‘And You Can Follow . . .’

As I was getting going this morning – putting together a lunch for the Texas Gal and getting the rinsed dishes from last evening into the dishwasher – I had my mp3 player pushing its tunes through the radio speakers. And as I focused on the mundane, there came from the speakers the unmistakable – to me, anyway – ringing of Richie Havens’ guitar and the introduction to “Follow,” my favorite recording of his.

The morning got brighter right away. And, with my tasks done, I leaned against the kitchen counter sipping the day’s first cup of coffee and listening. Now, I’ve written about Havens’ version of “Follow” at least twice before – once long ago and then during this last year when I included it in my Ultimate Jukebox. But I got to thinking about the song itself. And about other versions of the song.

(I consider Havens’ version to be the original version of the song, which was written by Jerry Merrick. Havens’ version was first on Mixed Bag, which was released in 1967, and Merrick’s version was first released on Follow in 1969. Which puts Merrick in the odd position of covering his own composition.)

Based on the tale Merrick tells in the single entry at his blog, Jerry Merrick, the entire process of recording his album for Mercury in 1968 was at best disappointing. He writes: “As so often was the case during that time period, the label, seeking to make an acoustic singer/writer fit into the then popular radio music format, released a heavily orchestrated album, which though quite nice in its musicality, proved to perhaps not be the most compatible vehicle for [my] intricate lyrics and intimate performances.”

Merrick repaired those flaws with the recording and the release in 2002 of Suddenly I’ll Know You, which includes “Follow” the way he originally envisioned it. I listened to a sample of Merrick’s new version of “Follow” this morning, and it sounded good; Merrick’s voice isn’t as robust as it was forty-some years ago, but that’s time for you. The album, for those interested, is available here.

So that’s two cover versions. Who else has taken on “Follow”? I turned to All-Music Guide, knowing that first, the listings there are not comprehensive, and second, there are errors: AMG lists groups called Chomsky and Android Lust as having covered Merrick’s song. Not so. Chomsky’s tune is a pleasant pop-folkish ballad, and Android Lusts’ “Follow” is also a different composition, an avalanche of sound in a style called “industrial dance.” There are probably other errors in the listings, but those popped out at me.

So who has covered Merrick’s tune in the last forty-some years? Here are some of the names I found: Chad Mitchell. Hedge & Donna. Jerry Jeff Walker. Mick Sterling. All That Remains. Evan Teatum. Susan Tedeschi.

 (According to AMG, All That Remains gives Merrick a co-writing credit on its 2002 CD Behind Silence and Solitude, but if there’s any of Merrick’s “Follow” inside All That Remains’ slashing metal attack, I can’t hear it.)

Some of those names shine brighter than others, of course, and a few of those versions are – to my ears, anyway – more worthy of a listen than others. Hedge & Donna Capers were a folk-rock duo that released five albums from 1968 through 1970. They’re still around – you can find them on Facebook – and several of their tracks are available at YouTube. Here’s their version of “Follow” from 1968’s Hedge & Donna:

One name that surprised me was that of Mick Sterling. He’s long been known in the Upper Midwest as the leader of the blues and R&B band Mick Sterling & The Stud Brothers. The band is no longer together – there are annual December reunions at a Minneapolis nightspot that are reported to be very well-attended – and Sterling is now pursuing a solo career. His version of “Follow” shows up on his 2007 CD Between Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. I grabbed the track at Amazon this morning, and I think I’m going to have to get the entire album. It’s good.

Another surprising name in the listings at AMG was that of country outlaw/individualist Jerry Jeff Walker. I’ve not listened to a lot of Walker’s stuff over the years; I don’t know if that’s going to change, but he did a pretty good job on “Follow.” It’s on his 1978 album, Jerry Jeff.

But the best cover I’ve heard of Merrick’s song – the best version outside of Richie Havens’ original – comes from a source that surprised me. I’ve listened to a fair amount of Susan Tedeschi’s music over the past decade, finding her pretty well settled into the blues, a place that I think was reinforced in my mind with her 2001 marriage to Derek Trucks, a member of the Allman Brothers Band and the leader at the time of his own Derek Trucks band (now the Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi Band).

But in 2005, Tedeschi released Hope and Desire, an effort on which, says AMG, she “digs deep into the soul and R&B fakebook for inspiration and comes out a winner.” Among the songs she tackles on that CD – and I agree with AMG’s assessment; it’s a great CD – is “Follow.” And to my ears, only Havens’ original version of the song is better than Tedeschi’s take on Jerry Merrick’s song.

“Follow” – Susan Tedeschi

Let the river rock you like a cradle.
Climb to the treetops, child, if you’re able.
Let your hands tie a knot across the table.
Come and touch the things you cannot feel,
And close your fingertips and fly where I can’t hold you.
Let the sun-rain fall and let the dewy clouds enfold you,
And maybe you can sing to me the words that I just told you,
If all the things you feel ain’t what they seem,
Then don’t mind me ’cause I ain’t nothin’ but a dream.

