Davy Graham: From DADGAD to Led Zepp

by guitarkadia on December 24, 2008

in Acoustic

I’ll admit I didn’t know who he was until now. It was because Furtherton from Guitars and Life posted about Graham’s death. It was also because I’d read a guest post by Furtherton on Jemsite. I was there because the awesome Ava invited me to do a guest post for Jemsite – I like that blog.

It doesn’t quite end there. I went digging and found this video at Stephen’s blog, who found the following video and says this at the end of the post:

Did you hear what he did in the opening bars? That’s “Stairway to Heaven”, that is.

Talk about an ‘oh shit’ moment. You listen to this and tell me. I’d also suggest paying close attention to :20.

Graham popularized the DADGAD tuning according to Wikiepedia. He influenced legions of guitar players, of them Jimmy Page, Bert Jansch, and Richard Thompson’s names spring up more. If you listen to the samples posted at the end of this article you can recognize this style coming out of some of your favorite guitar players from the 60s and 70s.

Sometimes, we look at the obvious places for the obvious answers. When we do that, we miss out on something this, a comment by Eric from London, for this Songfacts page on the Zeppelin song ‘Black Mountain Side’

White Summer is an almost note for note thieving rip off of Davey Graham’s DADGAD classic ‘She Moved Through the Fair’ (DADGAD is not ‘celtic’ tuning but is Davey Graham’s own tuning developed to play with North African Oud players) Black Mountainside is not a tweaked White Summer – it is an almost note for note thieving rip off of Black Waterside by Bert Jansch – its in DADGAD but Bert plays it in dropped D (big deal of a change). Bert used to live with Anne Briggs and she taught him the song and the melody but not the guitar piece – that is Bert’s alone (Anne Briggs just plays an arpegiated D chord) So to say that Page is the best acoustic player for these tunes is like saying a kid who plays Steve Vai in a guitar shop is the best – anyone can be derivative and play covers, apparently only Pagey can stick his name on the tune and not get sued (but when you rip off folk geniuses who don’t make much money you don’t really expect to be sued.) In short Jansch = genius – Page = magpie
– Eric, London, England

You know Bert Jansch, right? But who is this Annie Briggs? I asked that too.

But that means what? Is Eric from London correct? Graham’s website does indeed say he invented DADGAD. But Yehia from Cairo goes back a little further:

There’s about 10 seconds on ‘White Summer’ which is a total rip-off from an Egyptian folklore tune (played on Semsemia). You can hear it right when Bonzo stops his first bit (around 2:12 to 2:23). All folklore songs from a town called Ismailia in Egypt are based around this very riff. Cool live track, though. Quite long but always entertaining. – Yehia, Cairo, Egypt

The plot thickens.

Before we get busy pointing fingers, influences work in mysterious ways. When you’re influenced by someone’s music, his/her/their riffs, licks, phrases will somehow find your way into your next creations. There’s little chance after listening to a lot of Gershwin I’ll be inspired to write a Megadeth song. You’ll be astounded, or maybe not, by the heavy influence of Graham’s playing on Jimmy Page’s.

Here we haven’t had a chance to ask Mr. Graham what his thoughts are on this influence thingy. Well, let’s see what we dug up here. By the way, Graham during the opening minutes plays ‘She Moved Through The Fair’

It all ties up somehow doesn’t it. Graham, the Oud. Curiously, though, the opening of that song in question doesn’t at all remind me of ‘White Summer.’ Rather it instantly made me think of the intro to…’Over the Hills And Far Away.’ Oh no? Go to :53 above. Now listen to this.

Mmmm. Still, we’re not saying anyone ripped off anyone because if we play that game, it will never end. Instead it’s better to simply say that Davy Graham’s influence is deeper than he ever was famous. At the beginning of the piece above, the man in the garden says (why can’t they have a chyron on these videos?) …  “we all latched on to what Davy did.”


Davy Graham [Bio] [Site] [[MySpace] [Interview]

To Ava: All the above wouldn’t have been here tonight if you hadn’t emailed me about writing for Jemsite. You just gave me the biggest push towards the Bluegrass-and-me connection. Thank you! Of course, you guys too: Furtherton and Stephen.

Kaitlin December 24, 2008 at 2:08 am

I love the BBC and I love this post.

Kaitlins last blog post..Christmas Music, Santa Claus, and Colin Firth

emon December 24, 2008 at 10:46 am

Thank you!

Chris December 24, 2008 at 5:26 pm

Nice one, Emon. It’s really interesting to trace influences.

Kind of depressing though when you realize some of your favorites ripped things off. But good composers have been doing that for hundreds of years now!

“good artists borrow, great artists steal.”

Sometimes it doesn’t work out to well, though:


Chriss last blog post..Happy Holidays!

emon December 25, 2008 at 10:28 am

Thanks, Chris. It used to bother me too. But that was because I was less exposed to music other than the ones I owned. With the Internet and being able to watch and listen to all the other music around I am surprised there aren’t more similarities in the music,esp in Rock and Pop. Makes sense?

I didn’t know of Amazing Kat. Now that I do, I know what to avoid.

DaveSurrey August 28, 2011 at 7:15 am

“the man in the garden”. That`s Martin Carthy, the godfather of English folk singing and guitar playing and an often cited influence on Bob Dylan, Paul Simon etc. I could weep sometimes.

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