Baby, Let Me Follow You Down

‘Baby, Let Me Follow You Down’ is a traditional folk song that was popularized in the late 1950s by blues guitarist Eric Von Schmidt.  The song is best known from its appearance on Bob Dylan’s debut album Bob Dylan which was released in 1962 on Columbia Records after he turned 21.  The album contained a few covers, some traditional songs that were reworked by Bob and two original Dylan songs.  Originally this album did not sell well, but as Bob became more famous and after he toured the UK in 1965, it did reach #13 on the UK Top 75.  This song has a complicated story involving how it was created and then evolved over the years.  Dylan indicates that he heard this song being played by Eric Von Schmidt who was part of the folk boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Eric Von Schmidt disagrees feeling that the Dylan cover resembles the 1960s Greenwich Village folksinger Dave Van Ronk’s version.  Von Schmidt said that he had copied it from another folksinger, Geno Foreman, who in turn had found it on a Blind Boy Fuller album.  He goes on to say that all of these versions were titled ‘Baby, Let Me Lay It on You’.  To complicate matters further, Reverend Gary Davis claimed that he wrote the song and that Blind Willie Fuller learned it from him.  Another twist in the history of this song comes from American blues singer, guitarist and songwriter Mance Lipscomb who claims that he learned the song in 1926 and that he was the one who taught Dylan this song in the early sixties.  This song was credited to Davis when it was played on the Last Waltz, The Band’s final concert which Martin Scorsese made a documentary out of.

The story doesn’t end here, as Songfacts® and Wikipedia® both say that it was first recorded as ‘Don’t Tear My Clothes’ by the State Street Boys in January 1935, a group that included Big Bill Broonzy singing vocal, and playing guitar, Jazz Gillum on harmonica, Black Bob on piano, Zeb Wright with violin.  This was a studio group that formed in Chicago, Illinois in 1935 to blend modern swing music and country blues.  This link opens up a proverbial can of worms, as I listened to that song and I don’t see the similarity between ‘Don’t Tear My Clothes’ and ‘Baby, Let Me Lay It on You’, but I have been known to be wrong before.  Robert Clifford Brown who was reputedly the half-brother of Big Bill Broonzy and professionally known as Washboard Sam also did a version of this song.  The Locke Brothers Rhythm Orchestra, a basically unknown Carolina regional band also covered the song for Bluebird records in 1936.  The Chicago jazz band Harlem Hamfats covered it again, and then Rosetta Howard did a version with the Hamfats, changing the title to ‘Let Your Linen Hang Low’.  Big Bill recorded this again with new lyrics performed with a group called the Chicago Black Swans.

It is possible that this song originated from the Papa Charlie Jackson 1928 recording of ‘Lookout Papa Don’t Tear Your Pants’.  In 1952, Smokey Hogg recorded ‘Baby Don’t You Tear My Clothes’ after it was ignored for nearly a decade and then Lightnin’ Hopkins recorded it in 1962.  Model T Slim (Elmon Mickle) and Little Richard both recorded this in 1968.  By 1938, Blind Boy Fuller changed the name of this song to ‘Mama Let Me Lay It On You’ and his rendition took it in a lascivious direction, telling his woman all the things he’ll do for her if she’ll just let him lay it on her.  Von Schmidt didn’t receive any royalties from this song even though Dylan paid homage to Schmidt in the introduction of this song.  Two years later, Dylan’s song publisher Whitmark & Sons copyrighted the tune as a Dylan composition.  It seems that this song was never in trouble of being lost to history, and no matter who wrote it the State Street Boys, Blind Boy Fuller, or Reverend Gary Davis, or Mance Lipscomb, as it kept on getting edited and changed and it took on a life of its own.

I first heard it from Rick von Schmidt
He lives in Cambridge
Rick’s a blues guitar player
I met him one day in the
Green pastures of Harvard University

Baby, let me follow you down
Baby, let me follow you down
Well, I’d do anything in this God Almighty world
If you just let me follow you down

Can I come home with you?
Baby, can I come home with you?
Yes, I’d do anything in this God Almighty world
If you just let me come home with you

Baby, let me follow you down
Baby, let me follow you down
And I’d do anything in this God Almighty world
If you just let me follow you down

Yes, I’d do anything in this God Almighty world
If you just let me follow you down

Written for Thursday Inspiration #165 Red House where the prompt is baby.

9 thoughts on “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down

      1. You know what? I watched Don’t Look Back in the early eighties before I watched the Last Watz…so I had to hear it there first.

        Liked by 1 person

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