Thursday, June 7, 2012

For a Song: Dazed and Confused

 I could say that Jake Holmes was a better jingle writer than a singer-songwriter, but in reality he was quite adept at both.  As a folk singer, Holmes had a run in the 1960s, recording two acclaimed but overlooked albums, "The Above Ground Sound" of Jake Holmes (Tower, 1967) and "A Letter to Katherine December" (Tower, 1968)

His record label, Tower,  wasn't known for folk music. They were home to The Chocolate Watchband and had released a much maligned version of Pink Floyd's first album, "The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn" Commercially, all his albums (he turned to a country rock sound and recorded two albums for Polydor and one for Columbia) tanked miserably.

This led Jake to a career in advertising, that brought him more fame and fortune than his singer/songwriter efforts ever could. His talent for writing clever lyrics and melodies that stick like glue, served him well. He also wrote an entire album for Frank Sinatra in 1970. (Watertown, a commercial failure that is now viewed as one of Sinatra's better efforts)

Whether you know it or not you've heard Jake Holmes' work, he composed the iconic recruiting jingle for the U.S. Army ("be all that you can be") Jake ( Mr. Jingle) also wrote the infamous "Be a Pepper" jingle for Dr. Pepper. "Raise your hand if you're Sure" for Sure deodorant, "Best a Man Can Get" for Gillette, just to name a few of his classics.

Ironically, Jake Holmes started out playing with a folk singer who was dogged by charges of plagiarism.  Before his solo career kicked off, Holmes was part of Tim Rose and The Thorns. One of the songs they played "Hey Joe" was allegedly written by Billy Roberts.  Rose took credit claiming  that his version of the song was a rearrangement of a traditional tune.

Holmes sides with Rose, "Tim had this friend who had written this folk song called "Hey Joe" (i.e. Billy Roberts) "Tim took it and rearranged it for us to play. We were the first band to do it that way. A few other groups picked up on it later" (Both Tim Rose and Jimi Hendrix started playing "Hey Joe" at Club Wha? in NYC, after The Leaves' version hit the charts in 1965) 

Tim Rose deserved no credit for "Hey Joe" but he took it and even sued Marmalade, a U.K. group that recorded the song in 1968 for royalties. Holmes has a selective memory of the events "Hendrix heard Tim do it in England a few years later, that's where he got it and used it" (Jimi was playing a version of "Hey Joe" at Club Wha? long before he left for the U.K.)

 Holmes declared, "Just like "Dazed And Confused" happened to me. We were both ripped off" It's hard to paint a sympathetic picture of Tim Rose when you also factor in his sleazy history with another classic 60's song, Bonnie Dobson's "(Walk me out in the) Morning Dew" Rose brazenly took a songwriting credit and collected royalties meant for Dobson.

Lots of people talk and few of them know

There's no honor amongst thieves, on Aug. 25th. 1967, Jake Holmes opened at The Village Theatre, also on the bill were The Yardbirds and The Youngbloods.  Keith Relf and Jimmy Page took in Holmes' show, they especially liked one of his songs "Dazed and Confused" (from "The Above Ground Sound" album) Jake had no inkling that he was about to be robbed. 

In retrospect, Holmes remembered the show well, "Yes, that was the infamous moment of my life when "Dazed And Confused" fell into the loving arms and hands of Jimmy Page"  In 1968, The Yardbirds, now on their last legs, returned to New York City for a series of shows. They had added a version of "Dazed and Confused" to their set.

Yardbird's drummer Jim McCarty explained what happened after the 1967 show in Greenwich Village. "We decided to do a version" At the band's bequest, McCarty made a trip to a record shop to buy a copy of Holme's album.  "We worked it out together with Jimmy contributing the guitar riffs in the middle." McCarty added.

 It was not Page's finest hour, for his part he basically told Jake "fuck you very much" Page has maintained his audacity and refused to come clean... to this day.  He made the song his own, (Jimmy Page is credited as the track's sole songwriter)  even if it wasn't his in the first place. Jake Holmes took out a copyright on "Dazed & Confused" in 1967 and renewed it in 1995.

"In 1990, Musician magazine quizzed Page on the subject, asking if Holmes was the original composer. "I don't know about all that," Page replied. "I'd rather not get into it because I don't know all the circumstances. What's he got – the riff or whatever? ... I haven't heard Jake Holmes so I don't know what it's all about anyway. Usually my riffs are pretty damn original."

