Thursday, October 31, 2019

Zeppelin: Let's Get This Out of the Way - Part 3, Page

In 1965, Burt Jansch first learned the traditional Irish ballad "Blackwaterside" from folkie friend Anne Briggs. Jansch went on to record his very stylized version for the 1966 solo LP Jack Orion. Purportedly, the singer/guitarist Al Stewart of "Year of the Cat" fame followed Jansch's live shows and learned the arrangement, which he taught to Jimmy Page in the studio while the two were recording Stewart's second album, Love Chronicles. While Stewart admits to teaching the arrangement to Page, there is conflict as to when, Stewart insisting that his session with Page was in 1965. On Led Zeppelin, Page recorded the song, calling it "Black Mountain Side," giving Jansch no credit while adding himself, rather than crediting it as "Trad." as many artists did with such songs (including Jansch: "Traditional, arranged Jansch.") There is a case to be made that Page was doing nothing different than what Jansch did with his sources, and what has been traditionally blues/folk protocol. Of course the conflicting dates conflagrate the scenario further.

Janschites will insist that Page absconded Burt Jansch's arrangement, but I would contend that the evolution of the traditional Irish tune begins in 1959 with Isla Cameron’s recording, moving onward through Winnie Ryan, Liam Clancy, Paddy Tunney and ebbing with Briggs and Jansch. What Page failed to do is to acknowledge the "Trad.," though in many ways, Jimmy's version broke tradition by incorporating an alternate musical framework (the Celtic, Indian and Arabic connection that he called "CIA") while emphasizing his arrangement with tablas and the accent you get by using DADGAD, instead of the drop D Jansch used. It's quite ingenious really, and of course beautifully played as well. So who's right here? The press and the world has turned on Plant and Page and Zeppelin, when there is room in AM's focus for both "Blackwaterside" and "Black Mountain Side," "Taurus" and "Stairway." 

But back to the original premise: Spirit is long forgotten and Pentangle (Burt Jansch’s jazz rock outfit) suffered under the insufferable vocals of Jacqui McShee. Jansch’s Jack Orion LP is a great historic look into British folk, but far from listenable, with "Blackwaterside" the obvious exception. Zeppelin on the other hand did what they did with more pomp and circumstance, originality, sexuality and innovation than any other rock band of its era. 100 years from now, we will all still be reading Shakespeare and listening to "Stairway to Heaven."