Led Zeppelin have always been a divisive entity. For some, they represented the very pinnacle of rock virtuosity. For others, they were just a bunch of white dudes playing the blues. Admittedly, the group, which included Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham, do indeed have something of a complicated legacy.
Under the microscope, bands like Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones don’t fare too well. Whilst their songs are often heralded as defining an entire era of popular music, it’s hard to ignore how much they absorbed black American culture for their own ends. Led Zeppelin appears particularly culpable because, unlike The Rolling Stones, who have recently started releasing albums featuring covers of the artist’s who inspired them, Led Zeppelin never openly acknowledged their influences. For the legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix, Zeppelin’s knack for stealing material was, to put it bluntly, a real turn-off.
In an interview held back in 2006, Carmine Appice, the drummer of the rock band Vanilla Fudge, discussed the legacy of Led Zeppelin. Recalling a meeting with Jimi Hendrix in the ’60s, Appice said: “Jimi Hendrix personally told me that he didn’t like Zeppelin because they were like excess baggage and that they stole from everybody. ‘You Shook Me’ was on Jeff Beck’s record. ‘Dazed and Confused’ has a bit of Vanilla Fudge on it and it has parts of ‘Beck’s Bolero’ in it. I think I was told by a member of the band that the ‘Good Times Bad Times’ riff came from Tim Bogart’s bass line.”
For Appice, the group’s plagiaristic habits didn’t seem so controversial. Music, after all, has always been characterised by cross-pollination. Appice explains: “When I first heard John Bonham do that triplet thing on the bass drum, I went up to him and said, ‘John, that is amazing. I have to admit that I took that from you.’ He looked at me and said, ‘What are you talking about? I took that from you!’ I replied, ‘I don’t do that. You couldn’t have taken it from me.’ He proceeded to tell me where I did actually do that on the first Vanilla Fudge record and he was right. I only did it for a moment on that album and he took it and made something bigger and better out of it. We used to go and sit on the side of the stage and watch Zeppelin We hung out in the dressing rooms and we built a great relationship with them.”
But Hendrix wasn’t so forgiving of Led Zeppelin. Robert Plant once remembered how Hendrix had even teased John Bonham about his double peddle technique: “Hendrix came up to Bonzo and he said, ‘You know what? You got a foot like a rabbit. We used to take the mickey out of people who used double bass drums.'”
For Hendrix, Zeppelin’s grab-and-run technique was also a deal-breaker. When asked about the stadium-rockers in an interview held in 1970, Hendrix said: “I don’t think much of Led Zeppelin – I mean, I don’t think much about them.” But in correcting himself, Hendrix failed to disguise his apathy for a band he regarded as plundering American music for all its worth. He did, however, concede that “Jimmy Page is a great guitarist.”
Unfortunately, the two never had the chance to perform together, much to the disappointment of Page, who later said: “I never saw him play, either. I’m really, really upset with myself for never seeing him. I really wanted to hear him.”