As seen in both recent and historic weather events, the American South is prone to flooding, and plenty of songs in the blues canon reflect these harsh and often tragic conditions. A prime example is “When the Levee Breaks,” inspired by the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. The duo of Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy recorded the song in 1929, and it became best known through the recomposed electric version that the rock band Led Zeppelin released in 1971.
To learn the song, first tune to open G. If you’d like to play along with the recording, clamp on a capo at the second fret, causing everything to sound in the key of A; also, tune your guitar slightly sharp….
The text above is excerpted from Adam Perlmutter’s analysis of Memphis Minnie and Joe McCoy’s “When the Levee Breaks,” which originally appeared in Acoustic Guitar’s June 2018 issue. For the full text of the article, performance notes, and music notation and tab, head to the Acoustic Guitar Store and pick up a copy.
This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.