Robert Plant Records in Nashville

December 6, 2006

The December Rolling Stone has a piece on Robert Plant, the former Led Zeppelin wailer who is now recording an album in Nashville with T. Bone Burnett and Alison Krauss.

Plant was interviewed near the famous crossroads in Clarksdale, Mississippi where Robert Johnson allegedly sold his soul to the devil in return for the ability to play dazzling blues on the guitar. He describes seeing Brownsville’s Sleepy John Estes singing on a tour that came through England while Plant was a teenager in the early 1960s. “When I saw Sleepy John Estes and heard that voice–part pain, part other-wordly–I went, ‘I want that voice!’ I can do that plaintive moan better now than when I was 19, in Zeppelin.”

He also didn’t mind stealing Sleepy John’s songs. Led Zeppelin recorded “Custard Pie,” an uncredited cover of Bukka White’s “Shake ‘Em On Down,” with lyrics from Sleepy John Estes’s “Drop Down Daddy.” And they put out “Moby Dick,” which written and first recorded by Sleepy John Estes under the title “The Girl I Love.”

Wonder if Plant revered the old bluesmen enough to send them any money? Sleepy John Estes died in poverty in Brownsville, and only in death has been recognized by his hometown. And Plant? “Now I’m free,” he says. “I can drive through Mississippi, use my credit card, and nobody even looks at it.”

Actually, the people who see Robert Plant’s credit card probably wonder how someone who looks like a homeless person–Plant was repeatedly rode hard and put up wet–actually has a credit card. 14_336_full.jpg


Get Ready Now: Civil War Sesquicentennial Begins in Four Years

December 6, 2006

While the national news media argue over whether to apply the term “civil war” to the unpleasantness in Iraq, a piece in today’s Chattanooga Times Free Press (subscription only, so no link) says that tourism officials in Georgia are making ready for the 150th anniversary of our Civil War.

According to the article, “About 900,000 people a year come through the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, the nation’s first and largest military historical park. The tourism injects about $36 million to the area’s economy, Mr. Culpepper said.”

The article quotes a Georgia tourism official who claims that Georgia is second only to Virginia in Civil War sites. I have always heard that Tennessee had more Civil War battles than any state except the Old Dominion, but “sites” covers a lot of ground.

I was a mere lad during the Civil War centennial, and we boys at Miller Perry School would turn out for recess wearing blue or grey kepis and conduct mock battles. My parents, although we lived in Tennessee, always bought the Atlanta newspaper every Sunday, and each week that newspaper printed a facsimile copy of a front page from 100 years earlier.

Americans never get as fired up about 150th birthdays as we do 100th or 200th–we love our zeros– but the anniversary will mean increased tourism for Tennessee. This time around, I think we’ll see more attention spent on African-American participation in the war. I hope that Tennessee cities and towns make some solid gains on preserving battlefields and significant structures. If we don’t, we’ll have a new version of The Lost Cause.