The mockingbird sings each different song.
Each song has wings. They won’t stay long.
Do those who hear think he’s doing wrong?
While the church-bell tolls its one-note song,
And the school-bell is tinkling to the throng,
Come here where your ears cannot hear,
And close your ears, child, and listen to what I’ll tell you:
Follow in the darkest night the sounds that may impel you,
And the song that I am singing may disturb or serve to quell you.
If all the sounds you hear ain’t what they seem,
Then don’t mind me ’cause I ain’t nothin’ but a dream.

The rising smell of fresh-cut grass,
Smothered cities choke and yell with fuming gas.
I hold some grapes up to the sun,
And their flavor breaks upon my tongue.
With eager tongues, we taste our strife
And fill our lungs with seas of life.
Come taste and smell the waters of our time,
And close your lips, child, so softly that I might kiss you.
Let your flower perfume out and let the winds caress you.
And as I walk on through the garden, I am hoping I don’t miss you.
If all the things you taste ain’t what they seem,
Then don’t mind me ’cause I ain’t nothin’ but a dream.

The sun and moon both arise,
And we’ll see them soon through days and nights;
But now silver leaves are mirrors, bring delights,
And the colors of your eyes are fiery bright.
While darkness blinds the skies with all its light,
Come see where your eyes cannot see,
And close your eyes, child, and look at what I’ll show you.
Let your mind go reeling out and let the breezes blow you,
And maybe when we meet, then suddenly I will know you.
If all the things you see ain’t quite what they seem,
Then don’t mind me ’cause I ain’t nothin’ but a dream.

And you can follow.
And you can follow.
Follow . . .

(Words and music by Jerry Merrick)

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6 Responses to “‘And You Can Follow . . .’”

  1. Paco Malo says:

    Great discussion of the history of Follow. Songwriter Merrick is a lot more diplomatic about giant waves of strings in overproduced songs — strings have buried many a good tune.

    I’m such a big Jerry Jeff fan from the old days, I’m picking his version as my favorite cover, though Susan’s version is quite good. (Of course, these remarks take for granted that Richie Havens is The Man.)

  2. Simon says:

    I graduated high school in 1966, and I will swear on a stack of bibles that some English group recorded Follow before Richie Havens. Am I simply misremembering things?

  3. Jack Dolphy says:

    Thanks for this follow of Follow 😉 As you know, Jerry Merrick died in early January this year (2019). It’s always struck me as a huge missing, and a tragedy really — that his song “From The Prison” has garnered almost no attention at all. “Follow” of course is considered a masterpiece of the time. But “From The Prison” is quite a piece, as you surely know. I have scoured the waves of the net for years now, and always come up empty. Odd at the very least. Heck, Richie opened Woodstock with the song, and reprised it after his second song. As with everything Richie, he was absolutely deliberate in his choices. (yeah, we all know the story that he played for three hours (demonstrably incorrect) and that he played everything he knew (is that so? – hmm, by the time of the Festival he had recorded and released three Lps. There were certainly songs from those records that he did not perform at Woodstock). Anyways, sad and unfortunate that “From The Prison” seems all but lost. What think thee?

  4. al milburn says:

    Richie’s version of ,”Follow”, is staggering in its commitment and execution. One of those few moments in the records of our times where an artist completely holds us to a cleansing fire. My long-time friend and inspiration, Buzzy Linhart, is slowly slipping away from the world out here in Berkeley, and I am learning, “Follow”, to sing for him. Both Ritchie and Buzzy were denizens of new York’s Greenwich Village, thrilling audiences nightly, and for many years after. Thanks for your memorable essay on this beautiful piece!

  5. Surj Sehambi says:

    The lyrics to this song, “Follows”, was played at my 15 year old daughters funeral. She sadly passed away following a battle with mental health. Having lost my mother to Covid-19 in April 2020, I lost my father-in-law 2 weeks later and my father 3 days after Christmas 2020. My daughter Millie, passed away on April 5th 2021, 359 days after loosing my mother. This song, the lyrics, describe my relationship with my daughter perfectly and how I wish I could spend more time her. I have photographs which show her climbing trees, I remember buying her her first perfume, I picture her cutting the grass on the sit-on lawn mower. There was 70 years between my daughter and my father, but only 3 months between their funerals. This song, with it’s beautiful and poignant lyrics, brings comfort but sadness whenever I play it. Regardless of which version I listen to, the lyrics are what give me goose bumps and teary eyed.

  6. Annie Sawyer says:

    I had never heard the song “Follow” in my life. As I was driving to my father’s funeral service, alone in the car, the song came on the radio, and it was is those words were spoke (sung) to me from my father, as they so matched his feelings for the richness of life.

    Surj, I am so sorry for your loss. My close friend lost a child in 2017 and it is a heavy burden and a long road but you are not alone.

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