All one has to do is listen to both versions back to back to know that Jimmy Page is lying through his fucking teeth. In many ways Holmes' version is superior to Led Zeppelin's (nevermind the rather abysmal versions recorded by The Yardbirds) Holmes' track is stark, punctuated by a series of caesuras or dramatic silences (which Page also incorporated)

Led Zeppelin's version is a wailing wall of ruckus, during which faux-cocksman Robert Plant moans and groans his way to a climax. It's not pretty, but then again, Led Zeppelin by its very nature was never meant to be pretty or subtle.  Keith Relf, who had far more in common with Jake Holmes than he did with Robert Plant, sticks to more traditional blues vocals, complete with harmonica solo.

After The Yardbirds broke up, Page worked "Dazed & Confused" into the repertoire  of his new band, Led Zeppelin.  The track would appear on Led Zeppelin's debut album, credited to Jimmy Page. Jake Holmes took note, but did not take any immediate action. Several years later he did write Page a letter asking him for acknowledgment and recompense.

There are several websites and forums that cover Led Zeppelin's past plagiarism "Thieving Magpies" and "The Led Zeppelin Plagiarism Compendium" are just two of many. Neither Page nor the band's management has ever owned up to any of the charges, with some rare exceptions.

For Ritchie Valens' fans a track from "Physical Graffiti" sounded strangely familiar, that's because "Boogie with Stu" was a bold faced rip on Ritchie's "Oooh, My Head" a song he co-wrote with Bob Keane. When the album was released it did not credit  either Valens or Keane. A lawsuit was filed by Bob Keane on behalf of Ritchie's mother Connie.

A settlement was reached out of court and Connie given a song writing credit (as Mrs. Valens) Page later tried to softball the issue by stating "What we tried to do was give Ritchie's mother credit, because we heard she never received any royalties from any of her son's hits." In truth, Connie only received the credit after Bob Keane filed suit against Led Zeppelin.

Although it was obvious that "Boogie with Stu" was indeed "Oooh, My Head" for years Page denied it was the same song. He would also state, "Robert did lean on that lyric a bit. So what happens? They tried to sue us for all of the song!" (the exclamation point is his) Robert Plant leaned on the lyrics like a fucking 800 pound gorilla.

 "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" was written by Anne Bredon in 1960, she first performed the song on KPFA that same year. Joan Baez would then record the most famous version of the song, up until Led Zeppelin recorded it. Their version credited the song as "Trad.,arr. Page" Bredon filed suit in 1990 and received a substantial back-payment from the band. Joan Baez's version of "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" is a little hard to stomach. I prefer The Plebs, a band from Surrey, who their recorded their version in 1964 and credited it as "trad arr. Dennis"

The idea of taking an American song, and labeling it "traditional" was a dodgy British way of getting around having to pay the Yanks any royalties. Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin are no strangers to charges of plagiarism. It's something that's dogged the group, which is often ridiculed as "the world's greatest cover band" Led Zeppelin, much like the dinosaurs that they were compared to during their final days, have thick skins, it's all water off a duck's ass to them.

In 2010, Jake Holmes formally filed suit against Jimmy Page, charging him with plagiarizing "Dazed and Confused" However due to the statute of limitations, he can only put in a claim for damages done over the past three years. As we're now well aware, the real damage was done long ago, 41 years ago to be exact.

The Led Zeppelin Plagiarism Compendium

Led Zeppelin
Babe I'm Gonna Leave You: Joan Baez - Babe I'm Gonna Leave You (Anne Brendon)
Dazed and Confused: Jake Holmes - Dazed and Confused
Black Mountain Side: Bert Jansch - Black Water Side
How Many More Times: Howlin Wolf - How Many More Years / Albert King - The Hunter / Jeff Beck - Bolero
Communication Breakdown: Eddie Cochran - Nervous Breakdown
Your Time Is Gonna Come: Traffic - Dear Mr. Fantasy

Led Zeppelin II
Whole lotta love: Muddy Waters (Willie Dixon) - You Need Love / Small Faces - You Need Loving
Lemon Song: Howlin' Wolf - Killing Floor / Robert Johnson - Travelling Riverside Blues
Moby Dick: Bobby Parker - Watch Your Step
Bring it on Home: Sonny Boy Williamson - Bring it on Back

Led Zeppelin III
Since I've Been Loving You: Moby Grape - Never
Hats Off: Bukka White - Shake 'em on Down

Led Zeppelin IV
Stairway to Heaven: Spirit - Taurus

Physical Graffiti
Boogie with Stu-  Oooh My Head- Ritchie Valens
Custard pie: Sleepy John Estes - Drop Down Mama
In my time of dying: Bob Dylan - In my time of dying (Blind Willie Johnson)

Nobody’s Fault But Mine: Blind Willie Johnson - Nobody’s Fault But Mine