A couple of “notes” before we move on to a great song: first, a reminder: the list is not intended as “the 10 essential Delta Blues songs,” but simply one of many such lists that could be created. Second: the list was advertised as being in alphabetical order—but if you’ve been following along, you can see today’s song kind of bollixes that up. I could plead the fact that Big Joe Williams released the song both as “Baby Please Don’t Go” & “Please Don’t Go,” & that I’m simply splitting the difference; but the fact is that for awhile I was thinking of doing a different Big Joe Williams song.
Because I couldn’t conceive of doing this sort of list without including Big Joe Williams, who is an absolutely fascinating figure & a great, if highly idiosyncratic musician. Williams played a modified Harmony guitar (for those who don’t know, Harmony—“the people’s guitar”—is not high end; they were sold by Sears & Roebuck!); the guitar was modified from six strings to nine, with the added three strings being unison strings on the 1st, 2nd & 4th strings; his guitar was usually tuned to an open G chord. Although this description of his playing by his biographer Barry Lee Pearson dates from a time after either of today’s recordings, I think it gives some insight into Big Joe Williams’ approach to music:
When I saw him playing at Mike Bloomfield's "blues night" at the Fickle Pickle, Williams was playing an electric nine-string guitar through a small ramshackle amp with a pie plate nailed to it and a beer can dangling against that. When he played, everything rattled but Big Joe himself. The total effect of this incredible apparatus produced the most buzzing, sizzling, African-sounding music I have ever heard.from the Allmusic site (see link above)
“Baby Please Don’t Go” is a great song, one that’s been covered from everybody from Lightnin’ Hopkins to AC/DC. But for my money, nobody has done it much better than Big Joe himself. Interestingly, Williams recorded two very different versions within the course of six years. The first, from 1935, shows a side of Delta music that may seem unfamiliar—Big Joe Williams backed by a one-string fiddle & a washboard! What a sound! The second, from 1941, has a more recognizable “deep blues” sound, as it contains masterful call & response between Big Joe Williams & Sonny Boy Williamson on harp (that’s harmonica, folks!) What would a list of blues songs be without at least one appearance by Sonny Boy Williamson!
Of course I should mention this is Sonny Boy Williamson I, AKA John Lee Williamson—yes, you may not know it, but there were two great blues harp players who performed under the name of Sonny Boy Williamson—Sonny Boy Williamson II was a man named Rice Miller. Sonny Boy Williamson II is the man who—after touring in Great Britain in the 60s—reportedly said to Robbie Robertson about the Yardbirds: “They want to play the blues so bad, & they play it so bad.” Sonny Boy Williamson I—a brilliant musician who played not only with Big Joe Williams, but also with Sleepy John Estes & Yank Rachell, was killed during a mugging in Chicago in 1947.
Harsh realities—but a great song.