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You're gonna need my help someday - Kokomo Arnold, Milk Cow Blues

Author Topic: SOTM 2017 June - Baby Please Don't Go  (Read 1768 times)

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Offline Rivers

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SOTM 2017 June - Baby Please Don't Go
« on: June 01, 2017, 10:35:11 AM »
Baby Please Don't Go

We all know this one, it might be playing in your head right now just reading the title. To get analytical for a minute or two, and this part was much longer before I pruned it, I went looking for possible explanations for the staying-power of Baby Please Don't Go.

Lyrically it counts as a "story" song if you define a story as having a person, a place and a problem. Story songs tend to have longevity, but not always. Anyway, the story here is pretty scattered.

From a player's perspective the first part has a more or less "call and response" format. A short instrumental fill lick answers each of the two repeated vocal lines. This sets up the release, conjoined vocal phrases that descend through an octave in 4 bars to land back at the root note, often with scant chance for the singer to take a breath. Imagining a sanitized version with no monkey business, I count a total of 10 bars, or 12 for a longer turnaround vamp on the 1

A pickup phrase "Baby please don't?" propels you into the first beat of the first bar "?Go". That happens twice. Then it shifts gear for the longer, descending vocal passage. The first pickup might be reduced to "Baby?", so the accent falls on "?Please Don't Go", again on the first beat of the bar. This trick continues throughout what feels like a long swooping descent: "Down to New Orleans?", "You know I Love You So?" "Baby Please Don't Go". While all this is not exactly news, the song is a showcase for the old songwriting trick, and iI think t gets a lot of its punchiness from it. To me it sounds like a real conversation rather than just words set to music.

There are many versions and variants of the song. Many hang on the 1-chord, implying the changes by playing through them with melody notes. Many of the otherwise 1-chord versions play the breaks and / or intro as a strict 12-bar blues. Some versions change to the IV for bars 5 thru 8, most do not. Some play the V at the turnaround, most don't.

I'll skip over the song's Sixties R&B phase and concentrate on the older, acoustic stuff. You can find more on its recent history on wikipedia and at earlyblues.com. They suggest some ancestry for the song. I really don't know what to think so won't comment on where it may have been, if anywhere, before Joe Williams' ensemble recordings in 1935 and 1941 for Bluebird. To throw some further discussion into the origin debate, Joe himself, in another video on youtube, introduces it as "my theme song, one I wrote in 1921"

Joe Williams' Washboard Blues Singers (1935): Joe's first recording of Baby Please Don't Go gets line honors for the tune as a prison song. The accompanists are Dad Tracy on homemade 1-string violin and Chasey "Kokomo" Collins on washboard. The violin gives a string band feel, the washboard, um, sort of hints at jug band. Joe's guitar vamps have a modern blues triplet sound. It's easy to hear similarities to Robert Johnson's playing up the neck in A, but RJ did not start recording until a year later. Patton-style octave bass licks descending on the offbeat occur after the 2 minute mark. I think I notice similarities to Henry Townsend's sound; interestingly Joe and Henry had recorded together earlier that same year. Joe throws in tasteful, minimalist slide at points. The net result is a version rich in dueling sub-genres and interest, and it would never sound quite this way again:



Joe Williams (1941): Joe's second recording of the song drops the "Baby?" from the title. This time he's playing 9-string guitar alongside Sonny Boy Williamson on harp and Alfred Elkins on "cano bass".

In my opinion the recording captures the excitement of a great live trio. They sound fully engaged and nicely under-rehearsed; that drive and spontaneity draws you in. Transitioning into the two instrumental verses they change from the main 1-chord feel into a strict 12-bar format and that works well. It sounds to me like Sonny Boy is leading the others into those moves to 12 bars; the others almost missing them but recovering well. The recording quality is very good, Alfred Elkins' bass sounds amazing if you can plug-in to a system with some bass to it, it's a whole different experience, I used my satellite radio boombox's auxiliary input.



I need a cold ice cream after that one.

Between Joe Williams' first two Bluebird recordings in 1935 and 1941, here are the two cover versions that appeared on Decca. The first was Tampa Kid, usually identified as Charlie McCoy, followed by Leonard "Baby Doo" Caston's "I'm Gonna Walk Your Log".

