Hello and welcome!
We are down to number 12 from only 15 and it’s already been a long blues filled ride. This song has some serious history behind it and has been remade over and over. I’ve always been intrigued by this story and like all great songs it’s ability to pull the listener in and keep you captivated. I concede that Zeppelin’s version (as good and polished as it is) isn’t exactly the epitome of blues per se which is why in this case I actually lean toward Leadbelly’s version.
N0. 12 Gallows Pole
The song may have originated in continental Europe. Some 50 versions have been reported in Finland, where it is well known as “Lunastettava neito“. It is titled “Den Bortsålda” in Sweden (“Die Losgekaufte” in German). A Lithuanian version has the maid asking relatives to ransom her with their best animals or belongings (crown, house, crown, ring, sword, etc.). The maiden curses her relatives who refuse to give up their property and blesses her fiancé, who does ransom her.
Legendary folksinger Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter, who also popularized such songs as “Cotton Fields” and “Midnight Special”, first recorded “The Gallis Pole” in the 1930’s. His haunting, shrill tenor delivers the lyrical counterpoint, and his story is punctuated with spoken-word, as he “interrupts his song to discourse on its theme”.
~ Led Zeppelin – Gallows Pole
This is based on an old Blues song called “Gallis Pole,” which was popularized by Leadbelly. The song is considered “Traditional,” meaning the author is unknown. Jimmy Page got the idea for this after hearing the version by the California folk singer Fred Gerlach. Page explained when previewing the song for Melody Maker: “He was one of the first white people on Folkways records to get involved in Leadbelly. We have completely rearranged it and changed the verse. Robert wrote a set of new lyrics. That’s John Paul Jones on mandolin and bass, and I’m playing the banjo, six-string acoustic, 12-string and electric guitar. The bloke swinging on the gallows pole is saying wait for his relatives to arrive. The drumming builds nicely.”