Theft As Ownership

jake-holmes-dangerousJake Holmes: Dangerous Times (Private Pressing)

That a new set of songs from Jake Holmes should have slipped without fanfare into the wider world is remarkable, a little sad, but of no real surprise. Holmes, not exactly a name of the household variety, hadn't released an album for thirty years. That Dangerous Times is superbly crafted, sounding like the sort of distinguished fare reviewers dust down their cliches for when delivered by young pretenders (Holmes was born in 1939) isn't a big deal either. Good records come and go, and as good things go, this one went nowhere.

Holmes recorded five solo albums from 1967 through 1971, for labels as diverse as Tower, Polydor, and Columbia. Sophisticated efforts, they gained respect but not sales. He wrote an album of songs for Sinatra (Watertown), undertaking similar labors for the Four Seasons and Harry Belafonte. He also authored "Dazed and Confused," the song Led Zeppelin made their own, the only problem being, it wasn't theirs in the first place. They've maintained their audacity, and their guilt, by never coming clean.

As careers unfold, Jake Holmes, more than most, has had a varied one. From working in comedy revues with Joan Rivers (who, he fondly recalls, "couldn't carry a tune in a bucket") in the early '60s to a folkie excursion with Tim Rose, he has been things and seen places. His 1967 debut for Tower Records, The Above Ground Sound of Jake Holmes, a brilliant slice of psych that contains the stolen song, had just been released when Holmes appeared at the Village Theater in Greenwich Village on August 25 to support the Yardbirds. He performed "Dazed and Confused," the moment, as he stated in an interview with Will Shade, that the song fell into "the loving arms and hands of Jimmy Page." Initially part of the Yardbirds' subsequent live sets, it eventually surfaced a few years later on Led Zeppelin's debut, uncredited as Holmes's, instead claimed as theirs. Although Holmes took no immediate action, he did years later send a letter to Jimmy Page in which he humbly requested acknowledgment and recompense. A reply is, as of yet, unforthcoming. If you know both versions, the steal is plain and clear, and if you don't, it remains Jimmy Page's finest hour.

As John Bramwell of I Am Kloot recently retorted on the subject, "It doesn't bloody surprise me. They always were nothing more than a fucking covers band, anyway!"

With hindsight Jake Holmes could afford not to worry, but despite the excellence of his next album, A Letter to Katherine September, he wasn't proving a popular success. Then the Sinatra project came, and three further albums, two on Polydor and one for Columbia. All failed to do much business.

He went on to become a prolific and hugely successful jingles writer whose clients have included. Pan Am, Gillette, and Burger King. He also continued to write songs, as much for pleasure as for any specific purpose. With nothing to prove, and no one to please, Dangerous Times therefore stands as a rare and honest joy. The title track and opener is a big ballad delivered in downplayed fashion. Touching and eloquent, Holmes decries the loss of "the courage of innocence" in a song that has garnered additional pathos in the light of subsequent world events. There are tones and echoes of Tim Hardin's "Suite for Susan Moore," especially in the intricate and hauntingly eloquent "Dust," which contains the uneasy contradiction of being a thing of beauty about hunger and privation: There's no more left of me to drink. There's no more left of me to weep. Close your eyes and we'll go home. Sleep now, go to sleep. "Miles," a beatnik poetry rap about the late trumpeter, all poetic Kerouac, drifts along with easy eloquence. Almost African in feel, "Silence" proves an afternoon delight that nails with assured politeness the need of others to proclaim their faith. Beneath the scripture is what I seek. Silence is the language my God speaks Holmes is not afraid to risk singing alone. Totally unaccompanied on "The Wall," he performs a clear vocal, avoiding affectation; it proves his voice a subtle instrument of refinement, mesmerizing and assured yet vulnerable. "Orphan" employs the same textures and tones as the songs on his Columbia release How Much Time:

"She loves like an orphan
She's only sure of her enemy...
She's never fooled by sincerity"

He then revisits "Wasp," which did feature on that record. This version is a more chilled-out and stripped-down affair, but remains a witty dissection of white, old-money privilege. Elements of Paul Simon are evident in "Love Love," as well as "September Girl," although the late English maverick Jake Thackray comes to mind, as does the criminally underrated Tony Bird.

