Fifty years ago, on February 5, 1964, “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down” was copyrighted as a Bob Dylan composition, by Whitmark & Sons, Dylan’s song publisher at the time.
But as Tim Dunn details in his book, “The Bob Dylan Copyright Files: 1962 – 2007,” Bob Dylan didn’t write “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down.”
What’s odd about it is that at the beginning of Dylan’s recording of the song for his 1962 Columbia Records debut, Dylan credits Eric Von Schmidt as teaching the song to him.
“I first heard this from Ric Von Schmidt,” Dylan says before starting to sing the song. “He lives in Cambridge. Ric’s a blues guitar player. I met him one day in the green pastures of Harvard University.”
So Whitmark & Sons certainly should have known by February of 1964, more than two years after Dylan recorded the song, that it was not a Dylan original.
Dunn writes that the song can be traced to a 1930 recording by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy: “Can I Do It For You.”
Eventually Blind Boy Fuller recorded a version of “Mama Let Me Lay It On You” in 1938 that, in turn, was adapted by Eric Von Schmidt. Reverend Gary Davis claimed that he taught the song to Fuller, and in 1978 the song was copyrighted as a composition by Davis. (Davis passed away in 1972.)
When Dylan was hanging around Greenwich Village in 1961, he also heard Dave Van Ronk perform a version of “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down.”
In an article Von Schmidt wrote that was published posthumously in the Winter 2008 issue of Sing Out! magazine, he said that Dylan’s version of “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down” was “…a hybrid… probably closer to Dave’s version.” (Von Schmidt passed away in 2007; Van Ronk passed away in 2002.)
When the remastered version of Bob Dylan was released in 2005, the revised credits read: “Rev. G. Davis; add. contributions E. von Schmidt, D. Van Ronk.”
Bob Dylan, “Baby, Let me Follow You Down” off Dylan’s debut album, Bob Dylan:
Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy, 1930:
Blind Boy Fuller, “Mama Let Me Lay It On You,” April 1938:
Rev. Gary Davis, “Baby Let Me Lay It On You”:
Bob Dylan and the Hawks, “Baby, Let Me Follow you Down,” Manchester Free Trade Hall, May 17, 1966:
Check out this version by Carly Simon with members of the Hawks backing her in 1966 — it’s not complete. The songs starts in at about 50 seconds into the clip:
Plus more versions from the 1966 World Tour:
Bob Dylan and the Hawks, “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down,” April 13, 1966, Sydney, Australia:
Bob Dylan and the Hawks, “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down,” April 20, 1966, Melbourne, Australia:
Bob Dylan and the Hawks, “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down,” May 14, 1966, Liverpool:
-– A Days of the Crazy-Wild blog post: sounds, visuals and/or news –-
1 thought on “Audio: Bob Dylan & the Strange Story of ‘Baby, Let Me Follow You Down’”
I have a songbook, called Bob Dylan: A Collection, from the 1960’s that has “It’s All Right Mama” credited to Bob Dylan. At the time I purchased it, I didn’t even know that he recorded that song, but even I knew that he didn’t write it.