Baby, Please Don't Go

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"Baby, Please Don't Go"
Single by Joe Williams' Washboard Blues Singers
B-side "Wild Cow Blues"
Released 1935 (1935)
Format Ten-inch 78 rpm record
Recorded Chicago, October 31, 1935
Genre Blues
Length 3:22
Label Bluebird Records (B–6200)
Producer(s) Lester Melrose

"Baby, Please Don't Go" is a classic blues song which has been called "one of the most played, arranged, and rearranged pieces in blues history".[1] It was popularized by Delta blues musician Big Joe Williams, who recorded the first of several versions of the song in 1935. Its roots have been traced back to nineteenth-century American songs, which deal with themes of bondage and imprisonment. "Baby, Please Don't Go" became an early blues standard with recordings by several blues musicians.

After World War II, it was adapted by Chicago blues as well as rhythm and blues artists. Later, it became a popular rock song after it was recorded by the Northern Irish group Them in 1965. Several rock performers have followed Them's updated rock arrangement, with many recordings of the song. "Baby, Please Don't Go" has been inducted into both the Blues and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame.


"Baby, Please Don't Go" is likely an adaptation of "Long John", an old folk theme which dates back to the time of slavery in the United States.[1] It is also related to a group of early twentieth-century blues songs that include "I'm Alabama Bound",[2] "Elder Green Blues", "Another Man Done Gone", "Don't Leave Me Here", and "Turn Your Lamp Down Low". These songs have been traced back to late nineteenth-century work songs. Author Linda Dahl suggests a connection to a song with the same title by Mary Williams Johnson in the late 1920s and early 1930s.[3] However, Johnson, who was married to jazz-influenced blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson, apparently never recorded it and it remains unclear if her song inspired later performers. Blues researcher Jim O'Neal notes that Williams "sometimes said that the song was written by his wife, singer Bessie Mae Smith (aka Blue Belle and St. Louis Bessie) [not the same as the popular Bessie Smith of the 1920s and 1930s]".[4]

Original song[edit]

Big Joe Williams recorded "Baby, Please Don't Go" October 31, 1935 in Chicago during his first session for Lester Melrose and Bluebird Records. It is an ensemble piece with Williams on vocal and guitar accompanied by Dad Tracy on one-string fiddle and Chasey "Kokomo" Collins on washboard, who are listed as "Joe Williams' Washboard Blues Singers" on the single. Musical notation for the song indicates a moderate-tempo fifteen-bar blues in 4
or common time in the key of B.[5][6] As with many Delta blues songs of the era, it remains on the tonic chord (I) throughout without the progression to the subdominant (IV) or dominant (V) chords.[5] The lyrics express a prisoner's anxiety about his lover leaving before he returns home:

Now baby please don't go, now baby please don't go
Baby please don't go back to New Orleans, and get your cold ice cream
I believe there's a man done gone, I believe there's a man done gone
I believe there's a man done gone to the county farm, with a long chain on

The song became a big hit[7] and established Williams recording career. On December 12, 1941, he recorded a second version titled "Please Don't Go" in Chicago for Bluebird, with a slightly different arrangement and lyrics. Blues historian Gerard Herzhaft calls it "the most exciting version",[1] which Williams recorded using his trademark nine-string guitar. Accompanying him are Sonny Boy Williamson on harmonica and Alfred Elkins on imitation bass (possibly a washtub bass). Since both songs appeared before recording industry publications began tracking such releases, it is unknown which version was more popular. In 1947, he recorded it for Columbia Records with Williamson and Ransom Knowling on bass and Judge Riley on drums. This version did not reach the Billboard R&B chart,[8] but represents a move toward a more urban blues treatment of the song.

