The “blue note” is one that very few artists in this day and age attempt. It denotes vulnerability, sadness, and most of all, a sense of loss. It is a note sung or played at a slightly lower pitch than that of the major scale in a song. It is also generally heard as the artist baring his or her soul.
Examples abound. I am drawn to a 14-year-old Leann Rimes singing the song “Blue” for one. That tune obviously hearkens back to Patsy Cline’s version of Willie Nelson’s “Crazy.” Patsy had clearly listened to Hank Williams, and his (among many others) “You’re Cheatin’ Heart.” Hank Williams Jr. called country music “White man’s blues,” and I believe him. How can anyone deny the link between Robert Johnson’s “Hellhound On My Trail” and Hank Senior’s music?
The arrogant thought that the blues, and the blue note arrived fully formed sometime in the early 20th Century is as understandable, as it is laughable. For musical “scholars,” we only have the music of the recorded era to go by. But when you think about it, this fully-formed genre had to come from somewhere.
The somewhere is the main subject of the new DVD Robert Plant’s Blue Note. Now this is not a scholarly treatise on musical history, but instead a journey of how this man followed his love of music step by step back. Not to where it “began,” but at least (in 2011) as far back as made sense to him.
In Robert Plant’s Blue Note, we eventually find ourselves in the deserts of North Africa. It certainly makes sense that the music that was a part of the culture hundreds of years ago would have been imported in some way with the people who were taken and turned into slaves. It also makes sense that the music of the Scots and Irish who left voluntarily for the new world would eventually mix with it.
But the blue note seems to be an integral part.
This two-and-a-half-hour DVD walks us through Robert Plant’s journey from his hippie-era Band Of Joy with John Bonham, through Led Zeppelin, through his often misguided solo attempts, to his “redemption” with Allison Krauss.
It is a fascinating journey, filled with fantastic rare footage. There are also some very incisive interviews with the likes of Jimmy Page, Chris Dreja, and Robbie Blunt – among many others.
It is easy to dismiss Robert Plant as an ultimate seventies icon – and that image is certainly true. What Robert Plant’s Blue Note does is show how far this artist has travelled since his time with Zep. And in the end, that is why I like this documentary so much.
The only extra worth mentioning is a piece with John Lomax III talking about Leadbelly, and Zep’s version of “Gallis Pole,” which they retitled “Gallows Pole.”
Robert Plant will always be thought of as the golden god of Led Zeppelin. But as T-Bone Burnett so eloquently puts it in this documentary “Jimmy Page lives Led Zeppelin, Robert has moved on.”
To be honest, I haven’t bought a Plant record in years. But it sure is cool that the guy is still at it, and does not give one shit.