One of the reasons Jimmy Page liked the name “Led Zeppelin” was that it suggested music that was both light and heavy. Jimmy Page’s vision for the group was to mix heavy, blues-based rock with acoustic, folk-influenced music. In their initial meeting, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant played a number of songs to introduce their musical tastes to each other. One of the songs Jimmy Page chose was an acoustic folk song Joan Baez had performed called “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You”. Jimmy Page knew from the start that he wanted to rework this song in a style that would become characteristic of Led Zeppelin, contrasting heavy rock with the lighter acoustic sections. “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” was included on Led Zeppelin I with the songwriting credits “Traditional, arr. Page”. On recent reissues, however, this song is now also credited to Anne Bredon.
In The Gate At the End of the World: A Collection of Songs By Anne Bredon, Janet Smith relates the story of how this song found its way to Led Zeppelin. Janet Smith was a folk singer who occasionally appeared on a live folk-music radio show The Midnight Special on radio station KPFA in Berkeley around 1960. Anne Bredon (who at this time was named Anne Johanson) also appeared on The Midnight Special and Janet Smith became interested in learning the songs the she sang, particularly “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You”. Janet Smith assumed that this song was a traditional folk song, but she was surprised to learn that Anne Bredon had written the song herself. Upon learning the authorship of “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You”, Janet Smith had Anne Bredon sing the song to her and she jotted down the words and the chords to the song. Janet Smith then developed her own version of the song, which she sang at hootenanny folk-singing events at Oberlin College. After performing in Oberlin, Joan Baez attended a hootenanny where Janet Smith sang “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You”. Joan Baez liked the song and she asked Janet Smith to send her a tape of her music, making sure to include “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You”. Joan Baez then began performing the song herself and it became the opening track on her 1963 album In Concert. As this album was in production, Vanguard Records contacted Janet Smith to determine the authorship of the song. Janet Smith was unable to track down Anne Bredon prior to the release of Joan Baez’s album, so the song was credited as “Traditional, arr. Baez” on In Concert. Anne Bredon was properly credited, however, in the The Joan Baez Songbook, which was published in 1964.
When Jimmy Page played “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” for Robert Plant, he didn’t know the true authorship of this song, as he assumed that the credits on Joan Baez’s In Concert LP were correct. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that Anne Bredon contacted Led Zeppelin about the authorship of “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You”. Once she stepped forward the songwriting credits were changed without legal action. The song is now credited to Anne Bredon, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. One final note, Anne Bredon is definitely not Celtic folk singer Anne Briggs, as reported in Bill Janovitz’s review of the song in the All-Music Guide.