RE: [Harp-L] Re: Zep tunes [When the Levee Breaks]
First of all, I liked Led Zepplin just fine; they wrote many good songs and were a great rock band. However, what has always troubled me is not that they reworked old blues tunes, but that claimed to have written them. "When the Levee Breaks" is a prime example. It's terrific, one of my favorite zepplin tunes, and definatly their own musically...however, they did not write the lyric. Someone said it was by Memphis Minnie, whcih might be true; I, however, remember reading the Sam Charters book, I think it was titled "Blues Fell Like Rain"...in that book I found the lyric for "Levee Breaks"....don't think the tune was called that, and as I remember the book the lyric was unattributed, part of the folk tradition of the blues. What makes Zepplin's use of it more obnoxious to me is that the lyric is about a terrible flooding along the Delta, a flooding that particularly victimized black people, as they [along doubtless with poor whites] were compeled to live close to the river. A couple of points:
1] Did Zepplin have the right to use this lyric? Sure! But the morally correct thing to do would have been to have informed fans about the origin of the lyric. Some will correctly point out that "borrowing" lyrics without attribution and claiming them as your own is a part of the blues and, indeed, folk tradition, which is true...but I would argue that in the case of the blues, white folks, especially English white folks, have a special responsibility when participating in that tradition....ESPECIALLY when they are making a great deal of money doing so, and ESPECIALLY when much of their audience is ignorant of the tradition from which they are borrowing, and ESPECIALLY when the lyric they are borrowing is a reflection of the racism from which the blues sprang...and make no mistake: no racism, no blues.
2] Am I glad that Zepplin turned on millions to the blues? Absolutely. In balance was Zepplin good for the blues? Absolutely. Did Zepplin play some good blues[rock]? Absolutely. But they still did a bad thing in this case, and as far as I know they've never really owned up to it.
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