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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!

Cover Versions, Hard-to-find, Live!

I Love Led Zeppelin But…

..they didn’t half present themselves as the Artful Dodgers of rock music throughout their tenure as global-shagging rock gods. With a cheeky grin, a sly wink and mutterings of “public domain“, Jimmy Page was something of a sticky-fingered riff lifter. I’ve written about this before and I’m sure you know anyway, but any old blues tune that happened to catch his ear would be lifted in whole before being coated in volume, augmented by a slick bit of frettery and re-packaged as the big new thing. “I got those West Bromwich blues“, as Robert Plant moaned on one of those fantastic BBC sessions. Not that Robert Plant is entirely innocent in the whole thing either…

Jake Holmes. Not exactly a household name, but in the late 60s he was a regular of the Greenwich Village folk scene. In fact, in 1967  The Yardbirds caught him at the Village Theater where they watched him play the tracks that made up his debut album, ‘The Above Ground Sound Of Jake Holmes’. As Holmes put it in 2001,

and that was the infamous moment of my life when ‘Dazed & Confused’ fell into the loving arms and hands of Jimmy Page.”

If you were being kind you could say that a keen-eared Page took the paranoid scratchy folk of the original and transformed it into a much bigger, more frightening rock song. If you were being honest though, you’d have to say that Page lifted it all, from those wee pinged harmonics at the start, to the descending riff and the whole sense of impending doom. Even Robert Plant got in on the act. His quietly sung vocals at the start are a carbon copy of the original’s. Did Holmes get credited when the track surfaced on Led Zeppelin I? Nope! Just like Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Albert King et al before him, he was conveniently un-acknowledged and forced to watch from the sides as his tune made someone else lots and lots of money.

The one thing Page did add to the original was the bowed guitar section, where he scraped a violin bow across the top of his heavily-echoed strings. But even this trick wasn’t original! Mod pop outfit The Creation had been doing this in their stage show since the mid 60s. Watch 1966’s Painter Man for proof….

This is a hot topic right now. 5 weeks ago, Jake Holmes began legal proceedings against Jimmy Page, claiming original copyright on the song. It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out. Poor Jake certainly neeeds to see things set to right. Sadly for him though, legalities mean that, if successful, he’ll be allowed to claim back just 3 years of royalties. That should be a decent sum, but peanuts compared to what his rightful share should be.  

Go Compare dot com:

Dazed & Confused (Jake Holmes)

Dazed & Confused (Led Zeppelin)

Dazed & Confused (Led Zeppelin, live Paris Theatre, London, April Fool’s day 1971. 18+ minutes. Can you handle it?)

*Footnote

When writing this piece, I was checking my facts and figures online when I stumbled across this fantastic site. All of the above, bar the quote from Jake Holmes is my work, out of my own head and arranged accordingly by me me me, but credit where it’s due and all that. I don’t want Perfect Sound Forever chasing me for royalties in 40 years time.

Rubber Plant

Cover Versions, Sampled

Hey Joe! Where you goin’ with that gun in your hand?

Don’t point it at wee Chris Martin. He didnae mean it! I see gazillion-selling guitar virtuoso and purveyor of a thousand beedly-beedly-beedlies Joe Satriani is wanting to take Coldplay to court. He thinks that their track ‘Viva La Vida’ has “copied and incorporated substantial original portions” from his track ‘If I Could Fly’, released in 2004. Satriani’s lawsuit demands damages and “any and all profits” related to the alleged copyright infringement. Of course. You be judge and jury. Take a listen…..

Joe. Coldplay. See? A wee bit samey. In much the same way that the Red Hot Chili Peppers “borrowed” some of Tom Petty’s ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’ for their own ‘Dani California’. “Borrowed” mmm hmmm, or indeed “totally ripped-off“. To these ears, the sock-jocks had much more of a case to answer than Coldplay, but old hippy-spirited Tom Petty let them off, saying that this kind of thing happens all the time. Of course it does. Led Zeppelin were absolute masters at it. Like the Viking warriors they holler about with great bluster on ‘Immigrant Song‘, they raped, pillaged and plundered the whole of the Mississippi Delta for much of their output. And they even had the cheek to put ‘Page and Plant’ in the brackets after the song. I’ve written about this a couple of times before, if you’re really interested. There’s tons of cases of musical plagiarism. There are probably whole blogs dedicated to this subject. At the very least, Wikipedia is a good first stop.

Interestingly, Joe Satriani used to be a poodle-haired rock God. Now he looks a bit like an extra from The Matrix.

joe-satriani-hairjoe-satriani1

And only a couple of years ago, Chris Martin was a poodle-haired rock God who’d even managed to snare his own Hollywood wife. In more recent snaps, it looks like he’s heading down the same extra-from-The-Matrix road as Satriani.

chris_martinchris-martin-guitar

Joe. Coldplay. See? A wee bit samey. Round our way, Satriani is rhyming slang. In much the same way as Shereen Nanjiani, Giorgio Armani or chicken biryani. I think you know what I mean.

Bonus track. Here‘s the bleepy, slightly ambient wahp remix of ‘Viva La Vida’. It’s no’ very good. Nothing like chicken biryani at all.