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.