During the past few years, Blue Note Records has attracted new listeners by offering albums by emerging artists while repackaging many of their classic releases. Series such as the Tone Poet and Classic Vinyl reissues have proven particularly successful. Now, in an attempt to reach an even broader audience, Blue Note has decided to invite non-jazz musicians to record jazz-inspired albums. The first project scheduled featured former Led Zeppelin
guitarist, Jimmy Page
, and ZZ Top frontman, Billy Gibbons
. In spite of its obvious potential, the project was placed on indefinite hiatus earlier this year due to continuing legal problems.
Page and Gibbons actually discussed a collaboration when they met at an Eric Clapton
Crossroads concert event in 2010. The two thought it would be a good idea, but nothing definite ever developed. Last year, however, Blue Note president Don Was contacted Gibbons about recording for the new series. Gibbons agreed and half-jokingly suggested that they contact Page to be involved. "Heck yeah," Was stated in a recent interview. "We were all in. That's got Grammy written all over it. I mean, how could it go wrong?"
The project, however, got off to an inauspicious start. Their original proposed title Blow by Blow
was immediately rebuked by representatives from Jeff Beck
's management, since he had recorded an album by the same name in 1975 (Columbia). Page suggested naming the album Midnight Blues
but was soon informed that it was too similar to Kenny Burrell
's 1963 release, Midnight Blue
(Blue Note). After discussing a few other options, Gibbons and Page agreed upon the new name, Stairway to Waco
After this initial setback, the recording went well, and everything looked on target for the proposed release date. When demo copies of two of the completed tracks leaked out, though, several critics noticed inconsistencies with the songwriting credits. Although both songs gave songwriting credits to Page and Gibbons, reviewers noticed striking similarities between their songs and those of others. The first that drew attention was a number entitled "Hot Tamales" shared similar riffs to Robert Johnson
's, "They're Red Hot" (Vocalion 1937).
Initially, Gibbons denied the allegations, claiming that he had never even heard the Robert Johnson song. He said that this song was simply a tribute to his love of Mexican cuisine. Page also denied ever hearing the song before. Someone later pointed out, however, that both ZZ Top and Led Zeppelin had actually covered Robert Johnson's material, so it seemed unlikely that they both had failed to hear this particular song until now. Shortly after this broke, the two guitarists found themselves in a Texas courtroom. Gibbons reconsidered his original statement, "Yeah, sure I've heard the song before. But come on man, Robert Johnson's been dead a long time. It ain't like he's gonna get any money out of it." A Texas judge agreed with Gibbons' logic and decided that they could keep the title along with the songwriting credits.
The second leaked track also resulted in controversy. Page and Gibbons recorded an instrumental, which they called "Scorpion." One critic claimed "overt similarities" to Dennis Coffey
's 1971 song, "Scorpio" (Sussex). The reviewer even sent a copy of the recording to Coffey, and his agent then contacted Blue Note. Again, the album was put on hold until a legal decision could be reached. In this case, the judge decided that they could use the song without giving Coffey songwriting credits, claiming that "no one ever listens to Dennis Coffey anymore anyway, so what difference does it make?" Page and Gibbons did, however, send Coffey a $20 Starbucks gift card.
The project finally came to a halt, though, when Gibbons introduced a song he called "Barnyard Stomp." After they recorded it, Page had some concerns. He felt that the song seemed oddly familiar, but he couldn't figure out exactly why. Then he realized that this was basically Led Zeppelin's "Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp" with a different title. He confronted Gibbons, but Gibbons denied the allegations. After this, Page introduced a song he called "Heard it From the Ex," which was almost identical to ZZ Top's "Heard it on the X." Gibbons decided to sue Page over copyright infringement, and Page filed a counter lawsuit. As a result, Stairway to Waco
was shelved until the legal problems could be resolved.
Earlier this week, however, the two musicians reached an agreement, and the project is back on schedule for release in June.