Dangerous Times has a purity and integrity that make it a timeless work. It could have surfaced at any period in the last forty years. That in itself is both compliment and praise sufficient. Summery in tone, it has the assurance of ability, the lightness of touch of someone who has gained pleasure in the process of creativity.

Jake Holmes has quiet genius, and this tender exercise betrays it with aplomb. Reflective but astutely aware, although several summers old, it would make a perfect soundtrack for this one. Ending on a sinister note, "Another Night" requests with barbed irony Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses And we'll take care of them. Just like Jimmy Page took care of "Dazed and Confused." Were Jake Holmes a lesser individual, that theft could have colored all his subsequent living. That he just got on with life, and successfully so, reveals a special nature, which is why Dangerous Times, an album recorded at an age when most have rehearsed retirement to tedium, remains one worth hearing. - Rob Cochrane

cochrane.jpg

Mr. Cochrane is a poet and writer living in Manchester, England. His work has appeared in Mojo, Attitude, and Dazed & Confused. He has published numerous collections of poems.

Borrowing musical ideas versus influence.

I saw Led Zeppelin in 1979 and listened for years before that. They were a great band. It is clear that they used existing compositions to form their songs. Blues filters through to pop/rock/soul/punk and the rest. All writers and musicians are influenced by what has gone before. Some are imitators and some are innovators but through all of this the industry and the music buyers need to give credit to the creators. Learning an instrument by ear, being mostly self taught, not reading music and developing musicianship through listening to others and playing material created by other musicians is a great foundation for developing a way of playing and writing which adapts an idea and moves it on to another level. Being able to listen and copy and develop is different to originality. Originality is almost always 'influenced' by what has gone before but does not begin by using a riff or melodic phrase or lyric and then developing a song from there. This, at best, is 'borrowing' or using material composed by someone else as a kick start in to the creative process. As such this should always be credited and renumerated. Many cover versions sound very different to the original songs. Does that make them new compositions? If we change the time signature of a song like Yesterday by The Beatles and then add a heavy 'pretty original' riff, a few power chords, throw in some additional lyrics in the form of repeating words, turning sentences around or substituting phrases and then add an extended pseudo psychadelic lead section and coda does this constitute an original composition? The song is still Yesterday by The Beatles and the writers should be credited.
It is too easy to say everyone stole from the blues. It is too easy to say 'why wait 40 years before claiming plagiarism has occurred. Most musicians are only too happy to have something they created used by others as long as they are credited. To send a letter years later respectfully asking to be acknowledged is exactly what a sensitive person would do. Most people are decent and do not mind food being taken from the fridge but is nice to be left a meal. Greed and arrogance and jealousy certainly may form part of the need to claim royalty rights and vexatious claims must be weeded out. But greed and jealousy and arrogance work both ways. Maybe it is hard to remember where a riff or lyric or phrase was first heard but there are too many coincidences when bands played on the same bill and ideas were listened to, copied, developed and then used as original compositions. Led Zeppelin are not a covers band but they are very heavily influenced and it seems that they may have 'borrowed' a significant amount of material and not given credit where credit is due. The fact that they have settled out of court on a number of occasions already surely points to the fact that this is true. What makes a musician deny these influences and not want to give credit? Maybe greed. Money is a great persuader. Maybe arrogance. Bullies are always insecure. Maybe a misguided belief that they really did write these songs but also maybe a deep seated knowledge that if they admit to being influenced that their standing in the music business and rock and roll history will be diminished.
There are many instances of plagiarism documented. If anything the acknowledgement of original material and composers does not diminish a song in any way. In fact the exact opposite is true. Throughout musical history ideas have been borrowed and developed but just because credit was not given or payments were not made in the past does not mean we should ignore claims today. Many composers and musicians have ended their lives in poverty due to credit not being given while the industry and certain individuals continue to benefit.

Dazed And Confused Suit

Yeah they were thieves that plagerized a lot of people and got sued for millions...by one or two people, but you'd better have some damned good barristers to get all the back royalties due you.

Jimmy; "Ere ya go mate, 'ave a guitar"

what do these things have in

what do these things have in common?

1> the size of a bands discography
2> time passing
3> the perceived 'value' of a critic's words
4> the amount of fan-boy points a band has
5> subjective likability of music

they all have nothing to do with whether or not a song was created via plagiarism.

