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 (B–6200)
Producer(s) Lester Melrose

"Baby, Please Don't Go" is a blues song which has been called "one of the most played, arranged, and rearranged pieces in blues history" by music historian Gerard Herzhaft.[1] Delta blues musician Big Joe Williams popularized it with several versions beginning in 1935. The song's 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, Chicago blues as well as rhythm and blues artists adapted the song to newer music styles. In 1952, a doo-wop version by the Orioles reached the top ten on the race records chart. In 1953, Muddy Waters recorded the song an electric Chicago-ensemble blues piece, which influenced many subsequent renditions.

In the 1960s, "Baby, Please Don't Go" became a popular rock song after the Northern Irish group Them recorded it in 1964. Several music writers have identified Jimmy Page, at that time a studio guitarist, as performing for the recording, although his exact contributions are unclear. Subsequently, Them's uptempo rock arrangement has become a rock standard. "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","Elder Green Blues", "Another Man Done Gone", "Don't Leave Me Here", and "Turn Your Lamp Down Low".[2][3] 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.[4] However, Johnson, who was married to jazz-influenced blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson never recorded it and her song is not discussed as influencing later performers.[1][3][5] 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]".[3]

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.[3] 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.[3] Musical notation for the song indicates a moderate-tempo fifteen-bar blues in 4
or common time in the key of B.[6][a] 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.[6] The lyrics express a prisoner's anxiety about his lover leaving before he returns home:[8]

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 and established Williams recording career.[9] On December 12, 1941, he recorded a second version titled "Please Don't Go" in Chicago for Bluebird, with a more modern arrangement and lyrics.[10] 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 I on harmonica and Alfred Elkins on imitation bass (possibly a washtub bass).[11] 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 Race Records chart,[12] 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[13] and it soon became a blues standard.[1] 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),[1] a harmonized doo-wop version by the Orioles (a number eight R&B hit in 1952),[b] 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[14] and a 1959 recording by B.B. King added horns and an extended guitar solo.[13] Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker included "Baby, Please Don't Go" in their repertoire throughout their careers and made several live recordings. A live version by Waters with members of the Rolling Stones was recorded in 1981 and released on Live at the Checkerboard Lounge, Chicago 1981.[15]

Van Morrison and Them rendition[edit]

"Baby, Please Don't Go"
Single by Them
B-side "Gloria"
Released November 6, 1964 (1964-11-06) (UK)
Format Seven-inch 45 rpm record
Recorded October 1964
Genre Blues rock, garage rock
Length 2:38
Label Decca (F.12018)
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).[16] 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.[16]

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,[17] and Peter Bardens on keyboards.[18] 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".[19]

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"[20] and Morrison biographer Johnny Rogan notes that Page "doubled the distinctive riff already worked out by Billy Harrison".[20] 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][c] 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.[22]

Releases and charts[edit]

"Baby, Please Don't Go" was released as Them's second single on November 6, 1964.[17] Boosted by the B-side, "Gloria", it became their first hit, reaching number ten on the UK Singles Chart.[23] The single was issued in the U.S. in 1965, but only "Gloria" became a hit the following year.[24] 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.[25] When it was reissued in 1991 as a single in the UK (London LON 292), it reached number 65 in the chart.[23] 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.[26]

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.[27] 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.[27] Billboard magazine describes the song as "the kind of straight-ahead, hard-driving track that always typified the band's [1970s] records".[28] It was the first single to be released from the album and reached number seven on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.[29] 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".[30] In 1992, it was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in the "Classics of Blues Recordings" category.[3] The Foundation noted that, in addition to various blues recordings, "the song was revived in revved-up fashion by rock bands in the '60s such as Them, the Amboy Dukes, and Ten Years After".[3]



  1. ^ The sheet music includes a 1944 copyright date, indicating a later version of the song[7] (Williams' 1935 recording is in the key of B).
  2. ^ Music historian Larry Birbaum suggested that the Orioles' 1951 version inspired James Brown's first hit "Please, Please, Please" (1956).[5]
  3. ^ Beginning about 1:22 in Them's recording, bassy-sounding riffs appear.[21]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Herzhaft 1992, p. 437.
  2. ^ a b Marcus 2010, eBook.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g O'Neal, Jim (1992). "1992 Hall of Fame Inductees: "Baby Please Don't Go" – Big Joe Williams (Bluebird 1935)". The Blues Foundation. Retrieved April 26, 2015. 
  4. ^ Dahl 1984, p. 110.
  5. ^ a b Birnbaum 2012, p. 302.
  6. ^ a b Hal Leonard 1995, pp. 90–91.
  7. ^ Hal Leonard 1995, p. 17.
  8. ^ Gioia 2008, p. 130.
  9. ^ Herzhaft 1992, p. 381.
  10. ^ Demetre 1994, p. 23.
  11. ^ Demetre 1994, p. 29.
  12. ^ Whitburn 1988, pp. 444–445.
  13. ^ a b Escott 2002, p. 54.
  14. ^ Palmer 1989, p. 28.
  15. ^ Gordon 2002, p. 266.
  16. ^ a b Murray 2002, pp. 212, 302.
  17. ^ a b Thompson 2008, p. 303.
  18. ^ Strong 2002, eBook.
  19. ^ Case 2007, p. 35.
  20. ^ a b Rogan 2006, pp. 101, 111.
  21. ^ Them (1964). Baby, Please Don't Go (Song recording). Decca Records. Event occurs at 1:22. F.12018. 
  22. ^ Clayson 2006, p. 61.
  23. ^ a b "Them – Singles". Official Charts. Official Charts Company. Retrieved April 26, 2015. 
  24. ^ "Them – Awards". AllMusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved April 26, 2015. 
  25. ^ "Van Morrison/Them: Baby Please Don't Go – Appears On". AllMusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved April 26, 2015. 
  26. ^ "John Lee Hooker: Come and See About Me – Overview". AllMusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved April 26, 2015. 
  27. ^ a b Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Aerosmith: Honkin' on Bobo – Album Review". AllMusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved April 26, 2015. 
  28. ^ Billboard 2004, pp. 13, 15.
  29. ^ "Aerosmith: Honkin' on Bobo – Awards". AllMusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved April 26, 2015. 
  30. ^ "500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll". Exhibit Highlights. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 1995. Retrieved April 26, 2015.