Friday, July 26, 2013

Origins & Examples of "I Know You Rider"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post provides information about the origin of the Blues song "I Know You Rider" and the way that song became known in (White) American Folk & Rock music circuits. The lyrics to two versions of "I Know You Rider" are also given in this post.

The song "I Know You Rider" is a good example of a song that orginated from African Americans but was collected (and thus preserved) by White folklorists and was/is arranged, performed, and popularized by numerous non-African American vocalists. In particular, "I Know You Rider" is most associated with the White American Rock band "The Grateful Dead".

Click for another post about a song that includes the word "rider".

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

In Blues songs (and Folk or Rock songs that are based on Blues songs) a "rider" is a person's sexual partner.

Here's an excerpt from about the often found term "easy rider":
"The term "See See Rider" is usually taken as synonymous with "easy rider." In particular, in blues songs it often refers to a woman who had liberal sexual views, had been married more than once, or was skilled at sex. Although Ma Rainey's version seems on the face of it to refer to "See See Rider" as a man, one theory is that the term refers to a prostitute and in the lyric, "You made me love you, now your man done come," "your man" refers to the woman's pimp. So, rather than being directed to a male "easy rider," the song is in fact an admonition to a prostitute to give up her evil ways."

(Editor: This comment is reposted from "Origins: I Know You Rider" I'm reposting it as a means of highlighting Bob Coltman's significant & little known role in the development & circulation of the song "I Know You Rider". and as an example of how "traditional" African American songs have been picked up by non-African American performers.)

Subject: RE: Origins: I Know You Rider
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 10 Jan 06 - 12:55 PM
"...I should correct, and amplify on, my earlier post, and try to give a history of the song as best I know it, in response to some of the guesses (a few of which are wide of the mark) and questions above.

I got the song in the mid-1950s from the Lomaxes'* 1934 American Ballads and Folk Songs (not Our Singing Country as I first remembered). It's on p. 196. Apparently I was the first to pick it up and sing it, though it had lain around unnoticed in that well-known collection for twenty years.

... The Lomax headnote says "An eighteen-year-old black girl, in prison for murder, sang the tune and the first stanza of these blues." The Lomaxes added a number of "floating verses" from other, uncredited sources, and named it "Woman Blue."

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 hiker/climber/skier 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. Then I went in the Army (sorta like prison) and everything went on hold.

As previously stated, Tossi Aaron learned the song from me in Philadelphia around 1959. She sang it on her Prestige LP. The song traveled around for years among a few East and West Coast folksingers but was not sung by very many people (most white kids took a while to crash the blues).

No well-known singer recorded it until the Kingston Trio. They presumably got it from some West Coast singer who heard me in '59 -- it's possible they heard it from Tossi Aaron's LP, but that LP didn't get much West Coast circulation as far as I know. I never knew Dave Guard personally but he could perhaps have heard me in a West Coast hoot or concert, or else got it from someone who did. The Trio may well have been the Seldom Scene's source, as they drew from all sorts of music stylists.

The next breakout singer to record it was James Taylor in, I think, 1967. He picked it up during his teen years, probably at the hoots on Martha's Vineyard. It may have come from the Trio LP, Tossi's LP, or from some hiker or beach bum who got it from me via New England hoot circles.

Janis Joplin got the song almost simultaneously, perhaps from James, or vice versa. Her source could, I think, have been someone on the West Coast who'd heard it from me, or could have been James. Janis, blues freak that she was, was presumably Jerry Garcia and the Dead's source, perhaps via Jorma Kaukkonen who was the real blues fanatic in that crowd.

Later versions, like the Byrds, Martin-Neil, Rowan & Rice and so on, all derive from those early ones. There is, I think I can state categorically, no other source or root for this song apart from Lomax and me. I have never heard any other song that could be credibly a version of it.

Don't be misled by the Google associations. The song has nothing to do with C.C/Easy Rider or any of the other Rider songs; it is distinct and quite different.

Neither Blind Lemon Jefferson nor Leadbelly recorded the song in any form I know of, and I've heard virtually everything by both men. However, a Lomax verse I didn't use, "Did you ever wake up and find your rider gone?" is heard in various 1920s recordings, and "Sun goin' to shine in my back door some day / Wind's gonna rise up, blow my blues away" is of course universal from c. 1920 on.

