DVD Review: Down the Tracks: The Music That Influenced Led Zeppelin

May 4, 2009

After all these years, we pretty much know how Led Zeppelin came into being: Session cat and visionary Jimmy Page wanted to blend his love of blues, rock, and Celtic folk, combining acoustic and electric instruments for his “light and shade.” But this DVD gets way deeper into it than that. Using the music of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Davey Graham, Robert Johnson, and others to create a family tree of sorts for the Zep sound.

Although there are no Led Zeppelin tunes in this documentary, there is a lot of killer footage of them, as well as a ton of cool still photos. Likewise, there is some gripping live footage of Elvis. You get interviews with blues historians, who tell the tale of how Jimmy met Robert, where they spun tunes by Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, and Bert Jansch to see if they might be able to find any common musical ground (not to give away the ending, but they did end up finding that common ground). The black and white footage of Son House talking about the blues is simply awesome. Some of the greatest moments come from bottleneck badass and ethnomusicologist Bob Brozman, who absolutely kills on Charley Patton’s “Hammock Blues” (complete with his mind-boggling acoustic wah-wah trick that has to be seen to be believed). It all adds up to a fascinating slice of blues history, which is made all the more interesting when you consider how Page and company filtered these influences into their trip. Highly recommended.

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