Led Zeppelin: Plagiarism? “Black Dog”

Some persistent misinformation involving “Black Dog” has been floating around for quite some time now. The first point is that “Black Dog,” which opens Led Zeppelin’s untitled 1971 album (also referred to as Led Zeppelin IV or Zoso), borrowed too heavily from Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well.” In Led Zeppelin: The Complete Guide To Their Music, Dave Lewis states that Jimmy Page “would admit years later” that the vocal part for “Black Dog” was taken from “Oh Well.” It’s ironic when an apologist for the band implies wrongdoing where none exists. Not only is this point groundless, I would argue that “Black Dog” is one of Led Zeppelin’s most original songs. It’s off in its own world with its winding riff and complex time signature changes. Of course, it’s possible to cite songs that influenced John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant to write this song, but to suggest “Black Dog” was plagiarized is off the mark.

In their early days Led Zeppelin paid close attention to Fleetwood Mac, which was then a blues band under the leadership of Peter Green. Had it not been for Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin might not have come up with “The Lemon Song,” “Rock and Roll,” or the vocal part for “Black Dog,” as Robert Godwin suggests in his book The Making of Led Zeppelin’s IV. Fleetwood Mac’s influence can certainly be heard in these songs, and “Oh Well Part I” and “Black Dog” have a similar call-and-response dynamic between Robert Plant and Jimmy Page’s guitar, but that’s a not the same as thing as plagiarism. Fleetwood Mac released “Oh Well” as a single in 1969 and most radio stations only played the side with “Part I”, which is the part that had the most influence on “Black Dog”. It’s interesting to note that Peter Green regarded “Oh Well Part II”, an expressive instrumental, as the greater achievement.

The second point of misinformation about “Black Dog” is that the riff was inspired by Muddy Waters’ 1968 album Electric Mud. Keith Shadwick in Led Zeppelin: 1968-1980 and Andy Fyfe in When the Levee Breaks: The Making of Led Zeppelin IV both repeat this erroneous detail. In the December, 2007, issue of Mojo, however, John Paul Jones states that he wrote the main riff for “Black Dog” after listening to This Is Howlin’ Wolf’s New Album. That authors of such definitive books about Led Zeppelin repeated this misinformation is understandable, as it was John Paul Jones himself who for years had misstated the origins of the “Black Dog” riff in interviews. As Steve Sauer explains, John Paul Jones had confused Electric Mud and This Is Howlin’ Wolf’s New Album, but didn’t realize his mistake until Sauer tracked him down with a copy of This Is Howlin’ Wolf’s New Album in his hand. After listening to both albums closely Sauer realized that it was “Smokestack Lightning” from This Is Howlin’ Wolf’s New Album that had inspired “Black Dog.”

It’s not all that surprising that John Paul Jones mixed up Electric Mud and This Is Howlin’ Wolf’s New Album. Both albums were late-1960s attempts to “update” the sound of these blues artists by incorporating more psychedelic instrumentation. While both albums have interesting tracks to recommend them, you can tell that neither artist’s heart was completely into this new sound. In fact, Howlin’ Wolf’s album explicitly stated the artist’s disdain for the record on the cover.

zep_ThisIsHowlinWolfsNewAlbum

This Is Howlin’ Wolf’s New Album also contains spoken interludes where Howlin’ Wolf explains why he doesn’t like his new album. One of his complaints was that electric guitars make “queer sounds.” But John Paul Jones listened closely to “Smokestack Lightning” and was inspired by what he heard. In the December, 2007, issue of Mojo, John Paul Jones told Mat Snow that the track had “a blues lick that went round and round and didn’t end when you thought it was going to.” Using that approach he developed the riff for “Black Dog,” stretching out the pattern over several measures and incorporating time signature changes, which has made this one of the most difficult songs to cover by the Hampton String Quartet, a chamber group that covers rock songs, as reported by Andy Fyfe in When the Levee Breaks: The Making of Led Zeppelin IV.

While Robert Plant has resorted to plagiarism on other songs, that is not the case with “Black Dog”. Robert Plant again draws on blues imagery for this track, but with a more subtle approach than on “Custard Pie” or “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper“. On “Black Dog” he incorporates several basic blues images without drawing too heavily on a single source. The image of the “honey dripper” has been used by such artists as Joe Liggins, Big Joe Turner, and Roosevelt Sykes. Sykes even took to referring to himself as “the Honey Dripper” and, of course, Robert Plant used the name The Honeydrippers for the band he formed just after the demise of Led Zeppelin. “Down and out” is a phrase that many blues artists have used, including Bessie Smith’s “Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s singles compilation LP Down And Out Blues, released on the Checker label in 1959. Also, Freddie King, Brownie McGhee, and rockabilly singer Jerry Lee Lewis sang of a “big legged woman,” an attractive woman whose sexuality was dangerous. And then there’s the title of the song, a blues image in itself, though as Chris Welch explains, the song “was named after a friendly mutt seen lurching about the building during the sessions.” (I’m not sure “lurching” was really the word he was looking for here, but whatever). According to Debra DeSalvo in The Language of the Blues: From Alcorub to Zuzu, a “black dog” as it was used in blues songs foretold death, as in Blind Blake’s “Black Dog Blues,” or a partner’s infidelity, as in Lighnin’ Hopkins’s “Hear My Black Dog Bark”.

All this is not to say that that Robert Plant plagiarized any one source. I put together a Mixcloud compilation of tracks that may have had some influence on Led Zeppelin when they wrote “Black Dog”. Listening to it should make it clear that while it may be possible to cite sources of inspiration for “Black Dog,” this track is Led Zeppelin’s original work. The use of blues images in “Black Dog” is an effective homage to the rich tradition of the blues while reworking the influences in an original way.

