Classic Cuts: Led Zeppelin sets the BBC off with ‘Travelling Riverside Blues’


In the beginning, Led Zeppelin was just about a long shot as every other ’60s band. So it took several rounds of convincing Robert Plant and Jimmy Page before John Bonham joined the group. By that time, Bonham knew the plant very well. Most importantly, Bonham knew that the band he had previously been in with Plant had gone nowhere.

The trio who got together for the group’s first jam with John Paul Jones, all knew they had something worth pursuing. But it took months of visits, the first led Zeppelin LP, and a base of support (mostly from the US) before the band got its trademark swagger.

By the time Jep recorded their fourth round of recordings for the BBC airwaves in June ’69, the band’s outlook had advanced from a tropical storm to a Category-4 hurricane. And the band’s take on “Travelling Riverside Blues” reflects that power surge.

Led Zeppelin spontaneously blasts ‘Travelling Riverside Blues’ on BBC

Led Zeppelin at the Bath Festival in 1969 | Chris Walter/WireImage

Although Zeppelin was performing on Robert Johnson’s “Travelling Riverside Blues” at the early ’69 concerts, the group did not plan to record it in their BBC sessions. After making their debut on the BBC in March ’69, the band recorded for Bb on two more occasions before returning to Mada Vale’s Studio Four on 24 June.

On that tour, the group recorded the songs it was planning to play, but still had time to spare. When the engineer asked for another track, the band burst into “Travelling Riverside Blues”. Although Page had to add some overdubs, the meat of the track (ie, bass, drums, rhythm guitar, and vocals) was recorded in a single take.

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No matter how much of a zeppelin you’ve heard in your day, there’s something particularly explosive about “Travelling Riverside Blues.” Call it energy, magic, or what would you do. The sizzling power of Plant’s youthful voice—on top of a trio with no similar power—can strike the most skeptical listener. This recording captures anyone as well as Jep’s opening rumble.

If you hadn’t joined the BBC in mid-’69 (or a bootleg collector), you might have missed out on this Zep gem. (Zeppelin fans of later generations, ahem, of course did.) So it was more than welcome when Page released “Travelling Riverside Blues” as a promo single (plus the MTV video) while it was excluded. was. Led Zeppelin Boxing Set (1990).

Zeppelin’s version is hardly the same as Robert Johnson’s ‘Travelling Riverside Blues’

You’ll always hear people accuse Zeppelin of plagiarism, and the same has happened with “Travelling Riverside Blues.” Yet listening to Johnson’s original, you’d be hard pressed to find an influence on Zepp’s take. Plant takes the lemon-squeezing song (and others from “Kind Hearted Woman Blues”), but musically it sounds almost nothing like Johnson’s.

As several authors have pointed out, Page’s introduction has more in common with Johnny Winter’s “I’m Yours and I’m Hers” (1969). But in the end it’s the real zeppelin. If you were listening to the BBC in June ’69, you knew that Bonhams wouldn’t be shopping for a new band anytime soon.



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