Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Obituary: Guitarist Bert Jansch dies at 67; influenced Jimmy Page on Led Zeppelin songs

Photo credit: Chris Barber
Folk musician Bert Jansch, one of the most revered figures in British folk music, has died. Reports say his death today followed a bout with cancer that saw Jansch being forced to cancel some live performances recently.

Of particular note to Led Zeppelin fans is Jansch's 1966 album Jack Orion, which contains some instrumental work that influenced Led Zeppelin's own Jimmy Page.

The disc begins with an instrumental track on acoustic guitar and banjo called "The Waggoner's Lad." On Led Zeppelin III released in 1970, certain passages of Page's guitar playing between the verses of "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" echo some of Jansch's licks on this track.

More significantly, the flip side of Jack Orion includes a song called "Blackwater Side." On this track, Jansch sings a vocal melody over the reprise of a guitar arrangement heard on the earlier album cuts "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" and "The Gardener." On the debut Led Zeppelin album released in 1969, Page's guitar instrumental "Black Mountain Side" is essentially an instrumental rewrite of "Blackwater Side" complete with Page playing both the melody Jansch sings on "Blackwater Side" and much of the same guitar arrangement.

In interviews, Page mentions the popular British folk group Pentangle was an influence on him. In that group, Jansch played alongside fellow guitarist John Renbourn and vocalist Jacqui McShee.

In a May 1970 interview with that group conducted by Lemon Squeezings friend Rick McGrath for Vancouver's underground newspaper Georgia Strait, Jansch and McShee expressed their frustration with Page's sole writing credit on Led Zeppelin's "Black Mountain Side."

McShee said, "Actually, I think it's a very rude thing to do. Pinch somebody else's thing and credit it to yourself. It annoys me. ... In all the English papers at home he's always talking about Bert. Says he's influenced. I mean, why say that and then put something on an LP and say Jimmy Page?"

Putting it more simply, Jansch, laughing, said of the Led Zeppelin track, "That's my song."


  1. "my song"? He didn't write it. He may have arranged a version it but he certainly didn't write it. Some would argue that "his" arrangement also borrowed heavily from Isla Cameron's 1959 version of "Blackwaterside".

  2. Thank God Page re-did it. Page's was infinitely better. Can't even listen to Bert's version, that singing makes me cringe.

  3. It was Bert Jansch's version of a traditional song. Jimmy Page's version is a virtual copy of Jansch's arrangement - pure and simple. Anon says 'he didn't write....' but he didn't claim to, it's credited 'traditional/arranged Jansch' on Jack Orion, unlike Jimmy Page, who did claim he wrote it. Not the first time he's done that either....cue Spirit's 'Taurus' etc., etc.

  4. Who care's many people rewrite songs and make them better. People just get pissed because Jimmy's always improved songs. It doesn't take away his incredible talent by any means. As for Spirit that copycat line is so tired, it is a few guitar strands that sound similar. The entire Stairway to Heaven song is a masterpiece. Geez the two songs are not similar at all.

  5. I don't intend to engage in a to and fro here, but i will say this. I've nothing against Page at all, and i'm certainly not questioning his talent - saw him at the RAH supporting Donovan and he was amazing. I also do like what he did with Blackwaterside, it sits happily alongside Jansch's as another version of the same song - whether it's better is open to opinion - but I just wish he'd given proper credit where due. And I know this kind of thing goes on all the time, but there is a point at which you say it's no longer 'influenced by', and that's when it becomes plagerism....and Zep crossed that line for me, many times. You can call the Taurus reference, and many others i could cite as 'tired' if you like, but that still doesn't make it right. And it's not 'a few strands' at's the main riff of the song, around which Stairway is constructed....there are so many instances of this in Zep's catalogue, some people just can't seem to acknowledge it.

  6. "'he didn't write....' but he didn't claim to"

    He did so, at the interview at the top.

    "cue Spirit's 'Taurus' etc., etc. " Except "Taurus" is clearly copied from a 1958 instrumental by Davy Graham entitled "Cry Me a River". When you point this out to Spirit fans they go into denial, and ignore the obvious similarities.

  7. I think we should just agree to differ enjoy your Zep version, and I will enjoy BJ (and Zep too) version.

    I'm very familiar with Davy Graham by the way, and have Cry me a River on his album 'The Guitar Player'....a great track, doesn't sound much like spirit or stairway to me! Talking about Davy Graham, doesn't 'White Summer' = 'She Moved thru the Fair'? There you go, another obvious example!

    When all is said and done, I'm just sorry to see BJ go, and I'm happy that this site has acknowledged his sad passing. Jimmy Page and many others appreciated his music, even if you don't....

  8. You make the erroneous assumption that anyone who sees or hears links between Isla Cameron and Davey Graham's work within Bert Jansch's, must be a Led Zeppelin fan. This is the heart of the problem when dealing with Jansch fans - they don't understand that folk music historians and aficionados, such as myself, are unhappy at the way Jansch has lifted off other people's works, and that any criticism of him must only be from Led Zeppelin fans. The fact that an experienced lawyer advised Jansch not to take legal action against Page speaks more volumes on this issue, than an anonymous flag waver who is hard of hearing.

  9. One more comment from me....

    Did Led Zep ever get sued over copyright?
    Did Bert Jansch?

    I'll let you answer that, and the answer does speak volumes.

    And i never assume anything. You are hardly a music aficionado, just massively biased.

