Johnny Depp and Jeff Beck’s new album ’18’ received little acclaim when it was released in mid-July, but critics are now taking a back seat to accusations of theft – as their song ‘Sad Motherf** kin’ Parade” shares several lines with a 1960s song poem left uncredited in the liner notes.
The “Hobo Ben” poem in question was written by Slim Wilson, a black drifter who was convicted of murder and later incarcerated for armed robbery, according to Rolling Stone. Wilson met American folklorist Bruce Jackson in 1964 while Wilson was in Missouri State Penitentiary.
Although Wilson’s real name remains a mystery, Jackson said he was “one of the best storytellers” he had ever met. Jackson featured “Hobo Ben”, among many other toasts and poems by Wilson, in his 1974 book “Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me”.
Wilson performed his work for Jackson’s 1976 album of the same name, only for “Hobo Ben” to make a surprising comeback decades later. Jackson, now a distinguished professor at the University at Buffalo, thinks Depp and Beck completely “ripped them off.”
The Depp and Beck song includes many lines from Wilson, including “‘Cause if the Man come you make a sad motherfuckin’ parade”; “I’m ragged, I know, but I don’t have a stink”; “God bless the lady who will buy me a drink” and “What this awesome motherfucker really needs, child, is a bath.”
“The only two lines I could find in the whole room that [Depp and Beck] contributed are ‘Big time motherfucker’ and ‘Bust it down to my level,'” Jackson told Rolling Stone. “Everything else comes from Slim’s performance in my book.”
“I’ve never encountered anything like this,” Jackson added. “I’ve been posting stuff for 50 years, and this is the first time anyone’s ever just ripped something off and put their own name on it.”
While Jackson gave each person he interviewed in prison a pseudonym to protect them from potential conflicts with guards, he believes Depp and Beck had a legal obligation to credit him, Wilson, and the copyrighted works. the copyright in which the lyrics appeared.
His son, Michael Lee Jackson, said the liner notes “do not reflect the true authorship of these lyrics”, according to The Guardian. The father and son are now considering possible legal action against Depp and Beck.
“It’s just not plausible, in my view, that Johnny Depp or anyone else could have sat down and created these lyrics without taking them almost entirely from some version of the recording and/or from my father’s book where they appeared,” said Michael Lee Jackson.
A spokesperson for the ’18’ album has since told Rolling Stone that they have launched an “investigation regarding the song ‘Sad Motherfuckin’ Parade'” to decide whether “additional copyright credits will be added to all forms of the album”.