Track list:
1. 00:00 Howlin’ Wolf – Smokestack Lightning
2. 03:50 Fleetwood Mac – Oh Well Part I & II
3. 12:50 Blind Blake – Black Dog Blues
4. 15:40 Lightnin’ Hopkins – Hear My Black Dog Bark
5. 19:25 Big Joe Turner – Little Bittie Gal’s Blues
6. 22:05 Roosevelt Sykes & Hattie North – Honey Dripper Blues
7. 25:25 Big Joe Turner – My Little Honey Dripper
8. 27:20 Joe Liggins – The Honeydripper Parts 1 & 2
9. 33:30 Bessie Smith – Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out
10. 36:25 Kokomo Arnold – Down and Out Blues
11. 39:27 Scrapper Blackwell – Down and Out Blues
12. 42:20 Jimmy Liggins – Down and Out Blues
13. 45:15 Sonny Boy Williamson – Down and Out
14. 48:35 Howlin’ Wolf – I’m the Wolf
15. 51:25 Freddie King – Big Legged Woman
16. 55:15 Jerry Lee Lewis – Big Legged Woman
17. 57:32 Brownie McGhee – Big Legged Woman
18. 60:20 Mississippi John Hurt – Got the Blues (I Can’t Be Satisfied)
19. 63:07 Robert Johnson – I’m a Steady Rollin’ Man
20. 65:43 Led Zeppelin – Black Dog

Led Zeppelin: Plagiarism? “Custard Pie”

“Custard Pie” opens the 1975 double-LP Physical Graffiti and it served notice that even after six albums, Robert Plant was still drawing heavily from the blues. The source to which Plant owes the greatest debt for “Custard Pie” is “Drop Down Mama” by Sleepy John Estes with Hammie Nixon, recorded in 1935. The opening lines of “Custard Pie” echo those of Sleepy John Estes’s “Drop Down Mama”. In fact, the entire first verse of “Custard Pie” is drawn from “Drop Down Mama”. In the second verse Plant uses a cut-and-paste approach to country blues lyrics, lifting lines alternately from “Help Me” by Sonny Boy Williamson and “Shake ‘Em On Down” by Bukka White before moving on to “I Want Some Of Your Pie” by Blind Boy Fuller (Sonny Terry later recorded this song as “Custard Pie Blues”). It’s interesting to look at Robert Plant’s lyrics line-by-line to see how freely he was drawing on classic blues lines.

Custard Pie
by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Source
Drop down, baby, let your daddy see Drop Down Mama
Drop down, mama, just dream of me Drop Down Mama
Well, my mama allow me to fool around all night long Drop Down Mama
Well, I may look like I’m crazy, I should know right from wrong Drop Down Mama
See me comin’, throw your man out the door Drop Down Mama
Ain’t no stranger, been this way before Drop Down Mama
See me comin’, mama, throw your man out the door Drop Down Mama
I ain’t no stranger, I been this way before. Drop Down Mama
Put on your night shirt and your morning gown Help Me
You know by night I’m gonna shake ’em on down Shake ‘Em On Down
Put on your night shirt Mama, and your morning gown Help Me
Well, you know by night I’m gonna shake ’em on down Shake ‘Em On Down
Your custard pie, yeah, sweet and nice I Want Some of Your Pie
When you cut it, mama, save me a slice I Want Some of Your Pie
Your custard pie, I declare, it’s sweet and nice I Want Some of Your Pie
I Like your custard pie I Want Some of Your Pie
When you cut it, mama… mama, please save me a slice I Want Some of Your Pie
Chewin’ a piece of your custard pie I Want Some of Your Pie
Drop down Drop Down Mama

The lyrics of “Custard Pie” pay homage to the sly sexual images of country blues, but musically, “Custard Pie” is distinct from any of the blues classics it references. While Robert Plant’s lyrics may vary a bit from those of the original songs, the source material is readily identifiable here. In a couple of cases, Robert Plant draws so heavily on the source that “Custard Pie” goes beyond homage, particularly “Drop Down Mama” and perhaps “I Want Some of Your Pie”. Sleepy John Estes and perhaps Blind Boy Fuller should have been credited much in the same way that Led Zeppelin credited Memphis Minnie for “When the Levee Breaks”.

Drop Down Mama
by Sleepy John Estes

Now, drop down, baby, let your daddy be
I know just what you’re tryin’ to pull on me

[Chorus]
Well my mama, she don’t allow me to fool ’round all night long
Now I may look like I’m crazy, poor John do know right from wrong
Go ‘way from my window quit scratchin’ on my screen
You’s a dirty mistreater I know just what you mean

[Chorus]

Some of these women sure do make me tired
Got a, a handful of “Gimme”, a mouthful of “Much obliged”

[Chorus]

Woman I’m lovin’, one teeth solid gold
That’s the onliest woman a mortgage on my soul

[Chorus]

See me comin’ put your man outdoors
You know I ain’t no stranger, has done been here before

[Chorus]

I Want Some Of Your Pie
by Blind Boy Fuller

Says, I’m not jokin’ and I’m gonna tell you no lie
I want to eat your custard pie

[Chorus]
You gotta give me some of it (3X)
‘Fore you give it all away

I’m not breakin’ but you understood
everything I do, I try to do it good

[Chorus]

Now, your custard pie is good and nice
when you cut it, please save me a slice

[Chorus]

Says, I don’t care if I live right cross that street
you cut that pie please save me a piece

[Chorus]
Oh, it’s good for a man 83
you know good well it good enough for me

[Chorus]

Led Zeppelin: Plagiarism? “Stairway to Heaven”

In the movie Wayne’s World, Wayne goes to the music store and begins to play the opening chords of “Stairway to Heaven” on a Fender Stratocaster that he calls “Excalibur” only to be shown a sign that reads,”No Stairway to Heaven.” Perhaps overplayed on classic rock radio and in music stores, “Stairway to Heaven” is great nonetheless. Running over eight minutes, the song is in a category by itself. Though not issued as a single and available only on Led Zeppelin’s untitled 1972 LP (often called Led Zeppelin IV or Zoso, approximating the glyphs that adorn the album), it became “the most requested song ever played on American radio.”

