I Know You Rider

Although some version of this song likely goes back long before its earliest recording, its contemporary series of incarnations seems to date to the mid 1950's when a young Bob Coltman came across Woman Blue in John and Alan Lomaxes' 1934 American Ballads and Folk Songs. The accompanying text in the Lomax collection reads only, "An eighteen- year-old black girl, in prison for murder, sang the tune and the first stanza of these blues." Coltman himself recounts what happened from there:

So I resurrected and debuted the song. I followed the tune given in Lomax, roughly but not exactly, changed the song from a woman's to a man's viewpoint, dropped two verses, and was its first arranger, voice and guitar in a heavy drag downbeat, sort of an early folk-rock sound. I sang it a lot in folk circles around Philadelphia, in concerts, around Boston, mostly at the legendary Old Joe Clarke's, and in Dartmouth Outing Club...circles, which took me around New York State and New England circa 1957-60. I also sang it in the west, in Wyoming/Tetons "Teton Tea Parties" and on the West Coast, especially in San Francisco and Los Angeles, late summer-early fall '59....Tossi Aaron learned the song from me in Philadelphia around 1959. She sang it on her Prestige LP.

While Tossi Aaron's 1960 recording of Rider is generally acknowledged as the first, she probably only beat Joan Baez (shown above right) to vinyl by a few months. Baez's early recording was not released, however, until 2001 when it was included as a bonus track on a reissue of her first album. Here's a clip from that track:

Audio Track: Joan Baez sings I Know You Rider, 1960

Before long the song had been picked up by a number of West Coast artists including the Kingston Trio and Janis Joplin. But it was two other Haight Ashbury bands — Hot Tuna and the Grateful Dead — that would turn generations of jammers on to the tune by keeping it in rotation throughout decades of live performances. Jorma Kaukonen's arrangement has been particularly influential among fingerstyle players. This clip is from the 2004 release of Live at Sweetwater. The concert actually took place in 1992, with the Dead's Bob Weir sitting in. This clip includes both some of Jorma's singing and soloing. Check out how long he sits on just one note during his solo: proof positive that all simplicity requires is conviction to render it, well, convincing!

Audio Clip: Hot Tuna on I Know You Rider

Jerry Garcia was, of course, a great lover of traditional songs and this one clearly captured his attention early on. According to deaddisc.com Rider had a 30 year run with the Grateful Dead (1965 to 1995) usually performed as a medley with China Cat Flower. The groove we're using for the song is closer to their approach than any other included here, so have a listen. This is from Europe '72 (Live).

Audio Clip: The Grateful Dead perform I Know You Rider

Jerry could just as easily have performed it on banjo. It has been reworked by any number of bluegrass outfits including, notably, The Seldom Scene. They too have included the song (as Rider) in their live performances for decades and helped establish it as a standard in that genre. Here's a clip of their well-known take on the tune:

Audio Clip: The Seldom Scene perform I Know You Rider

As noted at the top of the page, this song has been the product of the "folk process" from the start and that process isn't done with it yet. Contemporary singer-songwriter Erica Wheeler (local, to those of us here in western MA) included it on her 1992, From That Far. A few twists to the chord progression, a more contemporary picking style, a scarcely recognizable melody...and yet, the song is still there. Have a listen:

Audio Clip: Erica Wheeler on I Know You Rider