An in-depth examination of the music of the 78 era.
Monday, September 27, 2010
"Baby Please Don't Go" - Joe Williams' Washboard Blues Singers
Set Four: The "Lost" Volume; Disc One; Track Eleven: "Baby Please Don't Go" performed by Joe Williams' Washboard Blues Singers. Recorded in Chicago on October 31, 1935. Original issue Bluebird 6200 (BS-96244-1)
Joe Williams was born in Crawford, Mississippi on October 16, 1903. Little is known of his early life. While still young, Williams reportedly began traveling around the United States, playing for change on the streets as well as in work camps, bars, and country stores. He performed with the Rabbit's Foot Minstrels (a well-known revue that helped launch the careers of such notables as Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Louis Jordan, Rufus Thomas, and others) during the early '20s and made his recording debut in 1930 as a member of the Birmingham Jug Band.
In 1934, Williams was discovered by producer Lester Melrose in St. Louis, Missouri and was subsequently signed to Bluebird Records. In 1935, Williams made his first records for Bluebird, including this recording of "Baby Please Don't Go." He stayed on the label for ten years, performing with such artists as John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, Peetie Wheatstraw, and Robert Nighthawk.
During the 1950s and '60s, Williams continued to perform and record regularly, recording for such labels as Trumpet, Delmark, Vocalion, and Prestige. He became popular with the folk revival crowd, as did many blues musicians of his generation. It was during this period that Williams adopted the nickname "Big" Joe to distinguish him from Joe Goreed, a.k.a. Joe Williams, the vocalist who recorded "Every Day I Have The Blues" with Count Basie's "New Testament" band.
Williams toured Europe and Japan during the late '60s and '70s. He died on December 17, 1982.
Big Joe Williams was particularly well-known for his virtuosic guitar playing, which featured his ability to play lead and bass lines simultaneously (Williams wore picks on both his index finger and his thumb for this purpose). He played a nine string guitar which featured unison strings for the first, second and fourth strings. Williams had added these strings to his guitar gradually during the '20s and '30s in order to keep other guitarists from being able to play his instrument.
Williams' version of "Baby Please Don't Go" is the first known recording of this song, which is derived from a group of early 20th century work songs which includes "I'm Alabama Bound," "Don't Leave Me Here," "Turn Your Lamp Down Low," and "Another Man Done Gone." Williams' version of the song has been hugely influential, and has been covered by literally dozens of artists over the years, including Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan, John Lee Hooker, Van Morrison (with Them), Aerosmith, AC/DC, and Mose Allison, among others. Although not a cover version, the Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" is clearly a descendant of this song.
Now, baby please don't go. Now, baby please don't go. Baby, please don't go Back to New Orleans, An' get your cold ice cream.
I believe that a man done gone. I believe that a man done gone. I believe that a man done gone To the county farm Now, with his long chain on.
Turn your lamp down low. You turn your lamp down low. Turn your lamp down low. I cried all night long. Now, baby please don't go.
I begged you night before. I begged you night before. Begged you night before, Turn your lamp down low. Now, baby please don't go.
I believe my baby done lied. I believe my baby done lied. I believe my baby she lied, Says she didn't have a man Now, while I had my time.
'Fore I'd be your dog, I swore I'd leave your door. 'Fore I'd be your dog, I'd pack my trunk this morning, baby, Go back to Rolling Fork.
I believe I'll leave you here. I believe I'll leave you here. I believe I'll leave you here. 'Cause you got me way up here, And you don't feel my care.
Now baby please don't go. Oh baby, please don't go. Now baby please don't go Back to New Orleans, Even though I love you so.
I believe you tryin' just leave me here. Why leave your daddy here? Why leave your daddy here? You got me way down here And you don't feel my care.
"Baby Please Don't Go" has endured in part because it is a primal expression of desperate need. The speaker in the song is literally pleading with his lover to stay with him. The desperate man and the unfeeling woman are enduring tropes in blues lyrics. In that sense, it is fitting that this song has been paired with Lead Belly's "Packin' Trunk." This is another song "about a man and a woman." In the famous color film footage of Son House performing "Death Letter Blues," House explains that the blues is all about "the male and female."
In addition to Williams' vocals and guitar, "Baby Please Don't Go" features the one-string fiddle of Dad Tracy and the washboard of Chasey "Kokomo" Collins. Tracy and Collins give the record a wild, archaic flourish.
"Baby Please Don't Go" is the second of four blues recordings in a row.
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Here's Williams performing "Baby Please Don't Go" in what appears to be a television appearance from the late '50s or early '60s.