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Interview with George Markou of Gew-Gaw Fanzine

Greece has long had a very active garage/psych scene. Perhaps no one has done more to cultivate Greece’s enthusiastic garage/psych community over the years than George Markou, editor and contributor to Peace Frog and Gew-Gaw fanzines. Many notable bands have appeared on the CDs given away with these fanzines, as well as on the associated Nowhere Street label.

I corresponded recently with George Markou.

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The Thons on Dig the Now Sound

Dig the Now Sound (Thursdays at 10:00 pm eastern on Turn Me On, Dead Man Radio) plays standout recent garage/psych. The featured track this week is “Wars Most Won” by the Chicago band The Thons, self-described “surf scum punks and nice guys, too”. They’ve been waiting for a while for me to post this. We started corresponding in June but the summer has been a busy one for me in ways unrelated to Turn Me On, Dead Man, and I almost lost track of this. Still, Graham (guitar/vocals) and I have kept in touch through the summer.
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WhenTheLeveeBreaks

When the Levee Breaks

On Led Zeppelin IV (or Untitled, The Runes Album, Zoso or whatever you want to call it), Led Zeppelin listed Memphis Minnie along with the four band members on the songwriting credits for “When the Levee Breaks”. In this case, Led Zeppelin fairly gives credit where credit is due in the creation of this monumental masterpiece. The lyrics follow Memphis Minnie’s original “When the Levee Breaks” but this is not a straightforward cover of that song. Led Zeppelin completely reworked the music into a heavy psychedelic track that bears only a distant relationship to the original. As performed by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe, “When the Levee Breaks” is a country blues number with spare but deft instrumentation. Kansas Joe sings and accompanies himself on guitar, while Memphis Minnie plays lead guitar with a “Spanish” tuning, according to Steve Calt in the liner notes for the Yazoo compilation Roots Of Rock (1991).
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Babe I’m Gonna Leave You

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.
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Blackwaterside

Black Mountain Side

Jimmy Page was well versed in a variety of guitar styles.  Beyond blues and rock, Page was fascinated with folk styles, and one of his biggest influences was the British folk guitarist Bert Jansch.  Page loved to combine Celtic and Indian influences, so he took the main theme of Bert Jansch’s “Blackwaterside”, performed as an instrumental adding a tabla and retitled it “Black Mountain Side”.  Where Jansch’s recording of “Blackwaterside” is credited as “Traditional, arranged Jansch”, Jimmy Page gave songwriting credits for “Black Mountain Side” to himself.  In a 1977 interview in Guitar Player Page admitted, “I wasn’t totally original on that. It had been done in the folk clubs a lot; Annie Briggs was the first one that I heard do that riff. I was playing it as well, and then there was Bert Jansch’s version. He’s the one who crystallized all the acoustic playing, as far as I’m concerned.”
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Randy California’s Relatives Sue Led Zep Over “Stairway to Heaven”

Several news outlets are reporting that Randy California’s relatives are suing Led Zeppelin for copyright infringement over Jimmy Page’s use of a riff written by Randy California. The lawsuit seeks damages for Page’s use of the opening of Spirit’s song “Taurus” for “Starway to Heaven”. Because of the statute of limitations, they can only sue for damages from the last three years but given that Jimmy Page is working on reissuing Led Zeppelin’s catalog, this could result in a substantial amount of money. Other such cases, such as Jake Holmes suing over “Dazed and Confused” have also resulted in changing songwriting credits. CNN had an interesting discussion about the legal aspects of this case.

Some of the news stories used a quote from an interview Jeff McLaughlin did with Randy California in the Winter 1997 issue of Listener magazine, shortly before Randy California died. This quote is included in my “Stairway to Heaven” post and the NPR article by Bill Chappell included a link to my blog. Rolling Stone and The Guardian quoted from the McLaughlin interview, as well. It’s interesting how I got this article. I had found part of Randy California’s quote on a discussion forum and included it in an earlier version of my piece on “Stairway to Heaven”. At that time Jeff McLaughlin contacted me to tell me that I only had part of Randy California’s quote from the interview. He told me that Randy California was actually much more direct in accusing Jimmy Page of stealing his work and expressed some resentment that was missing from the partial quote I had originally used. Jeff McLaughlin sent me the full issue and I’ve used the full quote in subsequent updates of my post on “Stairway to Heaven”.