Later blues recordings[edit]

Due to the popularity of the 1935 release of Big Joe Williams "Baby, Please Don't Go", other blues musicians began recording their interpretations of the song. Early examples include Papa Charlie McCoy as "Tampa Kid" (1936), Leonard "Baby Doo" Caston (1939), Lightnin' Hopkins (1947), John Lee Hooker (1949), and Big Bill Broonzy (1952). By the early 1950s, the song was reworked in contemporary musical styles, with an early rhythm and blues/jump blues version by Billy Wright (1951), a harmonized doo-wop version by the Orioles (a #8 R&B hit in 1952),[9] and a Afro-Cuban-influenced rendition by Rose Mitchell (1954).[1] In 1953, Muddy Waters recast the song as a Chicago-blues ensemble piece with Little Walter and Jimmy Rogers and a 1959 recording by B.B. King added horns and an extended guitar solo. Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker included "Baby, Please Don't Go" in their repertoire throughout their careers and made several live recordings.

Van Morrison and Them rendition[edit]

"Baby, Please Don't Go"
Single by Them
B-side "Gloria"
Released November 6, 1964 (1964-11-06)
Format 7" 45 rpm record
Recorded October 1964
Genre Blues rock, garage rock
Length 2:38
Label Decca Records F.12018 (UK)
Parrot Records PAR 9727 (US)
Producer(s) Bert Burns


"Baby Please Don't Go" was one of the earliest songs recorded by the Northern Irish band Them, fronted by a 19-year old Van Morrison. Their rendition of the song was derived from a John Lee Hooker version he recorded in 1949 as "Don't Go Baby" using the pseudonym "Texas Slim" (King 4334).[10] Hooker's song appeared on a 1959 album titled Highway of Blues (using the correct names), which Van Morrison had acquired. Morrison later explained

'Baby Please Don't Go' was on it and several other songs like 'Devil's Stomp' and all this slow stuff. 'Baby Please Don't Go' was the only fast number on it. It struck me as being something really unique and different, with a lot of soul. More soul than I'd heard from any previous records.[10]

Recording and composition[edit]

Them recorded "Baby, Please Don't Go" for Decca Records in October 1964. Besides Morrison, there is conflicting information about who participated in the session. In addition to the group's original members (guitarist Billy Harrison, bassist Alan Henderson, drummer Ronnie Millings, and keyboard player Eric Wrixon), others have been suggested: Pat McAuleyon on keyboards, Bobby Graham on a second drum kit, Jimmy Page on second guitar,[11] and Peter Bardens on keyboards.[12] As Page biographer George Case notes, "There is a dispute over whether it is Page's piercing blues line that defines the song, if he only played a run Harrison had already devised, or if Page only backed up Harrison himself".[13] Morrison has acknowledged Page's participation in the early sessions: "He played rhythm guitar on one thing and doubled a bass riff on the other"[14] and Morrison biographer Johnny Rogan notes that Page "doubled the distinctive riff already worked out by Billy Harrison".[14] Music critic Greil Marcus comments that during the song's quieter middle passage "the guitarist, session player Jimmy Page or not, seems to be feeling his way into another song, flipping half-riffs, high, random, distracted metal shavings".[2][15] Them's blues-rock arrangement is "now regarded justly as definitive", with "much of its appeal emanat[ing] from the tingling lead guitar section", according to music writer Adam Clayson.[16]

Releases and charts[edit]

"Baby, Please Don't Go" was released as Them's second single on November 6, 1964.[11] Boosted by the B-side, "Gloria", it became their first hit, reaching number ten on the UK Singles Chart.[17] The single was issued in the U.S. in 1965, but only "Gloria" became a hit the following year.[18] The song was not included on Them's original British or American albums (The Angry Young Them and Them Again), however, it has appeared on several compilation albums, such as The Story of Them Featuring Van Morrison and The Best of Van Morrison. When it was reissued in 1991 as a single in the UK (London LON 292), it reached number 65 in the chart.[17] Van Morrison also accompanied John Lee Hooker during a 1992 performance, where Hooker sings and plays "Baby, Please Don't Go" on guitar while sitting on a dock, with harmonica backing by Morrison; it was released on the 2004 Come See About Me Hooker DVD.

