If you’ve been in the trenches of the guitar community on Facebook, Instagram, TGP, Reddit, etc. then you’ll know Greta Van Fleet has become a bit of a hot topic lately. These are 4 guys between 19 - 22 years old from a small town in Michigan and blasted on to the scene playing some old school, riff-driven rock and roll. The more I got into their playing and reading up on them, the more I noticed a massive contention in the music community towards them. Immediate comparisons were drawn between them and Led Zeppelin, often in a disgusted manner. I saw many comments regarding how they were a knock-off of Zep, copycats, unoriginal, etc. Interestingly enough though, there were just as many people praising the band for bringing “real rock and roll” back to the masses. But who’s right?
I need to be upfront and say something that’s going to be controversial but worth exploring: I really dig what Greta Van Fleet is doing, and at the same time I’m not a huge fan of Led Zeppelin. If you close the browser right there then I understand, but at least hear me out. I’ve had some things going on in my life recently that have opened my eyes a bit, and it’s made me take a step back from the depths of the gear and music communities to look at the bigger picture and the fundamentals. I’m 32, and I grew up with a father that loved classic rock, but he leaned towards the Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Clapton, and AC/DC. Mom was into a lot of Motown stuff and my brother was into country music (he’s a HUGE Alan Jackson fan, same with Brooks and Dunn). During my pivotal years, I was hit with all sorts of music and came to appreciate all music because of it. I completely dig some of Led Zeppelin’s hits, and felt it was a necessity to learn some of them as a rite of passage as a guitarist. In general, however, aside from those few classics I wouldn’t say I’m a “fan.”
For me personally, it comes down to timing. I’ll admit that I was quite stuck in my ways when I was a teenager and viewed loads of artists purely in two categories of like or don’t like, and typically made my mind up VERY quickly before giving many songs a chance. I supposed with age comes experience and wisdom, and I’ve come to appreciate even an abundance of new music that I honestly didn’t give a chance to back in the day. With GVF, I discovered their music at what I consider a pivotal time where guitar-focused music is becoming less and less popular. I needed something or someone to reignite my passion for the instrument, and the rawness really hit home for me as a player. As of late I’ve either been plugging straight into the amp or going with the minimalist approach with an OD (95% of the time it’s the Pantheon now), a boost of some sort, and a delay. It’s really helped me refocus on what I love about the instrument without covering it up under layers of noise and effects. I guess you could say I identify with Jake Kiszka right now, as he’s just plugging into a single treble booster and a couple of Holy Grail reverb pedals straight into a cranked Marshall. It’s just a few brothers jamming, and absolutely loving it. Wouldn’t we all love to be able to get up there and do what we love if people dug it?
My favorite thing I’ve ready recently on a YouTube video (and I’m paraphrasing) is “Who cares if they sound like Led Zeppelin, Zep doesn’t make music anymore. At least these guys are putting out new rock and roll music. Bring on a (Pink) Floyd type band!” GVF is catching a ton of heat for people saying they’re derivative and completely unoriginal. Why can’t people just accept things for what they are? They’re not meant to be a ground-breaking band, they’re playing classic rock at sold-out shows. If you watch some of their concerts on YouTube, there are just as many older people as there are younger. People are there for some good, old-fashioned rock and roll, and what’s so wrong with that? There are plenty of sonic pioneers that are creating some incredible and truly unique sounds that will inspire others to pick up their instruments. At the same time, I imagine (and hope) that maybe the guys from Greta Van Fleet will inspire new players to pick up the instruments and fall in love with the music like we started to with Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, The Who, and all of those other incredible bands. After all, the saying is that “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
As I watching the news here in 'sunny' England yesterday i was confronted with a picture of a rather serious looking Robert Plant and Jimmy Page and the headline of "Stairway Heaven in copyright trail". I expect like most people did, I just rolled my eyes and thought "... not again" but then the more I thought about it, the more ridiculous it became.
Before I start, let's look at a couple of copyright trials in terms of music in recent years. Famously Joe Satriani took Coldplay to court because of the claims he made that their song "Viva La Vida" from 2008 was based on his 2004 track "If I Could Fly". Here they both are....
I can hear some similarities in the two, but I'm not certain enough to bring about a court action. Now, I love Satch - big love for him and his career but I don't get this - there are parts of the Satch song I can take over to the other but for me it's not that obvious... Waaaaaaay back in the 90's I worked in a music shop in Exeter and Chris Martin was a regular in there as a young 17/18 year old music freak. I remember him having a talent several miles wide and hated it when I dropped Vai and Satriani licks in when there was a shop jam happening. He just didn't like that style of music and never listened to it... But, that's incidental. Anyway, it is strongly rumoured that this was settled out of court under the banner of being "dismissed".
George Harrison was famously found to have subliminally plagiarised "The Chiffons" track "He's So Fine" for his track "My Sweet Lord"... now, this one I can hear completely. Have a listen to the melodies throughout... I do find it 'amusing' that after the case was found against Harrison he went on to buy the publishing company that owned The Chiffons track!
So, Stairway to Heaven. Apparently, this copyright infringement action has been brought by Michael Skidmore, a trustee for the late Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe, who played on the same bill as Led Zeppelin in the 1960s, and claims he should be given a writing credit on the track. Let's have a listen to them put together (man... I love the internet).
I think everyone can hear the hooks in the intro being similar. But let's be honest, it's not exactly an uncommon progression/feeling in either of these songs is there. At what point does a song become solely identifiable from one section of the track, in this case, it would appear to be the intro and maybe a hook in the middle. At what point do we draw the line at what is obviously an inspiration and what is blatantly plagiarism. As I said above, Zep and Spirit shared the the same bill in 1969 and Spirit played Taurus that day. Could it have been the case that Page heard it and it stuck in the back of his head? Probably. Could it be the case that Page/Plant sat down in that cottage in Wales and said "Remember that band, Spirit, we played with them a couple of years back - they did a song called Taurus and it had a couple of great hooks in it, let's use them in a new song"... Unlikely. I mean, it's not as if Zep were struggling for hooks or general abilities for songwriting was it?
I'll think I'll just leave you with this to think about before I start ranting about lawyers and the pointless pursuit of money, something for nothing and creativity...
Actually, I'm not going to rant but I will say this... If this is decided in favour of Spirit on May 10th, I will just transfer all my future gig earnings to Messers. Gilmour, Vai, Satriani, Mason, Reed, Edge, May, Paisley, Smith, Murray, Bettencourt, Gill.... and everyone else's who's licks I've picked up over the years and are all bastardised together to make me sound like me. I wonder if I can just set up a direct debit to their accounts, or maybe I should just stop playing. Maybe the fear of litigation will stop is all from playing soon anyway. How I wish I was the person who can claim rights to the 12 bar progression... Imagine that!