The rest of the verses sound like good solid traditional blues but are unique to this song. However, because they were supplied by the Lomaxes, I think we have to worry, as with much Lomax material, that they may have been tinkered with by Alan Lomax, who did more rewriting than he admitted. They're great verses, though, and make the song what it is.

The unnamed Lomax source (doesn't that frost ya? couldn't they have given her name? or did they think that would have endangered her in prison?) is the originator of the core song. Wish we knew her name so we could credit her.

Probably I shoulda copyrighted it. (Everybody else since has.) But in those days a lot of us believed traditional songs were free as the air and should not be locked down. The music industry, obviously, disagreed.

You could, if you wish, credit it Traditional, arr. Bob Coltman.

I'm proud to be the guy who, after Lomax, started the song on its musical rounds. All credit to the Lomaxes for putting it together, and to Tossi, who knew a good song when she heard one."
"The Lomaxes" refers to American folklorists John & Alan Lomax.

LYR ADD: Origins: I Know You Rider
From:GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 11 Jan 06 - 03:04 PM

"Thought some of you might like to see a text of the song as I revised, arranged and performed it 1959-75 or so...

(Traditional, arranged by Bob Coltman)

I know you rider, gonna miss me when I'm gone,
I know you rider, gonna miss me when I'm gone,
Gonna miss your man, baby, from rollin' in your arms.

I laid down last night, babe, tried to take my rest…
But my mind kept ramblin' like wild geese in the west.

I know my woman bound to love me some…
'Cause she throws her arms round me like a circle round the sun.

I'm goin' down to the river, set down on a log…
If I can't be your man, honey, sure won't be your dog.

I cut your wood, baby, and I made your fire…
I tote' your liquor babe, from the Fresno Bar.

Just as sure as the birds fly high in the sky above…
Life ain't worth livin' if you ain't with the one you love.

I'm goin' down the road, get some better care…
I'm goin' back to my used-to-be rider, for I don't feel welcome here.

Sun gonna shine in my back door some day…
Wind gonna rise up, blow my blues away.


(These examples are presented in chronological order based on their posting date, with the oldest dates posted first.)

Example #1: Janis Joplin - "I Know You Rider"

Shroomeryslearyfan, Uploaded on Mar 5, 2010

Example #2: Tossi Aaron - I Know You Rider (1960)

RPB412, Uploaded on Mar 21, 2011

I discovered this song from The Grateful Dead and have been searching for as many other versions as I could find ever since. This is probably not the oldest recording of it, but it is the oldest one I have found.

Example #3: Joan Baez - I Know You Rider

enya mea, Uploaded on Jul 13, 2011

Example #4: Grateful Dead - I Know You Rider

samsurfer17, Uploaded on Dec 3, 2011

I know you rider gonna miss me when I'm gone
I know you rider gonna miss me when I'm gone
gonna miss your baby
from rollin in your arms

Laid down last night
Lord I could not take my rest
Laid down last night
Lord I could not take my rest
My mind was wandering like the wild geese in the west

The sun will shine in my back door someday
The sun will shine in my back door someday
March winds will blow all my troubles away

I wish I was a headlight
on a northbound train...
I wish I was a headlight
on a northbound train!
I'd shine my light through
cool Colorado rain

I know you rider gonna miss me when I'm gone
I know you rider gonna miss me when I'm gone
Gonna miss your baby
from rollin in your arms

I know you rider gonna miss me when I'm gone
I know you rider gonna miss me when I'm gone
Gonna miss your baby
from rolling in your arms

My thanks to the unknown original composer of this song, thanks to the Lomaxes for their inclusion of this song in their 1930s collection of African American Folk songs, and thanks to Bob Coltman for his early arrangement of "I Know You Rider". My thanks also to the vocalists & musicians who are featured in the examples that are showcased in this post. Thanks also to the publishers of these featured sound files.

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Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. The earliest recording by the Grateful Dead of I Know You Rider is from 11/03/65. It was a studio date, and they almost certainly performed it live earlier.

  2. Is this song Public Domain?