Tampa Kid (Decca 1935): Blues & Gospel Records gives this version by Charlie McCoy short shrift, opining that "This singer gives a passable imitation of Tampa Red". They might want to revisit that in a new edition, should one ever appear. The vocal is good but not great, but more to the point it's hard to play a tricone like that, to say the least. The resemblance to Tampa Red's guitar playing and tone borders on uncanny. I like the relaxed pace of it:



Leonard "Baby Doo" Caston (Decca 1940): "I'm Gonna Walk Your Log" is a fairly tight and zippy arrangement with Baby Doo singing, Robert Lee McCoy on guitar and an unknown washboard player. If you're looking for it in Blues & Gospel Records look under "B", "Baby Doo" (page 30), not "C":



I'll finish up with some later versions of the song that I like in no particular order.

Big Bill Broonzy (1952, Vogue, France): Bill is playing out of E position, the "Hey Hey" licks give it away. Curiously though he's sounding at around F#. So he must be either capoed at 2, or tuned up a whole step. See the Broonzy guitar style thread for another example of that, "When Did You Leave Heaven", which is pitched at D but apparently played out of C position.

Unlike most versions of the song Big Bill chooses to play the IV chord throughout, subtly shaded, from bars 5 thru 8, and strict 12-bar form for the instrumental verse and also the intro. Broonzy gets creative with the lyrics, mentioning Parchman Farm, which doesn't, so far as I know, appear in any prior versions, though maybe it does. The vocal is fabulous, as you would expect:



Lightnin' Hopkins (various): In some recordings Lightnin' plays the verse through as a 1-chorder, implying the changes with melody notes, then lands on a big V chord in the turnaround. I used to think that was a bit brash but I've come to like it for its Lightnin'-ness. This version on youtube though is altogether different. Lightnin' plays it 1-chord style with 12-bar breaks. As he treads water waiting for the next vocal line or verse to come around he throws in a John Lee Hooker-esque boogie vamp on the bass. Fortunately for us all, we can watch him play it, even if his body language suggests he's just killing time waiting for a bus:



Mance Lipscomb: Here is a fine version from Mance, who also plays it "1-chord feel with 12-bar breaks" style. Mance's rock-solid performance needs no further commentary from me:



That's all for now, I hope you've enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed putting it together. There are, of course, many more great versions out there and I look forward to your comments, insights and examples.

Cordially Yours,

Rivers.

Online Johnm

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Re: SOTM 2017 June - Baby Please Don't Go
« Reply #1 on: June 01, 2017, 10:46:02 AM »
Many thanks for a strong Song of the Month selection and the research you did putting the first post together, Rivers!  I look forward to listening to the versions you've posted that I've not previously heard and maybe adding a couple I track down to the thread later on.  Whatever a Blues Classic may be, "Baby Please Don't Go" certainly qualifies as one.
All best,
Johnm 

Offline Stuart

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Re: SOTM 2017 June - Baby Please Don't Go
« Reply #2 on: June 01, 2017, 01:11:04 PM »
Yes, thank you Rivers. It's a great choice for SOTM. I'll second everything John says about your choice and the work that went into it. It's definitely a quintessential song in the Blues canon.

Offline Rivers

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Re: SOTM 2017 June - Baby Please Don't Go
« Reply #3 on: June 01, 2017, 01:54:13 PM »
Thanks guys, it was a fascinating little project. At the outset I had little idea where it would lead. I started writing at the beginning of May and made several major revisions between yogurt batches.

Offline Old Man Ned

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Re: SOTM 2017 June - Baby Please Don't Go
« Reply #4 on: June 01, 2017, 02:11:52 PM »
In the first verse of Joe Williams' Washboard Blues Singers version does Joe sing

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


Offline Rivers

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Re: SOTM 2017 June - Baby Please Don't Go
« Reply #5 on: June 01, 2017, 02:55:18 PM »
I believe he does. Whether or not it's a double entendre or literal I do not know.