Led Zeppelin’s critics, such as Will Shade, are quick to point out, however, that the opening guitar riff bears a striking similarity to the song “Taurus” by Spirit, included on their self-titled debut album which was released in 1968. Randy California, who wrote “Taurus”, was aware of the similarity between his song and “Stairway to Heaven” but always maintained a low-key response when asked about it.  A number of websites have repeated (without attribution) the notion that Randy California didn’t regard “Stairway to Heaven” as plagiarism, but rather as a “reworking” of his song.  This is definitely not the case.  Randy California clearly had strong feelings about this, even though he chose not to make a big issue of it.  According to his mother, Bernice Pearl, “when people would ask Randy about [Stairway to Heaven], he used to always say, ‘Let it go.'” but then she went on to say, “There should have been at least one telephone call from Led Zeppelin, some sort of ‘Thank you.’ Something. But it never came.”

He had the chance to have his say about the similarity between “Taurus” and “Stairway to Heaven” in his song-by-song liner notes for the 1996 reissue of Spirit, but all he wrote was, “People always ask me why ‘Stairway to Heaven’ sounds exactly like ‘Taurus,’ which was released two years earlier. I know Led Zeppelin also played ‘Fresh-Garbage’ in their live set. They opened up for us on their first American tour.” He left it at that, but when asked directly about it in an interview with Jeff McLaughlin in Listener shortly before his death, Randy California was much more direct,

Listener: Speaking of Led Zeppelin, the guitar introduction to your 1967 composition, “Taurus,” is a dead ringer for Zeppelin’s introduction to “Stairway to Heaven,” released in 1971. Did they ever acknowledge their artistic debt to you? They must of known “Taurus,” having performed as your warmup band.

California: Well, if you listen to the two songs, you can make your own judgment. It’s an exact… I’d say it was a rip-off. And the guys made millions of bucks on it and never said, “Thank you,” never said, “Can we pay you some money for it?”  It’s kind of a sore point with me.  Maybe some day their conscience will make them do something about it.  I don’t know.  There are funny business dealings between record companies, managers, publishers, and artists.  But when artists do it to other artists, there’s no excuse for that. I’m mad!  [laughs]

Listener: Well, take comfort in the fact that you’re the true author of one of the most instantly recognizable guitar riffs in rock history.

California: Yeah, right

from Jeff McLaughlin, “Spirit’s Still Willing: A Conversation with Randy California,” Listener,  Winter 1997, p. 51. Special thanks to Jeff McLaughlin for providing an original issue of Listener containing his interview with Randy California

Given the similarity between “Stairway to Heaven” and Randy California’s “Taurus”, Robert Plant’s lyrics “There’s a feeling I get when I look to the west/And my spirit is crying for leaving” take on a different meaning.  Perhaps this is some sort of nod to Randy California, but Led Zeppelin never acknowledged their debt to Randy California.

Beyond that, however, other claims of plagiarism leveled against “Stairway to Heaven” are groundless.  A few other songs that predate “Stairway to Heaven” feature a descending chord pattern similar to the one that opens the song.  The website Everthing2.com mentions a couple of songs that fall into this category, “Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers and “Ice Cream Dreams” by Cartoone, but the opening used in each of these songs is more rudimentary and clearly distinct from “Stairway to Heaven”.  What’s more interesting about Cartoone is that they only released one album and Jimmy Page actually plays on it.  “And She’s Lonely” by the Chocolate Watchband contains a section that is very similar to the opening of “Stairway to Heaven.”  Listen particularly to the passage at about three minutes into the song and you’ll hear the pattern, although it resolves a little differently.  “And She’s Lonely” was included on the 1969 LP One Step Beyond and in Led Zeppelin: 1968-1980 Keith Shadwick points out that the Chocolate Watchband had played a show with the Yardbirds in California when Jimmy Page was with the band.

Everything2.com also mentions that Jimmy Page’s guitar solo in “Stairway to Heaven” bears some resemblance to Jimi Hendrix’s guitar solo in “All Along the Watchtower.”  Everthing2.com rightly points out, however, that these are common patterns that have been worked and reworked in many songs.

Often the charges of plagiarism leveled against Led Zeppelin involve Robert Plant’s lyrics, but that is not the case with “Stairway to Heaven”.  On the eve of the release of Led Zeppelin IV, Jimmy Page told Chris Welch, “The words are brilliant—they are the best Robert has ever written.”  They were so proud of the lyrics that they printed them on the gatefold sleeve of the album.  In Led Zeppelin – Dazed and Confused: The Stories Behind Every Song, Chris Welch does mention “Skip Softly (My Moonbeams)” by Procol Harum as a song that predates “Starway to Heaven” and contains a similar image with the line “the stairs up to heaven lead straight down to hell”. Other than that image, however, “Stairway to Heaven” shares little with “Skip Softly (My Moonbeams)”, both in terms of the music or the lyrics.

Skip Softly (My Moonbeams)
by Gary Brooker, Keith Reid

Skip softly, my moonbeams, avoid being seen
Pretend that perhaps you are part of a dream
which seen by some other such person as me
would only glow smiling and nod and agree

Skip softly, my moonbeams, for I have heard tell
that the stairs up to heaven lead straight down to hell
that pride is the last thing which comes before fall
I’d as soon talk to you as make love to a wall

The image of a “stairway to heaven” had been employed a number of times before Led Zeppelin used it.  Jack Guthrie recorded a song called “I’m Building a Stairway to Heaven” in 1944, and a song of the same title was recorded by the Lewis Family some years later.  The 1946 British film “A Matter of Life and Death” was retitled “Stairway to Heaven” when it was released in the United States, and Neil Sedaka had a hit with a song called “Stairway to Heaven” in 1960.  No one would suggest, however, that Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” had anything to do with Neil Sedaka’s song or any of the other works mentioned.  They only share the title image.  It’s interesting to note how these earlier songs use the image of a stairway to heaven in a purely positive way, while Procol Harum and Led Zeppelin use it in a darker, more ironic sense.  Neil Sedaka swoons for his “heavenly angel” and promises to build a stairway to heaven to reach his idealized love, and the Lewis Family build their “stairway to heaven” through their faith in Christ.  Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” maintains that you can’t buy your way into heaven.  The shift in the meaning of the imagery says more about the spirit of the times than about any specific debt Led Zeppelin owes to Procol Harum, though.