A Similar "Plagiarism"

A similar case to the whole "Dazed and Confused" saga has to be the process whereby "(I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man," a blues standard sung by Muddy Waters and penned by Willie Dixon, was "borrowed" from and transformed into Bo Diddley's hit song "I'm a Man" -- which was then in turn "borrowed" and transformed (in actuality, mostly a straight cover) to become Muddy Waters' song "Mannish Boy."

Holmes was likely due some credit for the original idea behind the song. However, the above stated example, as well as several others - the reduplication of lyrics throughout blues and folk music -- is more than enough to make the point ultimately expressed in this review moot, and this is only strengthened by the fact that the two pieces, though similarly titled, are so radically different musically.

Suing Jimmy Page forty-one years after the fact seems a little late, if you ask me. :/

Sounds Fishy...

Agreed. I find it strange that Holmes has only decided to sue Page now, when he had the past 41 years to do it. It seems as if it's not really an issue of maintaining artistic justice as much as it is that he's strapped for cash and now is hoping that he can make payday in a trial that should have been held a while ago, if it had to be at all.

It's a New Song

To say that Led Zeppelin was a "fucking covers band" is an idiotic statement if I ever heard one. Most of their great (and well-known songs) are completely original. As for some of their early songs, yes they have parts reminiscent of older pieces. But it was a common practice for blues rock bands to "pay tribute" to the greats by using a lick or lyric from an older song in an original composition. Zep's "Bring It On Home" references Sonny Boy Williamson's song of the same name at the very beginning and very end, but the rest is a completely original Page/Plant composition. However Willie Dixon, who wrote the SBW song decided to sue over what was intended as an homage, amnd a short one at that. As for "Dazed and Confused" itself, if you listen to the two versions you can see that they are completely different. A lyrical bit and the basic idea of the song are shared, but the music and most of the lyrics are new and different for the Led Zeppelin version. I agree that Jake Holmes should have gotten credit at least for inspiring the new version, but for people to say that Jimmy Page stole the song is ridiculous because, when all is said and done, LZ's "Dazed and Confused" is a new song with almost no similarity to the original.

Zeppelin a "cover band"? Hardly

While it is true that the musical contributions of John Branwell are not really relevant (what he said would be nonsense no matter who said it), the person who made the first comment does in fact direct most of their critique of Branwell's statement at the merits of the statement itself. In any case, to call Led Zeppelin a cover band is absurd. "Most" of their "good songs" were covers? Which songs are their "good songs"? What about "Black Dog", "Rock & Roll", "Over the Hills and Far Away", and "Kashmir", just to name a few? None of these, as far as I know, particularly resembles any other songs either melodically or lyrically (the arrangement of "Black Dog" was inspired by "Oh Well", but it is otherwise quite different). Secondly, how do you define a "cover"? Even most of the bits that Zeppelin is accused of ripping off make up only small parts of their songs. The intro to "Stairway to Heaven" does resemble Spirit's "Taurus", but it is not identical, and in any case the chord progression is a very common one. Besides, the rest of the song has no resemblance to "Taurus" whatsoever, so the song as a whole can hardly be called a "cover". Even the songs that could legitimately be called covers, like "When the Levee Breaks" and "Boogie with Stu" are radically different from the originals. I absolutely agree that Jake Holmes should have gotten writing credit and royalties for "Dazed and Confused", but even in this case the Zeppelin version can hardly be called a straight cover. So while Led Zeppelin did unfairly rip off Jake Holmes (whether or not they knew they were doing so), to say they were a cover band is like saying the Beatles were a cover band because they did a few songs like "Twist and Shout".

how brave

How brave to make such sweeping comments about John Bramwell under 'Anonymous'. Good piece, Rob and nice to see you're still writing.

One of the most juvenile

One of the most juvenile critiques is to point out that a critic isn't himself up to the standards of those he criticizes.... it's puerile. John Bramwell's criticism stands, Led Zep was a cover band - they stole most of their good songs...

How?

I'm a little unsure what you mean. How is it "puerile" to hold a critic to what he says, and to be fair-handed about it?

(Regarding your second comment: That's your opinion, and, as such, can't be refuted. The fans of Led Zeppelin -- including myself and the posters below -- disagree.)