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John Paul Jones heads an all-star cast on a new version of When The Levee Breaks

John Paul Jones playing bass in an empty room
(Image credit: YouTube/Playing For Change)

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 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. 

“It seems that little has changed since 1927, or even 2005 with Katrina," says John Paul Jones. "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 (opens in new tab), and a new recording of Peter Gabriel's anti-apartheid anthem Biko (opens in new tab).

Fraser Lewry
Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 36 years in music industry, online for 23. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.