Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 32
Tues, Feb 26, 2013
“When The Levee Breaks”
Where would hip hop be without the furiously immortal drum wielding genius of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham? Led Zep and Bonham are in good company, “Levee” is the second most sampled drumbeat in music history behind The Godfather of Soul, James Brown’s “Funky Drummer.” According to Andy Fye in his book about the making of Led Zeppelin IV, “The simple fact is that without Bonham and “When The Levee Breaks,” there would be no hip hop as we know it, [today]”
Jimmy Page talked about the genesis behind Bonham’s legendary sampled drumbeat when he said in Brad Tolinski’s Light & Shade book, “We were working on another song in the front room of Headley Grange when a second drum kit showed up. Rather than stop what we were doing we told the people bringing it in to just set it up in the entrance hallway. The hall was massive and in the middle of it was a staircase that went up three stories. Later, Bonzo went out to test the kit and the sound was huge because the area was so cavernous. Andy Johns hung a couple of M160 microphones down from the second floor. Jonesy and I came out in the hallway and banged out the rhythm track to “When The Levee Breaks” right then and there.” By setting up and mic’ing up Bonzo’s drums in the hallway created the bombastic sound that hip hop DJ’s would be sampling from years to come.
In Nigel Williamson’s The Rough Guide to Led Zeppelin, When hearing how hip hop DJ’s were sampling “Levee,” Robert Plant coyly responded, “When Jimmy and I talked about it, we figured nothing was sacred as we’d been nicking old blues stuff since the beginning.” Plant’s right, Rap DJ’s sampled Led Zeppelin and Bonham’s beats like Jimmy Page borrowed traditional blues licks, in both cases; it was done for the glory of the song.
Everyone talks about “Stairway to Heaven” being Led Zeppelin’s quintessential cut on IV but die hard Page fans like author Brad Tolinski knows that “When The Levee Breaks” as he wrote so eloquently in Light & Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page, “The song [“When The Levee Breaks”] could be seen as the culmination of all ideas [Jimmy had] been developing since the band’s first album. Anyone who has spent any real time talking to the guitarist about recording will hear his mantra, “distance equals depth,” at least once over the course of a conversation. And the drum sound on “Levee” is the definitive statement on Page’s thesis.”
“When The Levee” never fails to spark my memories of living in New Orleans, pre-Katrina. Led Zeppelin’s “Levee” perfectly reflected the power and pounding fear of living through a hurricane and/or flood while living in the dirty south. “Levee” specifically reminds me of the day, my street flooded in front of my apartment in New Orleans and I was talking on the steps with my downstairs neighbor when we witnessed a front wooden door floating down the flooded street in front of us. I remember telling my old neighbor, “You don’t see that every day.”
Page wasn’t dreaming of Louisiana floods when he crafted the rhythmic canvas that was “When The Levee Breaks,” Jimmy described to Tolinski in Light & Shade his modus operandi for ‘Levee” when he said, “The whole idea was to make “Levee” into a trance. If you notice, something new is added to every verse. Check it out…” It’s time for you to rediscover the layered genius of Jimmy Page’s piece de resistance; don’t fear the rhythm—get ready to dive inside the sounds of John Bonham’s immortalized drum powered fury of “When The Levee Breaks.”