51 Proteus 6 months ago Sometimes, people get busted and have to fess up: Yes: see most any Chuck Berry lick and I raise you a T-Bone Walker.And I spect Led Zeppelin will come up - who should have credited their most transparently obvious sources, and didn't do so till shamed into it.But at least in any blues tradition prior to maybe Chicago - when "guys who played the blues" (think Dixon, Wolf, and Muddy) started thinking of themselves as copyrightable writers - there was less of a sense of ownership of licks or lyrics. Both seemed to be floating around free-form in the tradition, and it wasn't so much a matter of one guy "stealing" another's stuff. It was more that everyone contributed a few bones to the stew, and everyone dipped from it what they needed. We shouldn't pretend that Robert Johnson, for all his skill in refining his material, was the original source for most of it. Of course that didn't matter so much when there was no money in it beyond drinks and tips at the juke - and, for the lucky, a few royalties from actual recordings. No doubt "the man" was always making his cut from exploiting the native (and naive) talent. A few early bluesers were a bit more savvy about what would now be called their "intellectual property" - I think the Mississippi Sheiks were on top of the game (as well as the world) in the late 20s and early 30s.But few of the progenitors of the rural blues traditions that coalesced and condensed into the commercial urban blues of the 40s and 50s were got a fair deal for their contributions to that stream. In many cases, I don't think we even know who came up with the particular melodic themes, guitar hooks, and even whole verses which were later combined in a more formal way, attributed to one guy or another, and protected by copyright. (Not that many of the blues cats of the late 40s and 50s were compensated fairly and consistently even for material that was attributed to them.)Then suddenly guys like Accidental Elvis with Scotty and Bill, the mad piano men, Carl Perkins, and Chuck Berry caught the scent of money to be made by crossing hillbilly and jacked-up blues and getting writer's credits for their efforts. Finally by the early-mid 60s even white kids were getting hip to the sources of all that material. (Songwriters like Leiber and Stoller had beaten them to it.) Many rural blues guys of 30 years previous - some of whom had forgotten their own songs, so neglected was their tradition - had their revival while a whole overwhelmingly white blues-rock industry started to grow up around cranked-up and codified versions of the then-more-obscure source material.That's when the big money could rip them off (er, pay homage to them!) "all the way to the bank." For every blues father who was credited by his rock & roll spiritual sons - not only with a byline but with royalties - many others died waiting for that economic justice.But in truth, the rock of the 60s and 70s made something of the source material that couldn't have been anticipated, was altogether new in its energy and dimension, and had the market package to sell in quantities the original stuff never could. As an example, there were late 20s originals for "When the Levee Breaks." But what Zeppelin (and Gibson, the Fender bass, Ludwig, and Jim Marshall) did for (or to, depending on your perspective) the song is pretty staggering. In the original version, you hear distant distorted echoes of fear and despair. In Zeppelin's, you feel the power and face the muddy apocalypse yourself.But it's not just white rockers appropriating a black culture, we plunder our own as well. Now that Matthew Fisher has been perhaps overpaid with 40% of writer's royalties for "Whiter Shade" going back to 1967, do you suppose he's up for splitting that with Bach's heirs and assigns?Keith Emerson owed a pile of composers as well.