Whole Lotta Blues: Songs Of Led Zeppelin
House Of Blues Records, 1999
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/12/1999
It is no big secret that Led Zeppelin got many of their ideas from the blues legends they had grown up listening to. It even hit the point where the late Willie Dixon sued the band - and won - claiming plagiarism of his song "You Need Love" on Led Zeppelin's hit "Whole Lotta Love".
So what would happen if some of today's blues artists - including some living legends - stole the music back and returned it to its roots? It's an intriguing concept, and one that has been turned into reality with the release of Whole Lotta Blues: Songs Of Led Zeppelin.
Zep purists, be forewarned: while there are similarities between the originals and the cover versions presented here, the format of many of them is going to be radically different. It may shock some people - it may even offend some. But there's no denying that many of these artists have found the heart of the songs themselves in their translations.
Just listen to the way that Otis Clay tackles "Since I've Been Loving You" and hear the spin that the vocalist puts on this track. While the original version was bluesy enough, Clay and the backing musicians make this one burrow even deeper into the vein of the blues, and it becomes a track that just pours out emotion from all corners.
The same could be said for Robert Lockwood Jr.'s take on "Bring It On Home," starting out the piece with an acoustic Delta blues sound, then kicking things up a little more with the full band (though it should be noted that Lockwood does not play guitar on the second half of the song). Likewise, the duet between Otis Rush and Eric Gales, their take on Willie Dixon's "I Can't Quit You Baby," just throbs with power, and should not be missed.
There are a few tracks that might take a couple of listens to really get into. Once you've spent some time wih Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown's take on "Rock N' Roll," or even if you have some knowledge of Brown's blues style, you'll appreciate the new levels he tries to take the song to. It's intriguing, to say the least - and, for the most part, it works well. Chris Thomas King's version of "Hey, Hey (What Can I Do)" is one that I had to listen to several times to really appreciate, but it did grow on me.
I can't say the same about a few takes on Whole Lotta Blues: Songs Of Led Zeppelin. The original take of "Custard Pie" by Gales proves to me that this song was never meant to be done in a Delta blues style. I also found I couldn't get into the version of "When The Levee Breaks" by Magic Slim, Billy Branch and James Cotton. (For that matter, did we really need more than one take on some of these songs? And why were some songs broken up into two distinct tracks?)
For the most part, Whole Lotta Blues: Songs Of Led Zeppelin is a pleasant collection that pays tribute to the roots of the music without sacrificing much of the original sound (if not the bombast). Although some diehard Zep fans might need to spend the better part of a day with this one, it will prove to be a disc worthy of their time.