Led Zeppelin: Plagiarism? “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper”

“Hats Off to (Roy) Harper”, which closes Led Zeppelin III, draws on a number of country blues songs. Along with “Custard Pie” on Physical Graffiti, “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper” is a prime example of Robert Plant’s cut-and-paste approach to borrowing lyrics from blues artists. Almost every line in “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper was lifted from a country blues song. The most obvious source is “Shake ‘Em On Down” by Bukka White. Mississippi Fred McDowell recorded a song by the same title, but other than a similar refrain, the lyrics of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s version differ from Bukka White’s. The lyrics Robert Plant uses for “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper” are more directly from Bukka White’s version, while Jimmy Page’s bottleneck guitar has a sound similar to the version by Mississippi Fred McDowell.

The refrain (“When I done quit hollerin’, babe/I believe I’ll shake ’em on down”) was taken from Bukka White’s version of “Shake ‘Em On Down”. In the third verse Robert Plant mixes “Shake ‘Em On Down” with “Help Me” by Sonny Boy Williamson (“Listen, mama, put on your mornin’ gown/Put on your nightshirt, mama, we gonna shake ’em on down”—lines he would reuse in “Custard Pie”). The song most heavily quoted in “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper,” however, is “Lone Wolf Blues” by Oscar Woods, as the second and fourth verses both come from this song. Robert Plant also inserted a reference to a “brown-skin woman”, which is probably taken from the song of that title by Howlin’ Wolf or perhaps Sunnyland Slim. The alternate lyrics that Robert Plant uses for the refrain in the second half of the song (“I been mistreated, babe”) also draw on “Lone Wolf Blues”.

The lyrics to “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper” are given below, listing the source Robert Plant used for each line. In a couple of cases the association is a stretch, particularly the lines “Get me, baby, won’t be late/You know by that I mean not seconds late”. Those lines may have come from Howlin’ Wolf’s “Down in the Bottom” written by Willie Dixon, which contains the phrase “don’t be late” rather than “won’t be late”. While not a certainty, all of the other lines are readily identifiable from blues sources, and “Down in the Bottom” is on Howlin’ Wolf’s  “Rockin’ Chair” album, which was one of the first records Jimmy Page and Robert Plant shared upon first meeting. The other tenuous association is the final line of the song with Tampa Red’s “Blue and Evil Blues,” which has a similar theme and concludes with the singer shooting his woman.

Hats Off to (Roy) Harper
Lyrics Source
When I done quit hollerin’, babe Shake ‘Em On Down
I believe I’ll shake ’em on down Shake ‘Em On Down
Get me, baby, won’t be late Down in the Bottom [?]
You know by that I mean not seconds late Down in the Bottom [?]
Must I holler, must I shake ’em on down Shake ‘Em On Down
When I done quit hollerin’, babe Shake ‘Em On Down
I believe I’ll shake ’em on down Shake ‘Em On Down
Well, I ain’t no monkey, I can’t climb no tree Lone Wolf Blues
No brown-skin woman Brown Skin Woman
Gonna make no monkey outta me Lone Wolf Blues
Yeah, I ain’t no monkey, sure can’t climb no tree Lone Wolf Blues
I been mistreated, babe Lone Wolf Blues
I believe I’ll shake ’em on down Shake ‘Em On Down
Well, I been mistreated, babe Lone Wolf Blues
I believe I’ll shake ’em on down Shake ‘Em On Down
Listen, mama, put on your morning gown Help Me
Put on your nightshirt, mama Help Me
We gonna shake ’em on down Shake ‘Em On Down
Must I shake ’em on down Shake ‘Em On Down
Well, I done been mistreated baby Lone Wolf Blues
I believe I’ll shake ’em on down Shake ‘Em On Down
Gave my baby twenty-dollar bill Lone Wolf Blues
If that don’t finish her, I’m sure my shotgun will Lone Wolf Blues
Yeah, I gave my babe twenty-dollar bill Lone Wolf Blues
Well, if that don’t get that woman out Lone Wolf Blues
I’m sure my shotgun will Lone Wolf Blues
Yeah, I’ll go shoot her, now Blue and Evil Blues [?]

“Hats Off to (Roy) Harper” is a strange recording and a rather odd way to pay tribute to Roy Harper, who was a folk singer with minimal blues influence. Perhaps the tribute to Harper is in the eccentricity of the recording itself, which would be fitting as Harper is certainly eccentric. Still, as it is, “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper” serves as more of a tribute to country blues artists of the 1930s than to the man mentioned in the title. Jimmy Page explained the tribute in a 1979 interview in New Musical Express. Chris Salewicz was asking Jimmy Page about his political beliefs and being true to one’s convictions. Jimmy Page pointed to Roy Harper as someone he had great respect for in this regard. According to Jimmy Page, “Harper’s ‘Stormcock’ was a fabulous album which didn’t sell anything. Also, they wouldn’t release his albums in America for quite a long time. For that I just thought, ‘Well, hats off to you’. As far as I’m concerned, though, hats off to anyone who does what they think is right and refuses to sell out.”

Perhaps the strangest thing about “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper” is how the songwriting credits are listed: “Traditional, arr. by Charles Obscure”, presumably a pseudonym of Jimmy Page. With multiple artists quoted, shouldn’t at least one of them have received songwriting credit for this track? How much of an artist’s work needs to quoted before they deserve to be acknowledged in the credits? A line? A refrain? A verse? Two verses? I don’t know what the rules for songwriting credits are, but to my mind quoting two verses, as is the case with “Lone Wolf Blues”, warrants songwriting credits for Oscar Woods. Also, the Bukka White refrain, repeated several times throughout the track, plays a key role in “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper”, and so Bukka White should have been credited on this song as well. It should be noted that Bukka White was still alive when “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper” was recorded.

