Jeff Beck and Johnny Depp Accused of Stealing Lyrics From Incarcerated Man’s Poem

Lyrics from a new Jeff Beck and Johnny Depp track are being called into question after renowned folklorist Bruce Jackson claimed they were “ripped off” from a toast made by an incarcerated man, Slim Wilson.

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As reported by Rolling Stone, Wilson was doing time for an armed robbery at the Missouri State Penitentiary when he met Jackson in 1964. Wilson was, to Jackson’s ears, “one of the best narrators” of poetry and toasts he’d ever heard. The pair worked together a number of times with Wilson sharing his “Wildly outlandish, funny, ribald form of narrative Black folk poetry.”

A decade later, Wilson featured heavily in Jackson’s 1974 book about toasts,  Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me—and you can hear him display his craft on the accompanying album of the same name.

The toast in question, “Hobo Ben,” sees Wilson walk into a party and ask the host, “Ladies of culture and beauty so refined, is there one among you that would grant me wine? I’m raggedy I know, but I have no stink and God bless the lady that’ll buy me a drink.’ Heavy-hipped Hattie turned to Nadine with a laugh and said, ‘What that funky motherfucker really need, child, is a bath.'”

It’s those same uncouth lines that Wilson claims to have heard in the Beck/Depp track “Sad Motherfuckin’ Parade” taken from their recently released collaborative album, 18.

The track appears to pull numerous lines from “Hobo Ben,” including the one that gives the song its title: [Y]ou better try to keep you ass in this corner of shade/’cause if the Man come you make a sad motherfuckin’ parade.

Some of the lines quoted above —I’m raggedy, I know, but I have no stink / God bless the lady that’ll buy me a drink / What that funky motherfucker really needs, child, is a bath – also appear on “Sad Motherfuckin’ Parade.”

On 18, the song is credited to only Beck and Depp—there is no mention of Slim Wilson, Bruce Jackson, or Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me

“The only two lines I could find in the whole piece that [Depp and Beck] contributed are ‘Big time motherfucker’ and ‘Bust it down to my level,'” Jackson claims. “Everything else is from Slim’s performance in my book. I’ve never encountered anything like this. I’ve been publishing stuff for 50 years, and this is the first time anybody has just ripped something off and put his own name on it.”

Jackson’s son, Michael Lee Jackson, is a lawyer whose practice encompasses music and intellectual property. He says he and his father are looking into possible legal options, but stresses that a lawsuit hasn’t been filed, nor has a letter signifying one been sent. Though he is certain that the lyrics are credited to the wrong individuals.

“They do not reflect the actual authorship of those lyrics,” he says. “It’s just not plausible, in my opinion, that Johnny Depp or anybody else could have sat down and crafted those lyrics without almost wholly taking them from some version of my father’s recording and/or book where they appeared.”

(Photo by Venla Shalin/Redferns)

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