Was Jimmy Page A Serial Plagiarist?

jimmypageJimmy Page is a Rock genius, a primary architect of the sounds we recognize as Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, and a virtuoso on the electric guitar. He reigns as a founding father of Rock, and Led Zep’s music stands the test of time. Nothing I’m about to say changes any of this.

But I recently learned about the origins of the song “Dazed and Confused”, and to be honest, I was appalled at what it reveals about the character of Mr. Page.

I was familiar with two other examples of apparent plagiarism on the part of Page and Led Zep, and neither of them was all that troubling to me. I knew that the band had lifted a major portion of Willie Dixon’s “You Need Love” for use in their own song “Whole Lotta Love”. The band quite rightly ended up giving Dixon a song credit on it.

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Another example — nicking a sequence from the Spirit song “Taurus” for use as the intro to “Stairway to Heaven” — was documented a couple of months ago here on Rocknuts. I wasn’t particularly bothered by this one, either. The guitar riff is very similar, but not exactly the same. And furthermore, the riff makes up such a small part of the song, and overall, the two songs are very different in tone and content.

But the “Dazed and Confused” story is something else altogether.

Jake Holmes was an American folk singer and songwriter who ended up writing jingles and songs for Frank Sinatra. But in 1967, like many others at the time, he began to dabble in psychedelia. On August 25, 1967, he opened for Jimmy Page’s band the Yardbirds at the Village Theatre in Greenwich Village, and he performed this song called “Dazed and Confused”:

The guys in the Yardbirds fell in love with the song and began to play it in their live concerts. While they never recorded it in the studio, it does show up on a couple of live Yardbirds albums, being listed as “I’m Confused” and credited to Jake Holmes. Yet when the song appeared on Led Zeppelin I, “Dazed and Confused” was credited solely to Jimmy Page.

Plant and Page completely changed the lyrics of the song, except for the words “dazed and confused”. They added some chords and of course the big middle section. But listen to the Holmes recording. I don’t know how any reasonable person could listen to it and not conclude that the title, the general melodic structure and the tone constitute the root of the Led Zeppelin song.

Yet Jimmy Page was in denial over this for more than 40 years. He had this to say in a 1990 interview in Musician Magazine:

MUSICIAN: I understand “Dazed and Confused” was originally a song by Jake Holmes. Is that true?
PAGE: [Sourly] I don’t know. I don’t know. [Inhaling] I don’t know about all that.
MUSICIAN: Do you remember the process of writing that song?
PAGE: Well, I did that with the Yardbirds originally…. The Yardbirds were such a good band for a guitarist to play in that I came up with a lot of riffs and ideas out of that, and I employed quite a lot of those in the early Zeppelin stuff.
MUSICIAN: But Jake Holmes, a successful jingle writer in New York, claims on his 1967 record that he wrote the original song.
PAGE: Hmm. Well, I don’t know. I don’t know about that. I’d rather not get into it because I don’t know all the circumstances. What’s he got, The riff or whatever? Because Robert wrote some of the lyrics for that on the album. But he was only listening to…we extended it from the one that we were playing with the Yardbirds.
MUSICIAN: Did you bring it into the Yardbirds?
PAGE: No, I think we played it ’round a sort of melody line or something that Keith [Relf] had. So I don’t know. I haven’t heard Jake Holmes so I don’t know what it’s all about anyway. Usually my riffs are pretty damn original [laughs] What can I say? 

Unbelievable. Page was denying ever having heard of Jake Holmes, let alone ripping him off. Of course, back in 1990, the Jake Holmes version of “Dazed and Confused” would have been virtually impossible to find. Obviously Page didn’t anticipate that the internet would reveal not only did he steal someone’s idea, but also that he lied about the song’s origins for so many years.

After years of ignoring Holmes’ letters and entreaties to address the situation, the case was finally settled out of court in 2012. The terms of the settlement have not been made public, but on all new pressings of Led Zeppelin material, the credit for “Dazed and Confused” now reads: “Jimmy Page; Inspired by Jake Holmes”.

Still no songwriting credit, but I guess justice has finally been served. However, after becoming aware of this story, my impression of Jimmy Page the man has plunged several notches. What about you? Does knowing the truth about the song “Dazed and Confused” affect your opinion about Jimmy Page?

Photo credit: By Avda (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

6 comments to “Was Jimmy Page A Serial Plagiarist?”
  1. I’ve known for years about the stairway to heaven rip off of Spirit’s Taurus, it’s close enough that the band should have gotten at least a writing credit on the Led Zeppelin album. So yeah, I think Page is a serial plagiarist!

  2. Then there’s the case of “Knowing That I’m Losing You” by The Yardbirds which later morphed into Led Zeppelin’s “Tangerine.” Keith Relf of The Yardbirds penned the original lyrics, but when it later appeared on Zep 3, his name was nowhere listed in the credits. To this day, Page refuses to release the original version. Word is, Relf’s widow has threatened to sue.

  3. What Kind of question is that? Nobody’s read The Hammer of the Gods or Lisa Robison’s article about Led Zep in Vanity Fair? It’s easier to name the songs he didn’t stole. To name just one Since I’ve Been Loving you is the Never song by Moby Grape

  4. Oh, for crying out loud. Are there similarities? Sure. The verse main riff. One line of lyrics. BFD. What else? You should actually praise Jimmy for taking fragments of this obscure song wallowing in obscurity and making something big out of it. Without Page Jake’s song would be a big, fat, irrelevant zero. It might as well have not even existed.

    The LZ haters are so pathetic and puny-minded. “Oh, Plant stole this lyric from [insert 1940s bluesman here]”, “Oh, Page stole one arpeggio from a crap Spirit song, therefore Stairway to Heaven is plagiarized.” I got news for you idiots, EVERY MUSICIAN BUILDS ON WHAT WAS ALREADY WRITTEN. Every single one. There are no original ideas. Get a life.

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