Lone Wolf Blues
by Oscar Woods:

Mama mother told me, when I was quite a child (2x)
I say the life that you are living will kill you after a while

I just begin to realize the things my mother say (2x)
Since I been down here I been mistreated this way

I never loved no one woman, hope to God I never will (2x)
All these triflin’ women will get some good man killed

Now I ain’t no monkey and I sho’ can’t climb a tree (2x)
And I ain’t gonna let no woman make no monkey out of me

Now I sent my baby a brand new twenty-dollar bill (2x)
If that don’t bring her, I know my shotgun will

Shake ‘Em On Down
by Bukka White

Yes, you’re a nice girl, mama
And little girl
Night before day
We gonna shake ’em on down

I need some time holler, now
Oh, must I shake ’em on down
I done shout hollerin’, now
Must I shake ’em on down

Too much is debted to me
Through the week
Save these chili peppers
Some ol’ rainy day, here

Best I’m hollerin’, now
Ooh, must I shake ’em on down
I done shout hollerin’, now
Must I shake ’em on down, now

Fix my supper
Let me go to bed
This white lightnin’ done gone
To my head

Oh, must I holler now
Ooh, must I shake ’em on down
I done shout hollerin’, now
Must I shake ’em on down

I ain’t been in Georgia, babe
I been told
Georgia women got the best
Jellyroll

These nights time holler, now
Oh, must I shake ’em on down
I done shout hollerin’, mama
Must I shake ’em on down

See See mama, heard
You, done-done
Made me love you, now I know
Man done coming

Best I’m hollerin’, now
Oh, must I shake ’em on down
I done shout hollerin’, mama
Must I shake ’em on down

Pretty girl’s got
They don’t know
What it is make me drunk
At that old whiskey still

It’s best I’m hollerin’, now
Oh, must I shake ’em on down
I done shout hollerin’
Must I shake ’em on down.

Led Zeppelin: Plagiarism? “The Lemon Song”

“The Lemon Song,” included on the 1969 album Led Zeppelin II, is another of Led Zeppelin’s homages to the blues. On these sorts of tracks, Robert Plant was never content to take lyrics from just one source, but for the most part “The Lemon Song” draws on Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor.” According to Led Zeppelin: The Complete Guide To Their Music by Dave Lewis, on Led Zeppelin’s first American tour in 1969 they regularly included “Killing Floor” in their sets. Following that tour, however,  they performed the song as “The Lemon Song” and recorded it under that title for Led Zeppelin II with songwriting credits given to Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

The first, second and fourth verses of “The Lemon Song,” however, are clearly recognizable from Howlin’ Wolf’s original song.

Killing Floor
by Chester Burnett

I shoulda quit you a long time ago
I shoulda quit you, babe, long time ago
I shoulda quit you and went on to Mexico

If I hada followed my first mind
If I hada followed my first mind
I’da been gone, since my second time

I shoulda went on
When my friend come from Mexico at me
I shoulda went on
When my friend come from Mexico at me
But no foolin’ with ya, babe
I let ya put me on the killin’ floor

Lord knows I shoulda been gone
Lord knows I shoulda been gone
And I wouldn’ta been here
Down on the killin’ floor

The Lemon Song
by Jimmy Page & Robert Plant (& Chester Burnett)

I should have quit you, long time ago
I should have quit you, long time ago
I wouldn’t be here, my children
Down on this killin’ floor

I should have listened, baby, to my second mind
I should have listened, baby, to my second mind
Every time I go away and leave you, darling
Send me the blues way down the line

Said, people worry I can’t keep you satisfied
Let me tell you, baby
You ain’t nothin but a two-bit, no-good jive

Went to sleep last night
Worked as hard as I can,
Bring home my money
You take my money
Give it to another man

I should have quit you, baby
Such a long time ago.
I wouldn’t be here with all my troubles
Down on this killing floor

Squeeze me, baby, ’til the juice runs down my leg
Squeeze me, baby, ’til the juice runs down my leg
The way you squeeze my lemon
I’m gonna fall right out of bed

I’m gonna leave my children
Down on this killing floor

In 1972, ARC music sued Led Zeppelin, claiming that they had plagiarized Howlin’ Wolf and a settlement was reached out of court. Chester Burnett (Howlin’ Wolf’s real name) is now given songwriting credit for “The Lemon Song”.

Some of Robert Plant’s lyrics for “The Lemon Song” are not from “Killing Floor,” but rather from other classic blues songs. The phrase “you take my money, give it to another man” could have been taken from “Black Eye Blues” by Ma Rainey. Then, of course, is Robert Johnson’s lemon phallic reference from his 1937 song “Traveling Riverside Blues,” which became one of Robert Plant’s signature lyrics (Squeeze me, baby, until the juice runs down my leg/The way you squeeze my lemon/I’m gonna fall right outta bed) Plant often inserted these lines into other songs during live performances. On BBC Sessions, Robert Plant used them in “How Many More Times” and “Communication Breakdown”, and Dave Lewis points out that he often included this in the “Whole Lotta Love” medley during live shows.

Some time ago I had argued that Robert Johnson should also be credited for “The Lemon Song,” but I no longer hold that view. First, Robert Johnson was not the first to use a lemon as a sexual image in his music. In the 1929 song “I Want It Awful Bad,” Joe Williams had included the lines “You squeezed my lemon/Caused my juice to run.” Several artists used the image in 1930s, including Roosevelt Sykes in his 1937 song “She Squeezed My Lemon,” as well as Memphis Minnie and Sonny Boy Williamson I. Second, Led Zeppelin did provide an acknowledgement of sorts for Robert Johnson. They performed “Traveling Riverside Blues” as part of their live repertoire, and it is included on BBC Sessions, The first box set, and as a bonus track on the version of Coda included in The Complete Studio Recordings. Led Zeppelin’s version of “Traveling Riverside Blues” includes substantial original contributions from Led Zeppelin and the songwriting credits are properly listed as “Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Robert Johnson.” Third, Robert Plant changed Robert Johnson’s in a significant way. Robert Johnson’s lyrics from “Traveling Riverside Blues” are as follows:

Now you can squeeze my lemon ’til the juice run down my…
spoken: ‘Til the juice run down my leg, baby, you know what I’m talkin’ ’bout.
You can squeeze my lemon ’til the juice run down my leg
spoken: That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout, now
But I’m goin’ back to Friars Point, if I be rockin’ to my head

The reference to falling out of bed comes instead from “Stop Messin’ Round” from Fleetwood Mac’s 1968 album Mr Wonderful.

