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Jimmy Page: Guitar Guru or Rock and Roll Plagiarist? Or Both?

Last Sunday I was watching The Simpson’s episode where they visit Britain and I almost choked when Homer made the comment “There goes Jimmy Page. History’s greatest thief of black music.” (I’m paraphrasing here). Are you wondering what Homer was talking about? If so I encourage you to read The Thieving Magpies: Jimmy Page’s Dubious Recording History over at Perfect Sound Forever for a bit of an explanation. Charles R. Cross in the excellent illustrated history of Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin: Heaven and Hell does address this issue. He even goes so far as to admit Mr. Page’s tendency to “borrow” from the past when he states, “You can call Led Zeppelin musical pilferers, or you can call them talented fans who could take others’ ideas and expand on them.” Unfortunately, he eventually dismisses the whole issue by saying “But even detractors of the band must acknowledge that they borrowed less as they developed, and their greatest work didn’t come until they began to discover their own ideas.” Now I realize that Rock and Roll by it’s nature pilfers from pretty much every form of music, from classical to reggae to the blues but the case against Jimmy Page is quite a strong one. Doesn’t mean I like Led Zeppelin any less but it does mean that one should be up front about one’s influences, and give credit where credit is due don’t you think?

8 replies on “Jimmy Page: Guitar Guru or Rock and Roll Plagiarist? Or Both?”

Jimmy page is an innovator he barrowed ideas and changed them around to make the best damn songs on the face of the earth.People can call me a thief, but what he is, is a great songwriter and the best fucking guitarist ever,and other guitarist and/or song writers are going to be jeolous of his inspiring creativity and music.

Hey I am not saying that Jimmy Page is any less of a genius either as a guitarist or as a songwriter. As Zeppelin evolved the band moved away from the pure blues influences of their early albums but fact is they had a bad habit early own of plundering the Blues vaults and forgetting to properly give credit where credit was due. They weren’t the first and they won’t be the last.

Ultimately the point when it comes to deciding whether Jimmy Page is a true king of rock ‘n roll is not a question of whether he just took from old songs or not, but recognizing whether he really did something to develop the core sound of rock. To deny the importance of a musician because he/she built off of an existing foundation would be to deny an entire generation of musical prowess (Hendrix, Clapton, etc. all borrowed from other tracks- did anyone know Layla, often considered Clapton’s greatest riff, was borrowed off an old Albert King track?). The point is not whether Hendrix used Dylan’s lyrics in All Along the Watchtower, or if Clapton modified King’s riff in Layla, but ultimately recognizing how these artists each morphed the sound of rock and led it in a new direction. And in that sense, there was none more influential than Jimmy Page. No band set the stage for heavy metal and hard rock like Led Zeppelin. Sure heavy metal bands…the metallicas, the tools, were to come along to create their own songs with their own lyrics, but where would their sound be without Zeppelin? Where would the teenage garage musician sitting around one day strumming a few chords, deciding to finally kick up the distortion and really let it rip…where would he be without Jimmy Page? Jimmy Page not only wrote numerous riffs, and *gasp* constructively modified many existing ones, but also produced and edited all of Led Zeppelin’s work. Led Zeppelin never had a George Martin telling them when to put in an echo or a feedback. No, that was all Page. Led Zeppelin was ultimately entirely Page’s vision. And even the blues musicians that Page built some of his classic hooks off of, the Albert Kings, the Robert Johnsons- even these folks were heavily heavily influenced by even older (and mostly unknown) mississippi delta bluesmen. But of course you don’t here of these guys. So where does the chain end? Or are Page, Clapton, Hendrix all rock ‘n roll pilferers? I mean, to be completely general, everyone’s a pilferer. Styles and methods in so many things- visual art, literature, poetry, practically always develop in a constructive or reactionary method to the status quo style. What Page did was not pilfering. Page not only created, but took many existing things, modified them in ways only he knew how, and made them HIS OWN. And nobody can even half doubt his ability on the guitar. Anybody who does needs to listen to the song remains the same album (live recording) where Page goes for minute after minute after minute of soloing. He can improvise like Stevie Ray Vaughan, can rock as hard as any metal guitarist ever, has stage presence unlike any other guitarist in rock history, and produced Led Zeppelin’s albums better than any contemporary producer could have even dreamed of. And that’s because it wasn’t their vision, it was Page’s.

