Ever hear a great tune by one of your favourite musicians without realising they are covering someone else’s song?
It happens to me all the time. And rather than feeling disappointed, as I imagine a One Direction fan might feel upon realising that, somewhat inexplicably, “One Way Or Another” wasn’t, in fact, written by Harry Styles, I think it is one of music’s great joys.
Take Jack White’s “I’m Shakin'” from his first solo album. On first listen, I had no idea that was a cover, having been distracted by *cough* the black thunderbolt streaked across my blue vinyl copy of the LP which rendered me inattentive when flicking through the credits on the “Blunderbuss” record sleeve. So when I heard Little Willie John’s original, it was a genuine joy to hear how White had used John’s vocal inflexions but still put his stamp on things – even if John’s voice is incomparable.
More tragically, the first time I heard “Stairway To Heaven” was when Far Corporation released a four minute version on a 7″ single twenty five years ago this year. Pulling the strings behind Far Corporation were the same people that would go on to be behind Milli Vanilli.
Plant might be rather weary of singing stairway, but after hearing the Far Corporation version first, I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of hearing Led Zep’s version. Or Dread Zep’s version either, come to think of it.
Which leads me to the subject of this post: One of my favourite blues tunes (actually, you don’t need the word “blues” in there) is “Going Down”, a song I first heard played by Masters of Reality on their “Live at the Viper Room” LP. Chris Goss and co squeezed the song in between a souped-up “Ants In The Kitchen”, itself one of the finest blues numbers written in the last 25 years*, the original of which featured a fine performance on drums by Ginger Baker. **
What a riff! The song *swings* like few others. It’s seven minutes and thirteen seconds of pure joy as the two songs combine at the end with “Ants…” being sung to the “Going Down” riff. Impressive stuff.
It wasn’t until several years later when I heard the descending (well, what else?) riff of “Going Down” on the radio that I was amazed to discover Masters of Reality didn’t write “Going Down” after all. It was a Freddie King song, said the DJ.
Or was it?
Far be it from me to question the integrity of a UK radio DJ (let’s not go there…), but in fact, although Freddie King popularised the song, it was originally written by Don Nix, a man who played saxophone for the Mar-Keys – the band that eventually morphed into Booker T & the MGs.
It’s amazing what you can find out when you get a little curious about things…
The song first appeared on an album by a band called Moloch in 1969, the same year that Freddie King appeared at the 1969 Texas pop festival alongside Led Zeppelin.
Freddie King had enjoyed pop success with his instrumental “Hide Away” some years earlier in 1961.*** However, as a result of his appearance at the festival, King enjoyed an upturn in his popularity. He signed to Leon Russell’s new label, Shelter Records and in 1971 King released the album “Getting Ready”, recorded the previous year at Chess Studios in Chicago alongside Russell on piano.
“Getting Ready” includes such blues classics as “Five Long Years” (more recently covered by that other King, B.B. and by Buddy Guy on the excellent “Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues”), the Jimmy Rodgers classic “Walking By Myself” plus – crucially – Nix’s new-ish song “Going Down”. Freddie King’s version of the song became the definitive one. The album, and two that followed were critical successes and a new audience discovered King as he toured with Eric Clapton.
King’s version of Going Down remains the definitive version, despite the best efforts of Masters of Reality, and “Getting Ready” sounds as good today as it doubtless did then.
Have a listen…..
* In my not so humble opinion
** On the sublime “Sunrise on the Sufferbus” album
*** A song that is great to hear, but devilishly tricky to play, as I can attest from first hand experience