I want you to squeeze a me, baby, ’til my face turns cherry red
You roll me so hard, baby, I’m fallin’ out of bed, now

Led Zeppelin were clearly fans of Fleetwood Mac, particularly when that band was primarily a blues band under the leadership of Peter Green. Fleetwood Mac’s influence played a role not only in “The Lemon Song,” but in “Rock and Roll” and “Black Dog,” as well. Still, Robert Plant gave Robert Johnson credit.

That line “squeeze my lemon ’til the juice runs down my leg” was just so indicative of that person Robert Johnson…. It’s borrowed, admittedly, but why not? I would really like to think that someone who heard that… would go out and listen to Robert Johnson as a result.  But I wish I’d written that, I really do.

Other influences are evident in “The Lemon Song,” as well, which are worth mentioning even if they don’t warrant changing the songwriting credits. Dave Lewis points out that the arrangement of “The Lemon Song” is similar to Albert King’s “Crosscut Saw,” from his 1967 album Born Under a Bad Sign. Robert Plant often performed “Crosscut Saw” with the Honeydrippers after his days with Led Zeppelin.

Another influence that’s interesting to note is the Electric Flag, who included a version of “Killing Floor” on their debut album A Long Time Comin’, which was released in 1968. Though the Electric Flag stayed true to Howlin’ Wolf’s lyrics, their version of the song opens with a brief segment of Lyndon Johnson’s “And We Shall Overcome” address to Congress in 1965. The Electric Flag then interrupt Johnson’s oratory with laughter before the music commences. Though this introduction is brief, its effect is to change the meaning of the song entirely. A “killing floor” in classic blues lyrics often referred to a slaughterhouse. On a literal level, many black migrants from the South found jobs in slaughterhouses working on the killing floor. This image was incorporated into blues songs as having hit rock bottom, particularly in the context of a difficult relationship with a woman. By introducing the track in such a satirical way, the Electric Flag alter the meaning of the killing floor. In the Electric Flag’s version of the song, the killing floor becomes the Vietnam War and the urban unrest of the 1960s. Led Zeppelin didn’t attempt this sort of commentary in their version of “Killing Floor” but they had clearly heard the Electric Flag’s version of the song. Jimmy Page’s guitar solo bears some similarity to the Electric Flag’s solo and Robert Plant uses an Electric Flag variant of the lyrics. Where Howlin’ Wolf referred to his “first mind” in the second verse of “Killing Floor,” the Electric Flag sang,

If I hada listened to my second mind
You know I wouldn’t be here now, people
Down on the killin’ floor

Robert Plant followed these lyrics

I should have listened, baby, to my second mind
Everytime I go away and leave ya, darlin’
Send me the blues way down the line

To be fair, in “The Lemon Song” Led Zeppelin took a number of influences to produce something that was uniquely theirs. Still, they drew heavily enough on one source, Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor,” to be forced to change the songwriting credits under threat of legal action. In his scathingly negative review of Led Zeppelin II in Rolling Stone when the album was initially released in 1969, John Mendelsohn took exception to Led Zeppelin’s blues posturing. Mendelsohn’s review is laced with sarcasm and reveals a lot about why Led Zeppelin acquired such a bad reputation with the rock press, particularly with regard to the issue of plagiarism. To Mendelsohn, Led Zeppelin’s heavy interpretation of the blues was a bastardization of a vaunted form. That Robert Plant’s lyrics would quote so freely from the original sources while the instrumental parts had lost the essence of the original was grounds for ridicule to Mendelsohn. Plant later stated that he thought that Mendelsohn “was just a frustrated musician. Maybe I’m just flying on my own little ego ship, but sometimes people seem to resent talent.”

In recent years, critics have tended to be kinder to Led Zeppelin. A 2003 special edition of Q magazine on Led Zeppelin had this to say about “The Lemon Song,” “‘Forgetting’ to credit [Howlin’ Wolf] almost landed Zeppelin in court, but in truth the electrifying combination of Bonham’s sledgehammer drums and Page’s dazzling solo makes it entirely their own.” Had Led Zeppelin been better about citing their sources, they may not have met with such hostility from rock journalists in their early years and it may not have taken such a long time for the rock press to evaluate Led Zeppelin’s music on its own terms.

Led Zeppelin: Plagiarism? “Whole Lotta Love”

Robert Plant loved the erotic imagery used by bluesmen and the swaggering sexuality expressed in the blues, so much so that he would often lift lines here and there from various blues classics.  On occasion, however, he borrowed a little too much.  Such is the case with “Whole Lotta Love,” which opens the 1969 album Led Zeppelin II.  “Whole Lotta Love” was initially credited to Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham.  In 1985, however, Variety reported that Willie Dixon sued Led Zeppelin, claiming that “Whole Lotta Love” was largely plagiarized from “You Need Love,” written by Dixon and recorded by Muddy Waters as a single for Chess Records in 1962.

To be fair, “Whole Lotta Love” is a creative piece of work that demonstrates Led Zeppelin’s originality. The lyrics, however, do not meet this standard. The opening verse of “Whole Lotta Love” (You need coolin’/Baby, I’m not foolin’/I’m gonna send you/Back to schoolin’/Way down inside/Honey, you need it/I’m gonna give you my love) is readily identifiable from Willie Dixon’s lyrics for “You Need Love” (I ain’t foolin’/You need schoolin’/Baby, you know you need coolin’/Woman, way down inside/Woman, you need love) The next verse of “Whole Lotta Love” (You’ve been learnin’/Baby, I’ve been learnin’/All them good times/Baby, baby, I’ve been yearnin’/Way, way down inside/Honey, you need love/I’m gonna give you my love) strays a little from the original, but is still recognizable (You got yearnin’ and I got burnin’/Baby, you look so sweet and cunning/Baby, way down inside/Woman, you need love/You got to have some love/I’m gon’ give you some love). Robert Plant also takes the words from this verse and turns them into a vocal break near the end of the song. In addition, Robert Plant briefly quotes Howlin’ Wolf at the end of “Whole Lotta Love” with the lines “Shake for me, girl/I wanna be your back door man.” Actually, Plant was once again quoting Willie Dixon, as both of the songs “Shake for Me” and “Back Door Man,” though popularized by Howlin’ Wolf, were written by Dixon.

