Cover Versions, Hard-to-find

Chasin’ Donovan

Danavan! Danavan! Who is this Danavan?!?”

Bob Dylan, in 1965’s ‘Don’t Look Back‘ is met by the name of Donovan everywhere he goes – “He’s the new you!” everyone tells him, and with Donovan dressed head to toe in scuffed suede and cord and occassionally sporting a jaunty Lennon cap atop his outgrown Beatlesish mop while singing songs of multiple verse, they have a point. When an unconvinced but curious Bob, surrounded by a stellar gang of hangers-on hanging on to his every word and savage put down finally crosses paths with Donovan in a hotel room and asks him to play one of his songs, he sneers that it sounds a bit like ‘Mr Tambourine Man’. Ouch! Bob complaining about plagiarism is a bit like a petty thief complaining about being pick-pocketed.

donovan

Donovan, if you didn’t already know, is the Forrest Gump of 60’s popular music. His CV makes him out to be just about the most influential musician who ever walked the planet, blazing a trail of originality while pointing the major players of the day in the right direction before receiving musical favours of thanks somewhere down the line. ‘They couldn’t do without me’ might well be Donovan’s epitaph. ‘They can thank me later‘. He has an incredibly big shout for himself.

Just as Forrest was the inspiration for the Elvis pelvis hip-shake, just as Forrest witnessed first-hand the front line in Vietnam, just as Forrest shook hands with JFK and influenced the cultural climate of the times, Donovan was responsible, amongst other things, for (deep breath….) gifting the ‘sky of blue and sea of green‘ line in ‘Yellow Submarine‘ to Paul McCartney, turning John Lennon on to a new style of fingerpicking, from which came Dear Prudence, Happiness Is A Warm Gun and a handful of others, holding George Harrison’s hand on his first tentative steps on the sitar and aligning the stars that would lead to Led Zeppelin’s formation. Without Donovan, none of that would’ve happened, y’know. He was the first musician to release a ‘psychedelic’ record (‘Sunshine Superman’), the first musician to be on the receiving end of a drugs bust and the first musician to realise the value of talking yourself up. Hang on to your ego, as one of the era’s true geniuses once said.

donovan-2

When music started getting heavier, Donovan was there at the front, claiming a leading role. As Cream, The Yardbirds and the Jimi Hendrix Experience kicked in the jams, he recruited half of the future Led Zeppelin (Page and Jones) along with experienced sessioneer Clem Cattini on drums and cut the folk/psych epoch-defining Hurdy Gurdy Man.

DonovanHurdy Gurdy Man

It’s an astonishing record. Taking it’s cue from The Small Faces ‘Green Circles’, it’s a riot of descending basslines, wobbly vocals and strung out, wigged-out electric guitars. In true understated Donovan fashion, he claimed that a) he wrote it for Jimi Hendrix and when Jimi didn’t want it, Donovan asked him to play on his version instead but b) once producer Mickie Most had heard the version Donovan had cut, told Donovan to keep it as it was and release it for himself. Not only that, but c) the last verse written by George Harrison (payback for those sitar lessons, no doubt) was dropped in favour of the uncredited Jimmy Page’s fantastic divebombing solo to keep the record under the crucial 3 minute mark. With the record’s success, claims the humble Don, Led Zeppelin were born.

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Quite the magnet for talent, was our Donovan. In his 60’s heyday, he hung about/latched onto Brian Jones, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Dylan and anyone who might appear cutting edge. What’s not so well-known is that a few short years later, he’d be in the front row at the Lesser Free Trade Hall offering fashion tips as The Sex Pistols broke year zero, he’d be the first to don a bandana and a yellow smiley and drop one (geezer) to Altern 8 (who’s ‘Evapor 8’ he ghost-wrote) and give The Stone Roses the idea to sample a James Brown drum loop before playing, uncredited (strangely, for him) the distinctive wockawockawocka lead guitar part on ‘Fool’s Gold‘.

