"Baby, Let Me Follow Down" is an old song that was nearly lost to time. Eric Von Schmidt resurrected it in the late 1950s, somewhat accidentally. During that era and into the early 1960s, it was part of a folk music revival, particularly in Greenwich Village, New York.
Bob Dylan (the most famous character from that folk music revival) was good friends with Schmidt: One of the album covers shown on the cover of Dylan's 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home
is Von Schmidt's first album, The Folk Blues of Eric Von Schmidt
"Baby, Let Me Follow You Down" was first recorded as "Don't Tear My Clothes" by the State Street Boys in January 1935. Washboard Sam did his own version in 1936. Harlem Hamfats covered it in May '37. At this point the musical and lyrical motif was established: do what you'd like, but just don't tear my clothes. By October of that year, Rosetta Howard did a version with the Hamfats, changing the title to "Let Your Linen Hang Low." By 1938, Blind Boy Fuller changed the name to "Mama Let Me Lay It On You" for his own rendition and 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." That Fuller recording is the one that Von Schmidt first heard.
Von Schmidt credited Reverend Gary Davis for writing "three quarters" of his own version of the song, which is more ambiguous and seems to have a spiritual bent, although he still begs the girl to take him home. Davis was a blues and gospel musician from South Carolina. He was popular during the folk music revival and influenced many recognizable '60s acts, including the Grateful Dead and Peter, Paul and Mary.
Many times in his career people have accused Dylan of stealing songs because he didn't come right out and say exactly where he got a song's skeleton from, but on Bob Dylan
he leads off this song with the statement, "I first heard this from Ric von Schmidt. He lives in Cambridge. Ric is a blues guitar player. I met him one day on the green pastures of the Harvard University."
Though not a radio hit, the song was popular with Dylan's fans, and he played it regularly at live shows. During his Bob Dylan World Tour 1966
, he played it in full electric. During the legendary Last Waltz
concert, the official sendoff of the Band (who backed Dylan for much of his early career), Dylan performed a medley that included this song and "Forever Young