Good lord, people.
Go over, shut your office door, come back around here and press play on these puppies.
“No, I hate old blues. No, don’t make me listen to old blues!”
Look, we can ease into it.
We’ll start with Zeppelin. See, that wasn’t so bad. It was even kind of fun, wasn’t it?
Or the Rolling Stones. You like them, right? I saw your butt wiggling just a little bit.
Okay, now just try a little Blind Willie and then…this.
Ha, that reminds me. Last night, the Simpsons was the one where they all go to England and Bart and Lisa do all that candy and it’s like from Trainspotting and Homer and Marge are looking for them and Homer’s all like, “It’s Jimmy Page, England’s premier thief of black American music.”
I don’t think that’s exactly fair, though Zeppelin are big thieves, but the Stones are pretty big thieves, too.
I like this rendition of Morganfield’s “Can’t Be Satisfied,” though, because I think it shows you how the stealing goes around. Here, just to have it, let’s take a listen to Morganfield’s “Can’t Be Satisfied” from the Chess years. This is probably the version the Rolling Stones heard and were covering.
His voice is a little higher, a lot younger, and, to my ear, I think it’s obvious that this is a studio cut. You get the sense that there’s no audience there. There’s a little playing around in his delivery, but I think that Morganfield’s real gift was the connection he made with his audience (even on the cuts where his audience is just his band). To me, when I listen to this cut, I hear a kind of flatness, a lack of spark, even though it’s a fine and fun song.
The Stones’ cut is clearly building off that. They’ve added more echo and, again, it’s a fun song. I appreciate that they have the good sense to equally pair Mick’s voice with the guitar, almost like a duet. But, in listening to it, I hear a group that loves a song, not a group that gets what the song is about (though the way Mick delivers the line about his baby jumping and shouting suggests maybe he kind of does get it).
But here’s where it’s interesting. The Stones’ version came out in 1965. The second Morganfield version we have here is from 1977. Which means that Morganfield isn’t just redoing his own song; he’s, in effect, covering a cover of his work.
And he takes his younger self and the Stones to school. The delivery has a little funk to it. His voice is deeper and growlier and he’s clearly having a great, great time. He’s got some back and forth with the band and the whole thing is loose in that way that reminds you of a big old Chevy Caprice–comfortable, tough, and with a back seat big enough for a girl to spread out in…
I tell you what, if they could bottle “deep ole Southern man” voice and sell it as some kind of intoxicating liquor, that would be my favorite drink.
Are you dancing yet?
I am so clueless about the blues. While I was playing the songs my husband came in and asked “why are you playing Muddy Waters?” And I seriously replied that, no, the recording was of a guy named Morganfield. He got a good laugh out of that. Anyway, it’s interesting that the Stones version sounds so bland and “produced” in comparison. Thanks for helping teach me!
Muddy Waters and Johnny Winter. How can you go wrong with that?!
Muddy was one of those guys like Howlin’ Wolf that I happened to discover within 6 months before or after his death. I started to get a complex about it and then I realized that they drank and played in honky tonks and juke joints for sixty years. It probably wasn’t me that killed them…
Great memories. Thanks, B.
I now feel hopelessly inferior, because the last music I was dancing around the room to is <a href=”http://www.last.fm/music/Old+97’s/_/Murder+(Or+A+Heart+Attack)””Murder (Or a Heart Attack),” which is fun but not exactly weighted with meaning.
I don’t believe one can properly call the Stones or Led Zep thieves of the blues, though. Surely it’s not appropriation to use something created by another if the creator is acknowledged, and both those groups did so. No, the thieves are the people who don’t get curious about where the rock groups got those songs in the first place. Or the people who make movies about the history of the blues that frames the music as important because it led to the Stones and Eric Clapton. IMO, of course.
But, NM, I thought Zeppelin had to be taken to court to get them to put proper credit on their songs. I mean, if Homer Simpson calls someone a thief, it’s got to be true, right.
My absolute favorite thing about Lost Delta Found is how you discover that Morganfield is playing all kinds of music–his songs, every song in the juke boxes in town, the songs the white folks love, and the songs the black folks love. To me, that’s what makes Morganfield just a little better than other Delta Blues artists (which I realize is just about blasphemy to say). He loved all types of music–which is why I’m sure, just positive, he was well aware of the Stones’ version of his song, even though I haven’t bothered to consult any sources.
Ceeelcee, I know the feeling! I’m also one of those people who assumes–by default–that the blues were from the early mysterious twentieth century, so when I think about Muddy Waters being alive in my life time, it’s a little disconcerting for me.
Peggy, oh, no! Oops. Sorry. I should have maybe spelled that out–that it was McKinley “Muddy Water(s)” Morganfield.
I’m willing to give LZ the benefit of the doubt in terms of intention, just as I’m willing to give George Harrison for “My Sweet Lord” and Miranda Lambert for “Kerosene.” Yeah, they lifted things, but they did it having listened to the originals so much that they internalized them.
BTW, it wasn’t just (some of) the black blues guys who were more involved in pop music than most people realize. F’rinstance, before he became “Doc Watson,” Doc Watson had a rockabilly band. When he got a recording contract they wouldn’t let him do that any more because they wanted to present him as this pure depository of the folk tradition. I have trouble getting my head around this, since he seems like such a sweet guy — even his Stagger Lee doesn’t sound all that bad — and rockabillies have to be able to convince you that they might stomp on somebody. But that’s just because once he became “Doc Watson” he didn’t play rockabilly any more.
I’m willing to forgive Led Zeppelin all manner of sins I’m not willing to overlook in other bands. I can’t forgive them for Achilles Last Stand, though. That’s just ridiculous.
I never would say that they weren’t ridiculous.
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