Hats Off to (Roy) Harper
|"Hats Off to (Roy) Harper"|
|Song by Led Zeppelin|
|from the album Led Zeppelin III|
|Released||5 October 1970|
|Songwriter(s)||Traditional, arr. by Charles Obscure a.k.a. Jimmy Page|
The track features Jimmy Page playing bottleneck slide guitar, and Robert Plant's vocals, processed through a vibrato amp, sounding like a tremolo effect. The song was listed on the album as "Arranged by Charles Obscure", which was a humorous pseudonym for Page.
The song is a medley of fragments of blues songs and lyrics, including "Shake 'Em On Down" by Bukka White. The song is a tribute to both contemporary folk singer Roy Harper and White, a blues singer who recorded from the 1930s to the 1970s.
Roy Harper is a folk musician from England whom Jimmy Page met at the Bath Festival in 1970. He became close friends with members of the band, who invited him to perform as the opening act on some later Led Zeppelin concert tours. In 1971, Page played on Harper's album Stormcock, appearing in the credits under the pseudonym "S. Flavius Mercurius". Harper was also approached to sign up with Led Zeppelin's newly created Swan Song Records but was already contracted to EMI's Harvest Records label. In 1985, Page recorded an album with Harper called Whatever Happened to Jugula? Harper explained:
I used to go up to [Led Zeppelin's] office in Oxford Street, where Peter Grant and Mickie Most would be. And one day Jimmy was up there and gave me the new record. I just said thanks and put it under my arm. Jimmy said "Look at it". So I twirled the little wheel around and put it back under my arm. Very nice and all that. So he went "Look at it!" Then I discovered "Hats Off To (Roy) Harper." I was very touched.
According to Page, during recording sessions for Led Zeppelin III, the band "did a whole set of country blues and traditional blues numbers that Robert [Plant] suggested. But ["Hats Off to (Roy) Harper"] was the only one we put on the record."
In a contemporary review of Led Zeppelin III, Lester Bangs of Rolling Stone gave "Hats Off to (Roy) Harper" a negative review, writing the track "dedicates a bottleneck-&-shimmering echo-chamber vocal salad to a British minstrel who, I am told, leans more towards the music-hall tradition."
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An alternative studio outtake of the track in the same style and similar instrumentation is available on some Led Zeppelin bootleg recordings. Likely from the same recording session as the official release, it features lyrics loosely from the songs "I Feel So Bad" (recorded by Elvis Presley), Robert Johnson's "Traveling Riverside Blues" & "32-20 Blues", Sleepy John Estes' "Diving Duck Blues", Bukka White's "Fixin' to Die", and Arthur Crudup's "That's Alright Mama". These songs were infrequently performed in medley by the band at Led Zeppelin concerts during "How Many More Times" and, later, "Whole Lotta Love". Thus, this outtake perhaps gives insight into the inspiration for the track, a desire to lay down an acoustic, studio take of a staple of their live performances. However, Led Zeppelin never performed "Hats Off to (Roy) Harper" live in concert.
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- Bangs, Lester (26 November 1970). "Led Zeppelin III". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 13 August 2017.