“The robbed that smiles steals something from the thief. He robs himself that spends a bootless grief.” – Othello (Act I, Scene III)
All music is derivative. Science has shown for centuries that in order to move forward you must advance what those before you have accomplished. You stand on the shoulders of giants, make footprints on virgin ground, and raise the bar for generations that follow. This rule also rings true for musicians.
Recorded Music is in it’s infancy, clocking in at just under 140 years old. That’s not a very long time given proper perspective, but in this brief period we’ve reaped the benefits of influence. Each genre and sub-genre of music is the result of different styles, experience, and taste colliding together. Jazz, Rock, and Hip-Hop would not exist without the Blues, America’s great art.
That said, you should give credit where it’s properly due – especially when you’re grossly profiting from those whose shoulders you’re standing on. I believe all four members of Led Zeppelin are some of the most technical and accomplished musician’s at their respective instruments – but the lack of credit given to those who laid the mason work for the mansions they now roam gives haste to my praise. I’ll never doubt their influence or talent – but I’ll always question their originality, integrity, and truth in perception.
- Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie – When the Levee Breaks (1929) – Originally recorded in 1929, all four members of Led Zeppelin took equal writing credit along with the true author, Memphis Minnie, on Led Zeppelin IV in 1971.
- Muddy Waters – You Shook Me (1962) – Led Zeppelin covered “You Shook Me” on their 1969 self-titled debut. They took no writing or arraignment credit on this track.
- Lead Belly – The Gallis Pole (1939) – Popularized by Lead Belly in the 30’s and covered on Zeppelin III in 1970 as “Gallows Pole” – Page & Plant took arraignment credit for a traditional song that was over a hundred years old.
- Howlin’ Wolf – Killing Floor (1964) – Zeppelin covered this five years after the original on their 1969 sophomore album Zeppelin II as “Lemon Song” – and took equal writing credit with Chester Burnett, aka Howlin’ Wolf, aka The Guy Who Really Wrote The Song.
- Blind Willie Johnson – It’s Nobody’s Fault but Mine (1927) – A traditional song first recorded by Blind Willie in 1927. Plant and Page released their cover of “It’s Nobody’s Fault but Mine” nearly 50 years later on Zeppelin’s 1976 album Presence. All credit was given to Page & Plant.
- Moby Grape – Never (1968) – Zeppelin borrowed this song from Moby Grape two years after the initial release. “Since I’ve Been Loving You”, for all intents and purposes is the same song, and was credited to only Jones, Page, and Plant on Zeppelin III – two years later in 1970.
- Jake Holmes – Dazed and Confused (1967) – Jimmy Page settled out of court with Jake Holmes over copyright infringement in 2010. Holmes version of the song was released two years before Zeppelin’s.
- Bert Jansch – Black Waterside (1966) – Jimmy Page borrowed heavily from Bert Jansch’s version of this traditional song on “Black Mountain Side” which was released on Zeppelin’s 1969 debut.
- Bobby Parker – Watch Your Step (1961) – Page ripped this riff and used it on “Moby Dick”, released in 1969. No credit was given to Bobby Parker. To be fair The Beatles also ripped this riff on “Day Tripper” and “I Feel Fine”.
- The Plebs – Babe I’m Gonna Leave You (1964) – Originally written by Anne Bredon in the late 50’s (performed by The Plebs here) – Page and Plant gave no credit to Bredon in 1969 and took arrangement credit for themselves, when in fact they were covering a Joan Baez version of the song. In 1990 Bredon received a substantial back-payment of royalties after becoming aware of the song.
- Otis Rush – I Can’t Quit You Baby (1956) – Another song covered on their 1969 debut, all credit was given to Willie Dixon, who wrote this blues standard. Rush was the first to record the song.
- Blind Willie Johnson – In My Time Of Dying Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed (1927) – This traditional gospel song’s lyrics were first Published in 1925 in A Chronicle of Unknown Singers, based on Louisiana street performers. Zeppelin took all credit on Physical Graffiti in 1975.
- Spirit – Taurus (1968) – In 1968 Zeppelin opened for Spirit and Page subsequently stole the open for the most famous (and lucrative) song in Rock and Roll history – “Stairway to Heaven”. Spirit are now seeking legal action for a song that reportedly has generated $526 million.