On the Nature of Originality

The recently announced win by Led Zeppelin over 70s cult faves Spirit in the Stairway to Heaven vs Taurus lawsuit underscored perfectly the topic for this week’s blog.

If this topic creates a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now. I will take the bull by the horns.

I recently blogged about a new song I wrote called Exposure Bucks Boogie. I have attached it for your listening pleasure. No doubt, many will say it pays more than a passing resemblance to ZZ Top’s La Grange. Yup! Similar feel and dynamics for sure! I do not mind standing on the shoulders of giants (not just Billy Gibbons, more below).

For the record, my starting point was actually Slim Harpo’s Shake Your Hips as covered on the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street. 

The debate as to who originated the boogie riff is well documented (just Google it) and pretty much all agree that John Lee Hooker was the first to popularize it with Boogie Chillen, whose approach to spelling had a big impact on 70s British glam rockers Slade.

Here’s what is said about La Grange, which in turn could be extended to cover other hits like Canned Heat’s On the Road Again and Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky. 

“The initial groove of the song is based on a traditional boogie blues rhythm used by John Lee Hooker in Boogie Chillen’ and by Slim Harpo in Shake Your Hips. A failed lawsuit by the copyright holder of “Boogie Chillen'” resulted in the court ruling that the rhythm was in the public domain.[6]

There you have it. Public domain! Like the so-called 50s Progression (I-vi-IV-V) used in a gazillion doo-wop songs. Like the I-IV-V 12-bar progressions in innumerable blues, rock and roll and country tunes. And don’t get me started on sampling…

So, yeah, on a superficial level, Exposure Bucks Boogie is an homage to Gibbons/Harpo/Hooker’s boogie rhythm, which I dig. But if you listen closely, there’s a lot that is not, and I like that too. It’s good to build from a solid foundation.

By the way, did I mention I got the idea for the lyrics from a Facebook post by Pat Kelly?

Exposure Bucks Boogie ©  2016 Félix and the Cats/R. Pelletier.





Curmudgeon Rock

Ok, so I complain a lot. What’s not to complain about. Last night, some unhinged intolerant shot a barful of guys just because he freaked that two men would love each other.

Still, well before that event, many of my songs had a “ranty” quality. I am not a “happy song” writer, for the most part. I may try later. Not that I am not a happy person. Perhaps that is the problem. The best blues singer sang from pain. I sing from outrage.

It’s a noble tradition. Many protest songs have resonated over the ages, dusing the 60s against the Vietnam war, and more recently in some rap against social inequity.

There is a universality about things that piss us off. It may not be the same irritant, but we all know the feeling.

And it’s a prerogative of my “golden years”. So I guess you have to deal with it until I learn to do something else.

Wish me luck.

Félix :-/


V0010849 A gouty man drinking wine and playing the cello; the pain is
Etching, 1785, after H.W. Bunbury. 1785 By: Henry William BunburyPublished: 20 April 1785 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Since getting back into the fray, I’ve noticed an emerging trend among the musicians I know. Compared to my younger days, quite a few have quit drinking completely.

At issue here is not whether playing sober is better than playing drunk (or stoned). Few would argue convincingly to the latter. Even if we accept (despite studies to the contrary) that being “loose” helps a musician be more creative, there is still plenty of parts of a song where being focused is just as important, and focus is easier when our brains are at full capacity. I recall one gig in Québec City a long time ago where a bandmate was particularly drunk, to the point where the club owner noticed a fixed a complaint with the agent. We all literally paid a price for that by having our fee trimmed.

I wonder whether the bar scene specifically is the concern: the constant exposure to alcohol, and the social acceptance in that context of being a few over the line. Perhaps for some musicians, the temptation is too great, and it’s better to entirely swear off?

I have yet to make that commitment, but I have been thinking about it.

What do you think? Does abstinence make the band play better? Please feel free to respond to this blog.