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21 February 2022

John Paul Jones Leads All-Star Re-Recording Of ‘When The Levee Breaks’

John Paul Jones When The Levee Breaks
Photo: Daniel DeSlover/ZUMA Wire/Alamy Live News
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Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones has joined an all-star cast in rerecording When The Levee Breaks, first released by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie in 1929. The song reached a wider audience was it was released by Jones’ former band Led Zeppelin in 1971 on their classic Led Zeppelin IV album.

The new recording has been released to raise awareness for the Songs Around The World initiative, a project from the non-profit Playing For Change foundation, which was established in 2007 to assist marginalised youth in poor countries by providing music and arts education.

The original song was written about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, which flooded 27,000 square miles of land and forced over 600,000 people to relocate. The event also inspired several other blues songs, the most popular being “Backwater Blues” by Bessie Smith (1927) and “Mississippi Heavy Water Blues” by Barbecue Bob (1928).

“It seems that little has changed since 1927, or even 2005 with Katrina,” John Paul Jones said in a statement. “It’s still a really powerful track, both musically and lyrically.”

Jones is joined on When The Levee Breaks by Stephen Perkins of Jane’s Addiction, Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, blues musician Buffalo Nichols, Norwegian singer Elle Márjá Eira – who also performs in Jones’ band Snoweye – Māori singer Mihirangi, and a host of other musicians and dancers from seven different countries.

“Looking at When The Levee Breaks through the lens of producing a song to raise awareness for key environmental organisations truly felt like a plea for climate justice,” says producer Sebastian Robertson, who also played guitar on the recording. “The wailing guitars, harmonica, and vocals all in harmony for Mother Earth.”

Previous releases from Playing For Change include a reworking of The Band’s The Weight starring Robbie Robertson, and a new recording of Peter Gabriel’s anti-apartheid anthem Biko.

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