Aerosmith version[edit]

Aerosmith recorded "Baby, Please Don't Go" for their blues cover album, Honkin' on Bobo, which was released on March 30, 2004 . The album was produced by Jack Douglas, who had worked on the group's earlier albums, and reflects a return to their hard rock roots.[19] Billboard magazine describes the song as "the kind of straight-ahead, hard-driving track that always typified the band's [1970s] records".[20] It was the first single to be released from the album and reached number seven on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.[21] A music video, directed by Mark Haefeli, was produced to promote the single. Subsequently, the song has become a staple of the band's concert repertoire.

Recognition and legacy[edit]

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".[22] In 1992, it was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in the "Classics of Blues Recordings" category.[4]

A variety of artists have recorded the song; some of these include:[23]


  1. ^ a b c d Herzhaft, Gerard (1992). "Baby, Please Don't Go". Encyclopedia of the Blues. University of Arkansas Press. p. 437. ISBN 1-55728-252-8. 
  2. ^ a b Marcus, Greil (2010). When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison. PublicAffairs. ISBN 978-1-58648-821-5. 
  3. ^ Dahl, Linda (1984). Stormy Weather. Proscenium Publishers. p. 110. 
  4. ^ a b O'Neal, Jim (1992). "Classic of Blues Recording — Singles or Album Tracks". Blues Hall of Fame — 1992 Inductees. The Blues Foundation. Retrieved June 6, 2013. 
  5. ^ a b The Blues. Hal Leonard Corporation. 1995. pp. 90–91. ISBN 0-7935-5259-1. 
  6. ^ Williams' 1935 recording is in the key of B.
  7. ^ Herzhaft 1992, p. 381.
  8. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1988). Top R&B Singles 1942–1988. Record Research, Inc. pp. 444–445. ISBN 0-89820-068-7. 
  9. ^ It has been suggested that the Orioles version inspired James Brown's first hit "Please, Please, Please" (1956). Birnbaum, Larry (2012). Before Elvis: The Prehistory of Rock 'n' Roll. Scarecrow Press. p. 302. ISBN 978-0-8108-8629-2. 
  10. ^ a b Murray, Charles Shaar (2002). Boogie Man: The Adventures of John Lee Hooker in the American Twentieth Century. Macmillan. pp. 212, 302. ISBN 978-0-312-27006-3. 
  11. ^ a b Thompson, Gordon (2008). Please Please Me: Sixties British Pop, Inside Out. Oxford University Press. p. 303. ISBN 978-0-19-533318-3. 
  12. ^ Strong, Martin C. (2002). The Great Rock Discography. Canongate Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84195-312-0. 
  13. ^ Case, George (2007). Jimmy Page: Magus, Musician, Man — an Unauthorized Biography. Hal Leonard. p. 35. ISBN 978-1-4234-0407-1. 
  14. ^ a b Rogan, Johnny (2006). Van Morrison: No Surrender. Random House. pp. 101, 111. ISBN 978-0-09-943183-1. 
  15. ^ These bassy-sounding riffs, beginning at about 1:22, may be what Morrison is referring to by "doubled a bass riff".
  16. ^ Clayson, Adam (2006). Led Zeppelin: The Origin of the Species. Chrome Dreams. p. 61. ISBN 1-84240-345-1. 
  17. ^ a b "Them — Singles". Official Charts. Official Charts Company. Retrieved April 13, 2014. 
  18. ^ "Them — Awards". AllMusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved April 13, 2014. 
  19. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Aerosmith: Honkin' on Bobo — Album Review". AllMusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved April 12, 2014. 
  20. ^ "'Honk' if You Love Old Aerosmith". Billboard (Nielsen Business Media, Inc) 116 (14): 13, 15. April 3, 2004. ISSN 0006-2510. 
  21. ^ "Aerosmith: Honkin' on Bobo — Awards". AllMusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved June 28, 2014. 
  22. ^ "500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll". Exhibit Highlights. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 1995. Retrieved June 6, 2013. 
  23. ^ "Baby Please Don't Go — Song Search Results". AllMusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved April 12, 2014.