  10. Your claim that I'm biased is incorrect. As I've already stated, I'm a folk music historian, not a Led Zeppelin fan. Jansch has stolen arrangements from Davey Graham and Isla Cameron. It's true what they say in the music business - you only get sued if you make money. Bruce Dunnet and Gerry Bron could have sued Jansch over his broken managerial promises, but declined, because as Dunnet said in 1994 in a radio interview: "It would be like suing a beggar".

  11. Wow, can we all just get along? And why are you here if you're not a zep fan? If you like Jansch or Zep or both, just enjoy the music, because that's what it was made for.

  12. "And why are you here if you're not a zep fan?" I agree. If you're not a zep fan, you shouldn't be here, particularly if your sole aim is to make accusations against the band. Jansch didn't sue. Jansch is now dead. Move along now.

  13. Hi, everybody anonymous! I've got no problem with people of other musical backgrounds visiting and participating with this site. We could all stand to tolerate and learn from each other a little better. This has been a healthy discussion. But why all the anonymity? Don't people use their names anymore?

  14. I confess that i'm the interloper here i.e. not particularly a Zep fan but definately a Jansch fan. I stumbled across the site whilst reading up about his sad passing, and was heartened when this site acknowledged his death but saddened when i saw the derogatory post about Blackwaterside.
    I have to say, i didn't see any 'Non-Zep fans not allowed' warning for this site before I posted, so I felt free to make my comment.
    In my view, it was a healthy debate, both of us making our points and counter-arguing where appropriate. And I have to agree with Steve and another who mentioned liking Zep, Jansch or both...since I can, and do.
    The penultimate post about 'moving on' wasn't very nice though....I wonder whether 'anon' in that case was the 'anon' I was debating with? I'd like to think not.....

  15. Anonymous said...

    One more comment from me....

    November 5, 2011 1:48 PM


    Anonymous said...

    I confess that i'm the interloper here

    November 7, 2011 10:26 AM


    Obviously you're having difficulty counting.

  16. Lol - I just knew you'd respond, but yup, I do i guess...

    You're 'dazed and confused' too though aren't you? A few posts above you say you 'are not a Zeppelin fan', then that '...If you're not a zep fan, you shouldn't be here...' You're here, so what does that make you?

    Oh're a self-proclaimed . I should have known better than to debate anything with someone who actually describes themself as that. In reality, you have more in common with a 4th rate politician - 'aficionado' and 'folk historian'avoiding answering the questions asked, and then throwing in things totally unrelated to the argument, just to confuse the issue. I know about Jansch's managerial dispute...and I'll answer my questions for you, 'yes' and 'no' respectively.
    Zep are great, no question, and it's alright to take other peoples songs and do your version of them, re-arrange them, improve them, put your own stamp on them, whatever - a la Jansch and Davy Grahams's Anji - but it's not alright to then claim you wrote them. That's just plain wrong, and that's why Zep have been sued. It's not rumour, fiction or opinion - just plain fact, and there's plenty of damning evidence out there to support it.
    No matter how bad my counting, i'll not post again. And apologies to all reasonable Zep fans, not to mention music 'aficionados' and 'folk historians.'

  17. What a predictable lame comeback. It's fairly obvious that the anonymous poster defending jansch, is none other than steven sauer. You never fooled me. One only has to go on Twitter to see what was tweeted about this thread to see his own position is on the issue, before anonymous started posting. You sauer are pathetic. You've lost all credibility on this issue. We all know you're struggling for people to be bothered reading your blog, but this is the lowest stunt you've pulled in your "career" as a b-grade journalist. No doubt you won't post this but rest assured zeppelin fans will know about it anyway through other channels.

  18. Wrong on both counts. I published your comment, and I am not the author of any of the anonymous comments, not that you'll believe it.

  19. @the last anonymous: if you don't like it why don't you go elsewhere, and stop being a troll or get a life. ~Nicole~

  20. Holy cow. Relax anonymous people (whomever you may be). Just to be clear on who I like and don't like, Page is my favorite guitarist and Zep stands well above my number 2. However, I don't think there is any question he/they borrowed heavily enough at times that proper credit should have been given, even if it was just: Traditional Song...Arranged by Jimmy Page. I do think it is important to note (as anonymous #1 has) that many others have also done this, and also that not many people would care if they hadn't been successful. Both of these are valid points that help to keep things in perspective. Still, the lads should have been honest and given full and proper credit where it was due. If lawsuits and payments to the original artists came about as a result, then they deserved it. It also lends much credence to the argument that Zep was not as original as most people once thought.

    Now we arrive at the point where rational thinking and the Page/Zep haters part ways. Everyone was doing covers back in the 60's (proper credit or not). In the opinion of millions, Zep simply did it better than anyone else and in a way that had never been heard before. Some bands came close, but they lacked that certain something that Zep had. In terms of the success the band reached, it would have made no difference whatsoever if they had given proper credit on the albums. No one would have cared! On top of that they released plenty of original music from 68-79, including at least a dozen tracks that could arguably be in the top 100 rock songs of all time. (Relax, I said arguably). That is an absolutely incredible feat and one of the main reasons why Zep is still so popular over 40 years after ITTO.

  21. It's all about musical integrity - Bert Jansch had it by the bucket load, and it's never really been questioned.

    Sadly, as good a guitarist that Jimmy Page is, his musical integrity is flawed because of Black Mountainside and other songs.

  22. Lots of wild speculation on this blog. Too bad most of it is wrong. Jacqui McShee should brush up on history. Jansch never wrote the song.

  23. McShee is wrong. Jansch did not write the song and as such is in no legal position to sue anyone over it. The Jansch fans should stop the attacks on Page because it's totally pointless to do so. Jansch is now dead. It's serves no purpose to keep bringing it up.


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