Lemme ask you a question. Have you ever wondered what The U.S. Copyright Act of 1909 has to do with many of your favorite songs? Well, today’s batch of All Hand Mixed Vinyl is happy to provide the answer. It all starts with a one-chord blues, a riff that Cub Koda said launched a million other songs. It also launched a lawsuit forty-three years after the original song was recorded. That song was “Boogie Chillen” by a guy out of Clarksdale, Mississippi, name of John Lee Hooker. The lawsuit was known as La Cienega v. ZZ Top. Here’s the background: Hooker first recorded “Boogie Chillen,” in 1948. He did it again in 1950, and again in 1970 with Canned Heat. Hooker and his partner, Bernard Besman, formed the publishing company La Cienega Music, but they relied on state common law copyright to protect the composition instead of complying with the requirements of the Copyright Act of 1909. Now, ZZ Top released “La Grange” in 1973. Hooker and Besman eventually filed suit in the Central District Court of California, claiming “La Grange” was too similar to “Boogie Chillen” and they were owed royalties.
However, the original case and subsequent hearings before the California Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ended up not even dealing with the issue of whether “La Grange” was derived from “Boogie Chillen” (which it obviously was). But rather whether “Boogie Chillen” had already fallen into the public domain when ZZ Top did their deriving. All of that hinged on the failure by Congress in 1909 to define what exactly constituted ‘publication’ of a song. And, perhaps more importantly, Besman’s failure to renew the song’s copyright for a second 28 years (which he could have done) thus making the whole thing a moot point. So with that, let’s step out of the Way Back Studios and head on down to Hastings Street and Henry’s Swing Club, see what all the fuss is about.
|John Lee Hooker||Boogie Chillen (part 1)|
|Van Morrison||Boogie Chillen (part 1)|
|ZZ Top||La Grange (part 1)|
|Rolling Stones||Shake Your Hips|
|ZZ Top||La Grange (part 2)|
|Canned Heat||Woodstock Boogie|
|Norman Greenbaum||Spirit in the Sky|
|Canned Heat||Fried Hockey Boogie (excerpt)|
|Foghat||Chateau Lafitte Boogie (excerpt)|
|Van Morrison||Boogie Chillen (part 2)|
|John Lee Hooker||Boogie Chillen (part 2)|
As I mentioned at the top of the show, “Boogie Chillen” was at the center of a lawsuit in the 1990s when John Lee Hooker and his partner, Bernard Besman, sued ZZ Top claiming “La Grange” violated their copyright. Six years later, as a result of the lawsuit, Congress passed several amendments to the Copyright Act of 1909 which effectively overturned the original decision (which had been in ZZ Top’s favor) after which Hooker and Besman settled for the always popular undisclosed amount. Now, according to All Music Guide, there are 138 versions of “Boogie Chillen” – but that’s only the number of songs that used the original title. As we just heard, there’s no shortage of bands that took the basic riff, added some lyrics, and called it their own.
For example, we heard part of Canned Heat’s “Woodstock Boogie” and their “Fried Hockey Boogie,” neither of which gives credit to John Lee Hooker. We also heard the part of Foghat’s “Chateau LaFitte Boogie” where they break into Hooker’s riff like they owned it. One question that remains is why they didn’t sue Slim Harpo or a lot of other artists. As we just heard, The Rolling Stones covered Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips” and they made it sound even more like Hooker than Harpo had. And there were lots of other songs that might have prompted an attorney to file suit. Among those that derive from Hooker’s original composition, is Junior Parker’s “Feelin’ Good,” Sammy Lewis’s “Feel So Worried,” and Slim Green and the Cats from Fresno with the “Old Folks Boogie.” (Which is not the same as the Little Feat song.) And, as we heard in the middle of the set, Hooker’s riff even shows up in Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit In the Sky.” Well, the list goes on from Hastings Street to Henry’s Swing Club to The Way Back Studios but we’re outta time and we gotta boogie. I’m Bill Fitzhugh, thanks for listening. I’ll be back with another batch of All Hand Mixed Vinyl next time right here in the Deep Tracks.