Hey, pppssst, how would you like to think about something different for a few moments? You do? Oh good.
Warning: The following post has nothing to do with COVID-19.
Do you listen to satellite radio in your car? I do. I’m in my car a lot these days and discovering that space is, well, kinda nice. For SOME reason my car is becoming a bit of a sanctuary for me. So, anyway, I hear Led Zeppelin’s version of “When The Levee Breaks” the other day on “Classic Vinyl” and I started thinking about the way music is interpreted.
In 2011-2015 I was producing a music history radio program called Boosie’s Playhouse Classic Blues. The program took a historical look at the first 50 years of the recorded blues. The American blues are unique in many ways. The origins go back long before audio recording was even a possibility. One of the concepts I learned about was the business practice of black songs covered by white singers. When a blues revival hit the charts in the 60s-70s few white artists gave credit to the original composers, most claimed the tune and lyrics for themselves. Many talented people, whose songs were #1 hits made little, if no, money.
Despite the plagiarism, the blues singers, on their own bill, continued to change and grow, developing the sounds of centuries into something new, again, and again. As the country inched it’s way into the 1900s that moaning of the blues, country, and folk began to get played on the radio and enter into the mainstream of the American experience. Contemporary artists added even more beats. Taj Mahal called it the African Diaspora. He shares in his biography his parents “made him aware that all that was from the African Diaspora belonged to me. So I came in with Caribbean music, African music, Latin music, gospel music, and blues.” Quincy Jones laments, “I only hope that one day, America will recognize what the rest of the world already has known, that our indigenous music – gospel, blues, jazz, and R&B – is the heart and soul of all popular music; and that we cannot afford to let this legacy slip into obscurity, I’m telling you.”
Each musician takes a sound and adds their own part. So, in my car the other day, listening to a version of a song about a massive flood in the 1920s turned into, what I believe to be, a sexually charged blues/rock tune sparked my memory of researching this very song six years ago for my radio program. So what do you think, did Led Zeplin keep the same spirit of the song or create something new? It took many decades and intense social pressure from other artists for them to finally change the credits. Did they pay tribute to the estates of Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie? I don’t know.
Stay safe, wear a mask, and be kind to each other out there. -Shannon