Thursday, 8 December 2016

Naughty! Johnny Cash, Robert Plant - and the great Don Covay/Mick Jagger controversy

Listen to "Crescent City Blues" by Gordon Jenkins, which was released in 1953. The song starts 35 seconds in. It will remind you strongly of a far more famous recording released two years later:
Recognise it? Well, of course, it's...

...Johnny Cash and The Tennessee Two's "Folsom Prison Blues", and The Man in Black was forced to pay Gordon Jenkins $75,000 as the result of a lawsuit for copyright infringement. A humungous amount of money in those days, given that RCA bought out Cash's Sun Records stablemate Elvis Presley's for a mere $35,000.  Anyway, it's the first I'd ever heard of this particular example of plagiarism. Similarly, I'd never realised that the Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant borrowed his whole "ravenous gerbil down the pants" singing style from another English singer - and, from the sound of this 1966 Small Faces LP track, it seems more than a singing style was "borrowed":

Plant was generous in his praise for Steve Marriott, acknowledging that the Small Faces' lead singer had a better voice. One reason for the Faces not suing Led Zeppelin over the lyrics pinched from "You Need Loving" was probably that the Faces had pinched them from the superb 1962 Willie Dixon-penned Muddy Waters' number, "You Need Love". But Robert Plant didn't get away scot free - Dixon eventually sued for plagiarism, and won. 

I came across these examples of artists borrowing from earlier records while looking into the question of whether Mick Jagger modelled his vocal style on the great South Carolina R&B singer, Don Covay, which was brought up by ex-KCS in the comments section of a recent post on this site. Here's the evidence:

So, that would be a "yes", then. Still, not a bad choice of model (something Mr. Jagger has evidently done a lot over the years).

Don Covay died in February, last year - and I somehow missed it. He was a great singer and a terrific songwriter. Here are three more of his best '60s recordings (the first, recorded in 1961, was successfully covered by Chubby Checker):

And here's the best version of one of Covay's songs by another artist - Aretha Franklin with the sublime "Chain of Fools":

We were so spoiled back then!


  1. By the time Don Covay recorded the excellent "It's better to have" in 1974, you could argue that he was repaying the compliment by impersonating Mick Jagger....Great post.

    1. Thanks, ex-KCS. Just listened to "It's Better to Have" - (a) I think you could be right, and (b) what a terrific track!.

      Apart from Rod Stewart trying to sound like his hero Sam Cooke (with laryngitis), Adam Faith aping Buddy Holly, and a host of obvious Elvis soundalikes, I wonder if there were other '60s white rock/blues singers who pinched someone else's singing style (over and above generally trying to sound American). Nobody springs to mind - any ideas?

  2. I wonder if Johnny cash ever got near to recouping the $75,000.I very much doubt it which is a pity because he added enormous value to the song.
    The same applies to The Stones who have a bit of form with covers-their versions usually being far more dynamic than the originals.
    Mike Berry and Heinz despite both having soft voices-the unkind might say weak-managed if the wind was blowing in the right direction to sound like Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran respectively.Brings a tear to the eye it does.

  3. Sorry I take it back-just listened to C'mon Everybody by the inimitable Eddie Cochran and poor Heinz falls way short.Oh well the intention was there.

    1. Thank God for that! Thought you'd gone mad there. "Just Like Eddie" was, though, a Joe Meek masterpiece. Jess Conrad tells an amusing story of once having bitten the end of Heinz's nose off. If you haven't seen the 2008 film, "Telstar: The Joe Meek Story", I can strongly recommend it - the portrayals of Heinz and John Leyton are both very funny.

      And I suspect Mr. J. R. Cash recouped the $75,000 many times over - and promptly spent it all on drugs.

      Agreed re The Stones - their version of "Route 66" is still my al-time favourite.