Imitation: Mentors and Impersonators

Jean François Millet “Two Men Turning over the Soil” (1866) and “Two Peasants Digging” Vincent van Gogh (1889)

A recent conversation with a friend revisited the topic of imitation in art and music. In my previous post, “Imitation: Bobby Osborne and Ernest Tubb“, I discussed how first imitating an idol (looking to the idol as a mentor) can lead an artist or musician to develop his or her own unique style.

However, occasionally mimicking an idol fails to transform the musician and instead develops an impersonator void of individual characteristics. As you know, many copyright debates argue the question of “is the impersonator using another body of work to capitalize their own career”? Of course, a famous example is Queen – Under Pressure (1981) versus Vanilla Ice – Ice Ice Baby (1989).

But, let’s back out of such a heavy topic and have some listening fun. Below are some of my favorite comparisons of musicians and those that came before them. Sometimes the influence is obvious and sometimes more subtle.

Roky Erickson of the 13th Floor Elevators – You’re Gonna Miss Me (1966) versus Janis Joplin Ball and Chain (1969)  Notice Roky’s opening scream at about 0:15 and Janis’ scream at 1:15. Definitely, Roky was a mentor to Janis.

One of my favorite musicians Slim Harpo – I’m a King Bee (1957) versus one of my favorite bands The Rolling Stones – I’m a King Bee (1964). It’s well documented that American blues influenced English musicians. Another example: Freddie King as a mentor to Eric Clapton (both singing and guitar). There are too many examples to list here, such as Led Zeppelin, and you already know them anyway.

I always thought the drum intro from Lee Dorsey- Get Out Of My Life Woman (1966) is peculiarly similar to the drum intro on Amy Winehouse You No I’m No Good. It is doubtful that Amy was responsible for the drums, but Lee Dorsey was definitely an influence on the person that was.

It’s not all about blues influence, George Jones If You Were Mine (starts at 0:17) originally sounded quite a bit like Lefty Frizzell She’s Gone Gone Gone.

Side note: If you enjoy learning about musicians and their influences, I recommend listening to American Routes. Next, I might write a whole post about American Routes, I like that show so much.

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