During the heady days of the 1960s rock and roll boom, one thing underpinned everything good about the music scene — collaboration. Bands were not only happy to swap players but also lift inspiration from the work of those around them. It meant artists like Pink Floyd would happily borrow from other bands like Cream, The Rolling Stones would sing songs written by The Beatles, and, in general, the free love of the counter culture movement spread into the creative industries.
Led Zeppelin were one band that triumphed through this crucible of creative songwriting. Jimmy Page was desperate to create his own blues sound. Having cut his teeth with The Yardbirds, he was certain that his next venture would be entirely original in every facet he could control. Of course, the band would deliver a souped-up version of that sound on their debut record and, by the time they reached Led Zeppelin IV had arguably perfected it.
Though Page, Robert Plant, John Bonham and John Paul Jones were determined to be original, sometimes inspiration could come straight from one of their contemporaries.
One such song from Led Zeppelin IV was ‘Black Dog’. The track is famous for its complex and often confounding guitar riff. What you may not know is, the genius solo was largely John Paul Jones’ creation rather than Page. The guitarist was busier on production duties during the making of this track but without this smattering of erudite flair on Jones’ behalf, who knows if we would still be discussing the track in such detail almost 50 years on. John Paul Jones was inspired to write this riff by Muddy Waters’ controversial 1968 album Electric Mud. He added a winding riff and complex rhythm changes that biographer Keith Shadwick describes as a “clever pattern that turns back on itself more than once, crossing between time signatures as it does.”
Later, Page would somewhat debunk claims that Jones was the mastermind behind ‘Black Dog’ whilst he was in conversation with All The Songs, stating: “We were always trying to encourage him to come up with bits and pieces, so to speak. Because that’s what they usually were — he never came up with a complete song or anything.” And while Jones’ inspiration may have derived from Muddy Waters, Page’s inspiration was a little closer to home. With a view on the call-and-response structure of the song, “I suggested that we build a song similar in structure to Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well,’” the iconic guitarist recalled in Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page.
‘Oh Well’ was one of the band’s early hits, reaching number two on the charts. Of course, released before Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham joined the band in 1975, this one is pure rhythm and blues, simply shining with a pure beat and a welcoming bounce. Page was a huge fan of Fleetwood Mac’s early incarnations, and while it may feel strange to draw the link between Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin, Peter Green’s influence can be heard across the entire music scene of the 1960s.
“The original Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green performed the music of people like Elmore James really well,” Page said in the same book, clearly in admiration of what the band did for artists like himself. “Peter had such a beautiful touch on things like ‘Stop Messing Around.’ Just fabulous in the vein of B.B. King.”
In fact, for Page, there was nobody better, “I don’t think you’re going to find a better example of British blues than the original Fleetwood Mac, with Jeremy Spencer and Peter Green.”
Check out Led Zeppelin’s song ‘Black Dog’ below as well as Fleetwood Mac‘s ‘Oh Well’.