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.”