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Jeff Beck and Johnny Depp accused of stealing lyrics from a 1960s spoken word poem

[L-R] Jeff Beck and Johnny Depp
(Image credit: Venla Shalin/Redferns)

Jeff Beck and Johnny Depp have been accused of stealing lines from a former prisoner’s poetry for Sad Motherfuckin’ Parade, a track from their recent collaborative album, 18.

In a new article published by Rolling Stone (opens in new tab), the pair are alleged to have taken a number of lyrics for the song – for which they are solely credited on the album – from a spoken word poem titled Hobo Ben, reportedly recited by a jailed 1960s murderer, pimp and armed robber known as Slim Wilson.

The poem was later featured in the 1974 book Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me: African-American Narrative Poetry from the Oral Tradition, by author Bruce Jackson.

Rolling Stone says that the Hobo Ben lines “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 directly used in Sad Motherfuckin’ Parade.

Jackson accused the pair of plagiarism: “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.’ Everything else is from Slim’s performance in my book.”

He continues: “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 Jackson, a lawyer who works with music and intellectual property, says he and his father are looking into potential legal options, but states that a lawsuit hasn’t yet been filed.

“[The credits on Sad Motherfuckin’ Parade] do not reflect the actual authorship of those lyrics,” he says. “It’s just not plausible, in my opinion, 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.”

While the identical lyrics would appear to make a solid basis for legal action, such a suit would be far from clear-cut, as Hobo Ben doesn’t have a verifiable original author. 

“The lines in it are similar to other kinds of lines – not the specificity of the words, but the kinds of things that turn up [in other poems],” Jackson adds. “It’s simply part of that genre, like a bluesman doing a certain kind of riff.”

Neither Jeff Beck or Johnny Depp have yet commented on the plagiarism accusations.

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Sam is a Staff Writer at Guitar World, also creating content for Total Guitar, Guitarist and Guitar Player. He has well over 15 years of guitar playing under his belt, as well as a degree in Music Technology (Mixing and Mastering). He's a metalhead through and through, but has a thorough appreciation for all genres of music. In his spare time, Sam creates point-of-view guitar lesson videos on YouTube under the name Sightline Guitar (opens in new tab).