Come Back Baby

Though there are many, many versions of Come Back Baby, I will forever hear it in the lopsided fingerstylings and scruffy vocals of Dave Van Ronk. In the liner notes to Dave Van Ronk, The Folkways Years 1959-61, he credits the arrangement to his onetime sideman Dave Woods, "a real musician, a jazz guitarist who had studied with Lennie Tristano, and did some country blues picking for his own amusement." (Woods', by the way, is still sharing what he knows through his big-hearted and very informative website Although Van Ronk insists that Woods "did it a lot better" than he himself, you can still hear the jazz influence in Van Ronk's stripped down version. Here's a clip of the tune from the (fine) above-mentioned CD.

Audio Clip: Dave Van Ronk on Come Back Baby

The earliest recorded version that bears any clear resemblance to this song is by pianist Walter Davis who, according to critic Elijah Wald, "made it into one of the biggest blues hits of the early 1940’s. (When Lewis Jones, Alan Lomax, and John Wick made their famous trip to the Mississippi Delta in 1941 and noted down the records available in Clarkdale’s black cafés, this was the only one that appeared on every jukebox.)" The clip that follows is from a 1941 recording of Davis' New Come Back Baby on Document Records. Listening to it I regret having used the adjective "lopsided" to describe Van Ronk's accompaniment. Just try counting 4 beats to the bar along with this one.

Audio Clip: Walter Davis on New Come Back Baby

While we're surveying pianists, Ray Charles released Come Back Baby as the B-side to his 1954 single, I Got a Woman and it eventually peaked in its own right at number four on the R&B singles chart. Listen for the undercurrent of triplets in his slow, gospel-inflected arrangement. Listen too for the embellishments he adds to the chord progression. You may find it a fun exercise to figure out the additional chords he uses. If you want to give it a try, just keep in mind that he's playing in the key of Eb. I give you Brother Ray:

Audio Clip: Ray Charles singing Come Back Baby


When you've got that progression worked out, try applying it to this version of Come Back Baby by the North Mississippi Allstars from their 2007 Mississippi Folk Music Volume 1. Same key and pretty much the same chords, but now with a groove that makes this plaintive tune downright perky.

Audio Clip: The North Mississippi Allstars on Come Back Baby