Online Johnm

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Re: SOTM 2017 June - Baby Please Don't Go
« Reply #6 on: June 01, 2017, 03:52:00 PM »
Hi all,
We recently transcribed all of the early recorded lyrics of John Lee at:  http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=11413.0 , with the exception of his version of "Baby, Please Don't Go".  Upon listening to it, I was really surprised to find a commercial recording from 1951 pairing guitar and quills.  It's a great sound, and the quills player is a real wheel hoss, playing two-note blows in a couple of places.  Here it is:



SOLOS

Baby, please don't go, baby, please don't go
Baby, please don't go, back to New Orleans and get your cold ice cream

SOLOS

Baby, please don't go, baby, please don't go
Baby, please don't go, 'cause I love you so, baby, please don't go

SOLOS

Well, I'm way down here, well, I'm way down here
Well, I'm way down here, mama, by myself, well, I'm way down here

SOLOS

Gonna walk the log, gonna walk the log
Gonna walk the log, by the river falls, I'm gonna walk the log

OUTRO



All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: June 01, 2017, 06:31:48 PM by Johnm »

Offline Rivers

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Re: SOTM 2017 June - Baby Please Don't Go
« Reply #7 on: June 01, 2017, 04:55:12 PM »
Just when you think you've heard everything along comes John Arthur Lee with amped guitar and a hot quills player. That one really pops.

Offline alyoung

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Re: SOTM 2017 June - Baby Please Don't Go
« Reply #8 on: June 02, 2017, 03:28:01 AM »
My main man ... he claimed to have written the song.


Offline harriet

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Re: SOTM 2017 June - Baby Please Don't Go
« Reply #9 on: June 02, 2017, 03:53:23 AM »
Great topic thanks so much Rivers! Love the Big Joe Williams - there's also an electrifying performance they recorded of him of the song on youtube



and I'll add Fred Mcdowell's version from the Gaslight 71 in New York - his last performance:

« Last Edit: June 02, 2017, 04:00:42 AM by harriet »

Offline Rivers

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Re: SOTM 2017 June - Baby Please Don't Go
« Reply #10 on: June 02, 2017, 07:09:31 AM »
I was thinking. All these great versions we are posting are sort of reclaiming the song for the real country blues. It demonstrates how the overexposure of the Sixties and later R&B & rock versions have distorted the record. While some of them are pretty good it's great to be able to claw back some perspective.

No biggie, but I suggest we leave any Brit & US R&B stuff until the very end, for after we've fully explored their predecessors. Then it would be more chronological and closer to the truth. In other words keep practising positive discrimination in favor of the roots to set the record straight.
« Last Edit: June 02, 2017, 07:46:47 AM by Rivers »

Offline harry

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Re: SOTM 2017 June - Baby Please Don't Go
« Reply #11 on: June 02, 2017, 07:33:07 AM »
Thanks Rivers. I really dig Broonzy's version.

Offline Rivers

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Re: SOTM 2017 June - Baby Please Don't Go
« Reply #12 on: June 02, 2017, 07:57:19 AM »
Me too. It's the version that inspired me to learn the song. That was in D?sseldorf, Germany in 1982, where I was teaching English and doing some busking and pub gigs at night. The F# pitch of the recording threw me badly off track, I learned to play it out of G position! Never could get those E licks straight, but it's unique to me I guess. I still like to play it that way.

Offline Lignite

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Re: SOTM 2017 June - Baby Please Don't Go
« Reply #13 on: June 02, 2017, 09:03:58 AM »
A more recent take on this blues classic by down-home bluesman George Herbert Moore of Burgaw, N.C. recorded live at The Bull Durham Blues Festival in Durham, N.C. in 1998 and featuring myself on harmonica accompaniment. http://picosong.com/7Prf

Online Johnm

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Re: SOTM 2017 June - Baby Please Don't Go
« Reply #14 on: June 02, 2017, 03:21:54 PM »
Thanks for posting that version, Lightnin'.  Is George Herbert Moore still alive and playing?  I'd not heard or heard of him before.  That is some ripping harmonica playing you do on that version, by the way--I forget sometimes how well you play the harp, both on and off a rack!
All best,
Johnm