Whole Lotta Love
by Jimmy Page, Robert Plant,
John Paul Jones & John Bonham
(& Willie Dixon)

You need coolin’
Baby, I’m not foolin’
I’m gonna send you
Back to schoolin’
Way down inside
Honey, you need it
I’m gonna give you my love

[Refrain]
Wanna whole lotta love

You’ve been learnin’
Baby, I’ve been learnin’
All them good times
Baby, baby, I’ve been yearnin’
Way, way down inside
Honey, you need love
I’m gonna give you my love

[Refrain]

You’ve been coolin’
Baby, I’ve been droolin’
All the good times
I’ve been misusin’
Way, way down inside
I’m gonna give you my love
I’m gonna give you every inch of my love
Gonna give you my love

[Refrain]

Way down inside woman you need love

Shake for me, girl
I wanna be your backdoor man
Keep it coolin’, baby

You Need Love
by Willie Dixon
performed by Muddy Waters

You got yearnin’ and I got burnin’
Baby, you look so sweet and cunning
Baby, way down inside
Woman, you need love
You got to have some love
I’m gon’ give you some love
I know you need love
You just got to have love
You got to have some love
you make me feel so good
You make me feel alright
you’re so nice, you’re so nice

You are frettin’ and I am pettin’
A lot of good things you ain’t gettin’
Baby, way down inside
Woman, you need love
I know you need love
You got to have some love

I ain’t foolin’
You need schoolin’
Baby, you know you need coolin’
Woman, way down inside
Woman, you need love
You got to have some love
She got to have some love

Robert Plant flippantly discussed this in an interview,

Page’s riff was Page’s riff. It was there before anything else. I just thought, ‘Well, what am I going to sing?’ That was it, a nick. Now happily paid for. At the time there was a lot of conversation about what to do. It was decided that it was so far away in time and influence… Well, you only get caught when you’re successful.

Bear in mind that when Led Zeppelin were recording their second album it had been only seven years since the release of Muddy Waters recording of “You Need Love”. When the lawsuit was filed in the 1980s, a lawyer for the Led Zeppelin’s record company, Atlantic Records, offered only the weak defense, “It’s strange that someone would wait all that time [to file a suit].” The case was settled out of court and recent Led Zeppelin releases have given songwriting credit for “Whole Lotta Love” to Willie Dixon along with all four members of Led Zeppelin. Willie Dixon used the money received from this settlement for the Blues Heaven Foundation, which he founded in 1984. The mission of the Blues Heaven Foundation is to “to help artists and musicians obtain what is rightfully theirs, and to educate both adults and children on the history of the Blues and the business of music.” Until his death in 1992, Dixon worked on behalf of other artists to ensure that they received the royalties they were due for their music.

Though Led Zeppelin had no doubt heard Muddy Waters’s version of “You Need Love”, the version of this song that appears to have most directly influenced them was by the Small Faces. The Small Faces released “You Need Loving” in 1966 and despite the slight retitling, this track is a straightforward interpretation of “You Need Love” that stays close to Muddy Waters’ version.

“You Need Loving” is credited to “Lane/Marriot,” demonstrating that Led Zeppelin weren’t the only ones who were reluctant to give proper songwriting credit. In a 1977 interview with Ray Coleman, Robert Plant referred to Steve Marriot, the lead singer for the Small Faces, as “the master of white contemporary blues.” Perhaps competing with Marriot, Robert Plant sounds very much like the Small Faces’ vocalist during the climactic vocal break (“Way down inside, woman, you need lo-o-ove”). The Small Faces’ “You Need Loving” included a similar vocal break, but Robert Plant draws out this line even more than Marriot had. Where Steve Marriot’s vocal break lasted 14 seconds, Robert Plant stretches this section out to 26 seconds

Marriot Plant Comparison
Robert Plant’s vocal break in “Whole Lotta Love” is nearly twice as long as Steve Marriot’s in “You Need Loving”

Still, Plant expressed humility in the Coleman interview, “I could never be compared with Steve Marriot because he’s too good, unfortunately! He’s got the best white voice, for sheer bravado and balls.” Steve Marriot, however, was not quite as gracious when he spoke about Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. In Steve Marriott: All Too Beautiful, Paolo Hewitt quotes Marriot as saying, “Jimmy Page asked me what that number was we did. I said, ‘it’s a Muddy Waters thing’.” He went on to say that Robert Plant was a big fan of the Small Faces. Marriot claimed, “He used to come to the gigs whenever we played in Kidderminster or Stourbridge,” and he felt that Robert Plant copied his interpretation of “You Need Loving” in “Whole Lotta Love.” “He sang it the same, phrased it the same, even the stops at the end were the same.”

It’s interesting that Willie Dixon never sued Ronnie Lane and Steve Marriot over “You Need Love”. Here Led Zeppelin’s popularity (and reputation as music thieves) made them more of a target for legal action than the Small Faces, even though though the Small Faces had drawn more freely from the original (Steve Marriot also lifted lines from “Land of 10,000 Dances” as he listed off several of the dances from that song). Willie Dixon may not have been aware of the Small Faces version. The only reason Willie Dixon was aware of “Whole Lotta Love” was that when his daughter, Shirli, was 13 years old, she heard the record at a friend’s house. She thought it sounded familiar so she borrowed it and played it for her father. After Willie Dixon’s death, Shirli Dixon-Nelson and Dixon’s widow, Marie, ran the Blues Heaven Foundation. It was through their efforts that the Blues Heaven Foundation moved into the restored Chess Records Studio at 2120 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago.

zep_2120SMichiganAve

2120 S. Michigan Ave. in Chicago,
the former offices and recording studios of Chess Records and now the site of the Blues Heaven Foundation

Dazed and Confused by Jake Holmes

On June 28, 2010, Jake Holmes at long last sued Jimmy Page for plagiarizing the song “Dazed and Confused.” Rather than dragging the case through the courts, it appears they have settled out of court, as the case was “dismissed with prejudice” at the request of the plaintiff (Jake Holmes) on January 17, 2012. Very little information is available about the case or the terms of the settlement, but on the reunion concert CD/DVD Celebration Day, which was released November 19, 2012, the songwriting credits for “Dazed and Confused” read “Jimmy Page; Inspired by Jake Holmes” Up to this point, Jake Holmes had never received any acknowledgement or compensation for Led Zeppelin’s version “Dazed and Confused.” So while these revised songwriting credits are still not entirely accurate, this is a step in the right direction.

