into the electric blues and pop blues, it has never lost the fact that it is all based around one single chord.  Dylan has himself used this technique a few times – as with the recently reviewed, “It’s all good.”   It’s a tough thing to pull off because the chord changes give the composer a chance of variation and movement.  Without it you have to put everything into the rhythm and the lyrics.

If the Big Joe Williams version of the song affected a generation of would-be blues singerss then the Muddy Waters 1953 version did it all again, with an even stronger rhythmic drive than the earlier version.

Big Joe Williams’ “Baby, Please Don’t Go” is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame list of “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll”.

Here are the lyrics from the Dylan version which I think was recorded in 1961.  I’d be glad to know if anyone has a source for these lines.  Are they Dylan’s own or from an earlier artist’s version?

Baby please don’t go
Baby please don’t go
Baby please don’t go
Back to New Orleans
You know it hurt me so.

I’m way down here
Babe i’m way down here
Babe i’m way down here
‘d give a girl for a beer
Baby please don’t go.

I’m on Parchman farm
I’m on Parchman farm
I’m on Parchman farm
Didn’t do no wrong
Baby please don’t go.

Baby i’m way down low
Baby i’m way down low
Baby i’m way down low
I ain’t do no harm
Baby please don’t go
Baby please don’t go
Baby please don’t go.

Baby please don’t go
Baby please don’t go
Baby please don’t go
Baby please don’t go
Baby please don’t go
Baby please don’t go
Baby please don’t go.

New Orleans is bad
New Orleans is bad
New Orleans is bad
Worst times i’ve ever had
Baby please don’t go
Baby please don’t go
Baby please don’t go.

Jack o’ diamonds is hard
Jack o’ diamonds is hard
Jack o’ diamonds is hard
But it’s the only card
Jack o’ diamonds is hard.

Well you know what i mean
Where is the money i made
Well theres’s two cards lookin’
One is the eight of diamonds
The other’s the ace of spades
The other’s the ace of spades
The other’s the ace of spades.

Honey i need you now
Honey i need you now
Honey i need you now
Baby please don’t go
Baby please don’t go
Baby please don’t go
Back to Jackson town
Babe i need you so
An’ i love you so.

It is undoubtedly a fine rendition of the song, but I am not sure it adds too much to what we know and understand about this classic of the genre.  Sorry about that.

Index to all the songs reviewed

The main Dylan compositions in chronological order.

 

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Baby please don’t go: Bob Dylan’s take on an all time blues classic

  1. https://youtu.be/KkHze8KUBeE
    This is a fantastic cover too! Really enjoyed your write up on this great song

  2. Larry Fyffe says:

    Baby Please Don’t Go appears on Side 2, track #4, of Talkin Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues, a vinyl bootleg album, Trade Mark Of Quality label.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *