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Johnny Depp, Jeff Beck accused of 'ripping off' lyrics from '60s prisoner's poem

Beck and Depp
(Image credit: Venla Shalin/Redferns)

Jeff Beck and Johnny Depp have been called out of allegedly using lines from a former prisoner's poetry as lyrics on their track, Sad Motherfuckin’ Parade, without appropriate credit to the original author.

Rolling Stone has drawn attention to the fact that a number of lyrics on the song, credited solely to Beck and Depp, which features on the pair's recently-released 18 album, exactly mirror lines from a spoken word poem called Hobo Ben, recited by a jailed 1960s pimp/armed robber/murderer known as Slim Wilson, as featured in the 1974 book Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me: African-American Narrative Poetry from the Oral Tradition, collated by folklorist Bruce Jackson.

The Rolling Stone report states that lines from Hobo Ben such as “I’m raggedy, I know, but I have no stink,” “God bless the lady that’ll buy me a drink” and “What that funky motherfucker really needs, child, is a bath” are mirrored by lyrics on Sad Motherfuckin’ Parade.

The story also quotes Bruce Jackson's reaction to these coincidences. 

"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 states. "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, a lawyer whose practice involves music and intellectual property is also quoted in the report, and shares his opinion that the 'coincidence' has to be more than just a coincidence.

"It’s just not plausible, in my opinion," he says, "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."

No-one connected to the album has yet to comment on the newly-hatched controversy. 

Paul Brannigan
Paul Brannigan

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.