Danavan! Danavan! Who is this Danavan?!?” The most influential man who ever walked on Planet Pop, obviously.

donovan-fisheye

 

 

Cover Versions, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Sampled

Step Brothers

In the latest Mojo, the one with the big piece on Physical Graffiti, Jimmy Page throws away a comment about The Beatles stealing an old r’n’b riff and fashioning it into their own I Feel Fine. Pots ‘n kettles, Jimmy! Pots ‘n kettles!

What Jimmy omitted to reveal is how the same riff more than informed Led Zep’s own Moby Dick.

bobby parker

The track in question is Bobby Parker‘s smokin’ hot 1961 r’nb stomper, Watch Your Step;

Bobby Parker’s story is the classic struggling musician versus the world tale of rip-offs, bad management and lack of recognition. Mention his name ’round these parts and folk like my father-in-law will wax lyrical about the Rangers and Everton player with the same name. The Bobby Parker we’re concerned with earned his chops tackling the music business and playing alongside Bo Diddley, Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson. He toured extensively, sharing stages with rock ‘n roll’s founding fathers – Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Buddy Holly to name but a few. We’re all well aware of those names, but Bobby Parker? He remains niche, known only by contemporary musicians and musos, waiting to be discovered and elevated to his rightful place amongst the greats. An early b-side of his, You Got What It Takes, was recorded by Marv Johnson as one of the first singles for Motown, but upon release, to Parker’s dismay his name had been wiped from the credits and replaced, not for the last time, by that of the ever-canny Berry Gordy.

Stung by this, (“What was I to do? Fight Motown?!?“) Bobby Parker wrote what has since become his signature tune, Watch Your Step. Unlike the movers and shakers over at Hitsville USA, Parker was quick to acknowledge his references – the 12 bar blues, the similar riff and structure of Ray Charles’ What’d I Say;

and also to Dizzy Gillespie’s Manteca, a skronking, relentlessly driving riff-laden jazz instrumental;

When asked about this a few years ago, he was admirable in his honesty.

I started playing Gillespie’s riff on my guitar and decided to make a blues out of it. What came out was ‘Watch Your Step.’

john lennon ukelele

Also admirably honest was John Lennon.

“‘Watch Your Step’ is one of my favourite records. The Beatles have used the lick in various forms.”

Most noticeably, as Jimmy Page was quick to point out, Watch Your Step‘s taut, snappy riff and structure lends itself quite well to I Feel Fine.

I was flattered,” said Parker later on. “I thought it was a cool idea. But I still had, in the back of my mind, the idea that I should have gotten a little more recognition for that.”

Sound familiar?

Listen closely and you’ll hear little flashes of what could be Day Tripper too;

led zep

The big baddies in the whole thing though are Led Zeppelin. For the record, I love Led Zeppelin. For the rocking, the rolling and the riff-riff-riffing there was no-one better, but they have nowhere to hide when it comes to this sort of thing. They’re certainly no strangers to the rape and pillage of the blues. Jimmy brazenly ‘borrows’ little riffs, indeed whole songs from blues’ back catalogue. I’ve written about this before, but much of the Zep’s entire recorded career was based on long-forgotten blues standards, arriving fully formed but twisted and turned into fantastically sounding ear-crunching slabs of heavy blooze rock. But nicked all the same. If they’d been more honest in their sticky fingerdness they might have been given more leeway, but it’s the deception and the credits to Page/Plant that rankle. Anyway, there are entire books and websites dedicated to uncovering such things, but this isn’t one of them.

When Jimmy was pointing out the similarities between Watch Your Step and I Feel Fine, he might, after all these years, have admitted to basing his own riff for Moby Dick on Bobby Parker’s single.

But he didn’t. Perhaps the pangs of guilt were such that at the start of the 70s Parker was offered a paltry $2000 to record a demo for the nascent Swan Song label, but nothing came to pass of this. If Jimmy truly felt guilty, he’d have given Parker a credit on Moby Dick.

Not for the first time, Jimmy got away with it. And not for the first time, Parker missed out on the credit.

Trivial post-script!

Have you ever heard the dogs barking during the fade out of I Feel Fine? The smart money is on Paul doing the yelping, but you never know…

You can hear tons of this sort of stuff over at What Goes On – The Beatles Anomalies List. It’s great!