There’s a number of drum samples that are have become the grand daddy’s of entire genres and have been extensively used in hiphop, dance and such. I could talk about the Amen break, but luckily there’s an excellent documentary on that. There’s a more peculiar history surrounding the drum loop from Led Zeppelin’s When the Levee Breaks. Or more specifically, an old blues song called When the Levee Breaks.

In 1927 the levee did break and cause the Great Mississippi Flood. Two years after, Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie wrote, performed and recorded a song entitled When the Levee Breaks. The lyrics deal with losing everything in the flood and having to move from South to the North (Chicago), thus also exporting many blues musicians and blues lovers there.

More than 40 years later in 1971, Led Zeppelin dusts off the original and makes their own reworked cover version, in essence ‘sampling’ it and making it into something new. On drums as always is legendary drummer John Bonham. The track opens with just a few seconds of his drums.

The fact that it’s just the drums however makes it ideal for sampling and when sampling takes a rise starting in the late 80’s Bonham’s drums end up on many, many records. Not just whole but cut up as a breakbeat as well. Just to name a few where the drum loop is intact: Eminem’s Kim, Coldcut & Steinski’s Beats & Pieces and Enigma’s Gravity of Love.

The ultimate bit of irony is that while all the music I linked above is on YouTube, the YouTube video containing the original 1929 version of When the Levee Breaks has been pulled due to copyright claims by Sony, despite it being way pas it copyright date. So for now, here’s the sampled ‘original’ by Led Zeppelin:

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