“Dazed and Confused” was written by Jake Holmes and included on his 1967 album The Above Ground Sound of Jake Holmes. Led Zeppelin’s version appeared on their debut album, released in 1969.  In an interview with Will Shade, Jake Holmes revealed that he did approach Led Zeppelin several years after the release of Led Zeppelin I about the authorship of “Dazed and Confused”. No one from Led Zeppelin replied to Jake Holmes’s queries and he didn’t pursue the matter. When asked why he waited so long to initiate any legal action, Jake Holmes pointed to the case of “A Whiter Shade Of Pale,” the 1967 hit single by Procol Harum. Initially credited only to Gary Booker and Keith Reid, the case was settled in 2009 in favor of Procol Harum organist Matthew Fisher despite the length of time since the track had been released.

When Led Zeppelin I was released in 1969, Jimmy Page was listed as the sole author of “Dazed and Confused,” though this was always subject to doubt. A 1990 interview with Jimmy Page in Musician is revealing.

MUSICIAN: I understand “Dazed and Confused” was originally a song by Jake Holmes. Is that true?
PAGE: [Sourly] I don’t know. I don’t know. [Inhaling] I don’t know about all that.
MUSICIAN: Do you remember the process of writing that song?
PAGE: Well, I did that with the Yardbirds originally…. The Yardbirds were such a good band for a guitarist to play in that I came up with a lot of riffs and ideas out of that, and I employed quite a lot of those in the early Zeppelin stuff.
MUSICIAN: But Jake Holmes, a successful jingle writer in New York, claims on his 1967 record that he wrote the original song.
PAGE: Hmm. Well, I don’t know. I don’t know about that. I’d rather not get into it because I don’t know all the circumstances. What’s he got, The riff or whatever? Because Robert wrote some of the lyrics for that on the album. But he was only listening to…we extended it from the one that we were playing with the Yardbirds.
MUSICIAN: Did you bring it into the Yardbirds?
PAGE: No, I think we played it ’round a sort of melody line or something that Keith [Relf] had. So I don’t know. I haven’t heard Jake Holmes so I don’t know what it’s all about anyway. Usually my riffs are pretty damn original [laughs] What can I say?

The interviewer let the matter go at this point, but the article adds the following footnote: “The acoustic “Dazed and Confused” on The Above Ground Sound of Jake Holmes (Tower Records ST 5079, June 1967) is very, very close to Led Zeppelin’s 1969 version, musically and lyrically.” It’s interesting to note that in the Musician interview Jimmy Page seems to be giving Robert Plant credit for the “Dazed and Confused” lyrics, though this has never been reflected in the songwriting credits.

It’s commonly acknowledged that Jimmy Page had heard Jake Holmes play “Dazed and Confused” before the Yardbirds (and Led Zeppelin, of course) began performing the song. In Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga Stephen Davis writes that the Yardbirds heard Jake Holmes at Café a Go Go during a stint in New York in 1967, and they were impressed with his performance of “Dazed and Confused,” which they felt was “a brilliant number—dramatic, frightening, and very stealable.” A somewhat different account comes from Greg Russo, who asserts that on August 25, 1967, Jake Holmes opened for the Yardbirds at the Village Theater in Greenwich Village. Jim McCarty and Jimmy Page were so impressed with Jake Holmes’s performance that each of them went out and bought a copy of The Above Ground Sound of Jake Holmes.

Greg Russo is perhaps the more credible source, as his account was confirmed by Jim McCarty. Also, Greg Russo is the author of Yardbirds: The Ultimate Rave-Up, and he wrote the liner notes for the 2003 EMI reissue of Little Games, the last studio album released by the Yardbirds. This reissue adds a number of tracks, including a live performance of “Dazed and Confused” recorded for the BBC in March, 1968. Interesting to note that this reissue credited Jake Holmes as the songwriter and the Yardbirds as arrangers.

By March, 1968, “Dazed and Confused” had become part of the Yardbirds live repertoire. The Yardbirds did not record a studio version of “Dazed and Confused” for release on any of their albums, but it was included on Live Yardbirds Featuring Jimmy Page, a concert recorded at the Anderson Theater in New York on March 30, 1968. Epic released Live Yardbirds Featuring Jimmy Page in 1971 to capitalize on Jimmy Page’s success in Led Zeppelin, but they did so without the permission of the Yardbirds and carelessly listed the title of “Dazed and Confused” as “I’m Confused.” Reportedly Jimmy Page was displeased with the recording quality of Live Yardbirds Featuring Jimmy Page and he was horrified to find that “the producer had tacked on bullfight cheers and sound effects of clinking glasses to make the concert sound ‘live.'” Jimmy Page has gone to some lengths to keep this album off the market.

As “Dazed and Confused” became a regular part of the Yardbirds live set, Keith Relf took some liberties with the lyrics of the song, but it should be noted that other than the title line, Led Zeppelin completely rewrote the lyrics of the song. Also, in When Giants Walked the Earth: A Biography of Led Zeppelin, Mick Wall quotes Jake Holmes as saying that he just wanted “a fair deal. I don’t want [Page] to give me full credit for this song. He took it and  put it in a direction that I never would have taken it, and it became very successful. So why should I complain? But give me at least half credit on it.” (p. 64) I don’t think “inspired by Jake Holmes” meets this goal, not to mention that Led Zeppelin owes a great debt to Jake Holmes, one that even a complete change of songwriting credits could not repay. “Dazed and Confused” became one of Led Zeppelin’s signature numbers and was emblematic of their staggering success.  Led Zeppelin and “Dazed and Confused” are identified so strongly with their times that Richard Linklater used “Dazed and Confused” as the title of his film about coming of age in the 1970s. Now that the lawsuit is over, “inspired by Jake Holmes” is probably the only change to the credits that will occur, even if it isn’t right.