"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". First recorded by Delta blues musician Big Joe Williams in 1935, it is likely an adaptation of "Long John", an old folk theme which dates back to the time of slavery in the United States. "Baby, Please Don't Go" is 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", which have been traced back to late nineteenth-century work songs. It has become a blues and rock standard and has been recorded by a variety of artists.
Big Joe Williams, as "Joe Williams' Washboard Blues Singers", 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 (vocal and guitar) accompanied by Dad Tracy (one-string fiddle) and Chasey "Kokomo" Collins (washboard). Musical notation for the song indicates a moderate-tempo fifteen-bar blues in 4
4 or common time in the key of B♭. 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. 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 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. Called "the most exciting version", backing Williams (vocal and nine-string guitar) are Sonny Boy Williamson I (harmonica) and Alfred Elkins (imitation 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 (bass) and Judge Riley (drums). This version did not reach the Billboard R&B chart, but represents a move toward a more urban blues treatment of the song.
"Baby Please Don't Go" was one of the earliest songs recorded by the Northern Irish band Them, fronted by Van Morrison, in 1964. 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). Hooker's song appeared on a 1959 album titled Highway of Blues with the proper names, which Van Morrison 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.
Them's "Baby, Please Don't Go" was released as their second single in late 1964. Boosted by the B-side, "Gloria", it became their first hit, reaching No. 10 on the UK Singles Chart. When the single was issued in the U.S. in 1965, "Gloria" became the hit. Who contributed which guitar parts for the song has been questioned, although session guitarist Jimmy Page has been identified as a participant. The song was re-released on the Deram label in 1973 and is included on several compilation albums, such as The Story of Them Featuring Van Morrison and The Best of Van Morrison. Later, Van Morrison 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 released a version of "Baby, Please Don't Go" on their blues cover album, Honkin' on Bobo in 2004. It was the first single from the album, and hit No. 7 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. Since its release, it has been a staple song in the band's concert performances. As it followed a period in the 1990s and early 2000s when the band charted with several power ballads, this recording is considered a return to hard rock music for Aerosmith. Aerosmith also released the original single's b-side "Milk Cow Blues" on their album Draw the Line. A music video was produced to promote the single. The video was directed by Mark Haefeli.
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". In 1992, it was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in the "Classics of Blues Recordings--Singles or Album Tracks" category.
^ abcdHerzhaft, Gerard (1992). "Baby, Please Don't Go". Encyclopedia of the Blues. University of Arkansas Press. p. 437. ISBN1-55728-252-8.
^One author writes that Mary Williams Johnson (Lonnie Johnson's wife) wrote a "Baby, Please Don't Go", but it is not included on her complete collected works. Dahl, Linda Stormy Weather, Proscenium Publishers (1984), p. 110.