Led Zeppelin faced accusations of plagiarism frequently throughout their career, which often led to the issue being settled in court. Usually, the group were then forced to pay out a significant sum to keep the complaint happy.
While some of these cases were a lot more cut and dry than others, there’s one guitarist who knew for sure that Jimmy Page had ripped him off. Furthermore, this wasn’t a one-off occasion either, and multiple pieces of evidence back up the point that the guitarist had deliberately replicated his style.
The artist in question is Bert Jansch, a Scottish guitarist who was an integral part of the British folk movement in the early 1960s. His eponymous debut album remains hugely influential, as does his work with Pentangle.
Former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr recently summed up his gigantic influence and told The Guardian: “Anyone who got into Nick Drake – totally into Bert. Anyone who got into Led Zeppelin’s acoustic stuff, Neil Young, Donovan, therefore the Beatles. No Bert Jansch, no Back to the Old House, no Unhappy Birthday, even my electric stuff. So it runs all the way through what I was doing in the Smiths. All roads lead back to Bert Jansch.”
One instrumental track from Led Zeppelin in which Page looked through the Jansch handbook for inspiration is ‘Black Mountain Side’, which bears an uncanny resemblance to his track, ‘Blackwaterside’. Additionally, Zeppelin’s folky ‘Bron-Y-Aur Stomp’ is exceptionally similar to Jansch’s ‘The Waggoner’s Lad’. However, despite the clear evidence that has mounted up against Page, the late Scottish guitarist never sued the rock juggernauts.
Furthermore, Page once heaped praise on Jansch’s debut and admitted that he was “obsessed” with the record. He said: “At one point, I was absolutely obsessed with Bert Jansch. When I first heard that LP, I couldn’t believe it. It was so far ahead of what everyone else was doing. No one in America could touch that.”
Page was also a regular at Jansch’s performances in Soho and reportedly absorbed every single note that came beautifully whistled out of his guitar.
When they met, Jansch always found it an awkward encounter and pinned this directly on Page’s guilt. He told Classic Rock in 2007: “The thing I’ve noticed about Jimmy [Page] whenever we meet is that he can’t look me in the eye. Elaborating on an explanation for this behaviour, he added: “Well, he ripped me off, didn’t he? Or let’s just say he learned from me. I wouldn’t want to sound impolite”.
Meanwhile, speaking to Uncut, Jansch recalled the moment a friend first informed about Led Zeppelin and their similarities. “I’d had no knowledge of Jimmy Page at all,” he said. “Then suddenly it was, ‘Have you heard this band, Led Zeppelin?’ But my music’s very different. That’s the thing about my playing. Where I’ll play well is to a small club, from that to a concert hall – anything beyond that I fall to bits. It freaks me out”.
Admittedly, all musicians are guilty of interpolating other people’s work to varying degrees, but that’s no excuse for Page ripping off Jansch so blatantly. Moreover, the guitarist’s lack of eye contact while in Bert’s company is a firm confirmation of his guilty conscience.