Jimmy Page Interviewed in the New York Times

On May 15, 2014, The New York Times published an interview with Jimmy Page. He’s remastering Led Zeppelin’s catalog again. I have no problem with his concern about Led Zeppelin’s legacy but then they get around to talking about Led Zeppelin’s music being sampled:

Q. In part because of Led Zeppelin’s classic riffs, you guys are right up there with George Clinton and James Brown as sources for samples. And, of course, you did something yourself with Puff Daddy involving “Kashmir.” So how do you feel about your music being sampled for hip-hop records?

A. In a creative sense, it’s fantastic. Even if you don’t play an instrument, you’re writing new things. These guys come up with some amazing work, in the electronics and the mixing. I find it really fun to listen to. As far as the business side of it, however, the issue of sampling is thorny. The problem is people not getting paid for performances, Across the board, they are being pirated. Their music gets played, and they don’t get paid. I have a problem with that. I really do.

Q. You’ve also been on the other side of that debate, especially on the first couple of Led Zeppelin records, where you were criticized for using the material of Chicago blues greats, especially Willie Dixon, without acknowledging their authorship.

A. Yeah, but he got credited.

Q. But only after a lot of legal wrangling, so I wanted to ask in retrospect how did that happen, and once it was brought to the attention of your management, why did they resist it?

A. I had a riff, which is a unique riff, O.K., and I had a structure for the song that was a unique structure. That is it. However, within the lyrics of it, there’s “You Need Love,” and there are similarities within the lyrics. Now I’m not pointing a finger at anybody, but I’m just saying that’s what happened, and Willie Dixon got credit. Fair enough.

As I’ve said elsewhere, Led Zeppelin is among the greats. Yet I’ve always been bothered by their resistance to cite their sources, even after their not only their success was assured, but their lasting legacy, as well. What this interview shows is that over the years Jimmy Page has learned to choose his words carefully–saying “not getting paid for performances” as opposed to not getting paid for creative work or songwriting, for example–and he’s skillful in framing the issue in such a way as to minimize his own plagiarism. Instead he implicates Robert Plant in Led Zeppelin’s history of not properly citing sources, even though there are numerous examples where he was unwilling to give credit where credit was due (for example, “Dazed and Confused“, “Boogie With Stu”, “Black Mountain Side” and “Tangerine“). Whether the lift was Robert Plant or his own, Jimmy Page had no intention of giving credit to a variety of songwriters and only did so under threat of legal action.

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The Wizard of Oz as a Parable on Populism, Part 1

Several years ago I had an extended piece on this website about the various interpretations of The Wizard of Oz and I’ll be revisiting those topics throughout the year (and beyond). Not only is this year is the 75th anniversary of the release of the MGM classic film The Wizard of Oz (1939), but also the 50th anniversary of Henry Littlefield’s article suggesting that The Wizard of Oz was a “Parable on Populism,” a rural political movement in the late-19th century. in the Spring, 1964, issue of American Quarterly, Littlefield, a high school history teacher in upstate New York, asserted that L. Frank Baum had written The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) as a political allegory in which the characters represented various aspects of the 1896 election, when the Populist movement mounted a serious challenge to the two major parties in American politics. Over the years Littlefield’s interpretation of The Wizard of Oz has drawn considerable comment, much of which has centered on whether or not L. Frank Baum intentionally wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as some sort of political commentary, and this meme has now taken on a life of its own.
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MysteryLightsEP

The Mystery Lights on Dig the Now Sound

Dig the Now Sound (Thursdays at 10:00 pm eastern on Turn Me On, Dead Man Radio) plays standout recent garage/psych. The featured track this week is “Before My Own” by The Mystery Lights, a garage/blues/psych band based in Brooklyn. Earlier this month they released a self-titled EP and now they’re working on a full-length they hope to release in May or June. I recently corresponded with Mike Brandon, guitarist/vocalist for the Mystery Lights.


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