‘Nuff said. Page is not only a guitar guru. He is THE rock ‘n roll guru.

I’m always amazed at all the hoopla stirred up over the fact Jimmy Page was too stubborn to but the words “Trad. Arrangment by…….” in the credits of many of Zeppelin’s early songs. There are a few facts to take note of before we start to judge the man.

1) The copyright laws of the music industry in the 60s and early 70s was much like the internet of today, unregulated open waters with very little policing and/or authenticity.

2) Musically speaking Jimmy Page did nothing less admirable than his counterpart guitar-gods like Hendrix, Clapton, Beck, etc. Legally speaking he should have been more responsible with his homage acknowledgments.

3) Led Zeppelin has never been tried for musical theft, only lyrical theft (whole lotta love) which would be more of Robert Plant’s territory. Apparently before Stairway to Heaven, Plant was horrible at writing his own lyrics.

4) Since when did it become acceptable to hang Jimmy Page for the past lot of musical prejudices in the music world? The accountability for the marginalization of American black blues players extends far greater than anything Led Zeppelin did.

5) Earlier studio recordings are rarely sufficient proof of 100% authenticity. Many of the earliest bluesmen are credited as the pioneers for various nuances in the blues genre, but authenticity is a bit of a gray area. What we do know for sure is that these specific blues artists were the first to “record” those ideas and nuances. To use a modern example…..Van Halen may be credited as the pioneer of double hand tapping, but that doesn’t mean he was the first to hone that skill, he was simply the first to record it.

6) Some Zeppelin songs are more guilty than others, but it’s important to understand a little bit of music theory. Some chord progressions and song structures are very common and undeniably borrowed repeatedly. For example, Green Day’s Brain Stew in relation to Chicago’s 25 or 6 to 4.

7) People need to relax and stop over-analyzing this crap. Most of the criticism is stirred up by the fact that Led Zeppelin is played repeatedly on the radio and by music listeners everywhere. For those who don’t consider themselves much a fan to their music, the over exposure the band has gotten for decade only tends to fuel the necessity for its critics to voice their hatred.

I understand this is a subject people like to elaborate on.

To sum it up in 3 points:

1) Shame on page for “not giving credit where credit is due”

2) 95% of music is an elaboration on something else. The only true “origional idea” is the creation of a genre.

3) Page basically produced a genre by borrowing, and then played a key part in developing it which produced his own sound. I call it borrowing because he GAVE BACK. He’s a guitar god.

I don’t see how people can’t distinguish a few basic things:

*Jimmy Page was an innovator and is a great guitarist and arranger (TRUE)
*Jimmy Page stole a lot of his best work from other people (TRUE)
*A lot of musicians borrow music from other musicians (TRUE)

The DIFFERENCE is that Page knowingly DID NOT CREDIT nor PAY the musicians he stole from, hence the difference between a properly credited and paid cover (like Hendrix reinventing but crediting and paying Dylan for “All Along the Watchtower”) and Page STEALING riffs and songs from other white musicians (Stairway to Heaven’s most famous riff, “Dazed and Confused”, “Black Mountain Side”) and whole songs from black musicians. Some of those people had those songs copyrighted, some did not, but Led Zeppelin’s notorious manager was known for making violent threats against anyone who opposed the band.

It doesn’t take away from Page’s guitar skills to say he stole his ideas. It takes a lot away from the idea of him as a musical god of some kind. If he had credited the people he stole from, we could call it borrowing. As it is Page is a very talented THIEF.

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