In My Time of Dying: Led Zeppelin

In My Time of Dying
By: Led Zeppelin
Album: Physical Graffiti
Released: February 24, 1975
Recorded: 1974
Genre: Blues, rock, hard rock
Songwriters Credits:
John Bonham, John Paul Jones,
Jimmy Page, Robert Plant
Producer: Jimmy Page

"In My Time of Dying" by Led Zeppelin  was released on their Physical Graffiti album. At 11 minutes and 6 seconds, it is the longest studio track by the group. Zeppelin borrowed from a traditional gospel song, "Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed," inspired by a passage in the Bible from Psalms 41:3"The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing, thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness."


Blind Willie Johnson

The earliest recorded version of "Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed" was by country blues and gospel singer Blind Willie Johnson. Unlike a lot of 'bluesmen,'  Johnson was literally blind. When he was seven years old, Johnson's father confronted Willie's stepmother about her infidelity. During the argument, she splashed Willie with a solution of lye water. He lost his sight, but still felt a calling to preach and sing gospel blues.
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Blind Willie Johnson
Blind Willie Johnson

Johnson made money by busking on the streets of Marlin, Texas. Columbia Records discovered him when they sent out mobile field units across the nation to record American folk and blues musicians. He recorded 30 songs for them between 1927-30, which earned him $25-$30 apiece. "In My Time of Dying" was cut in the first session under the title “Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed” on December 3, 1927.



Josh White

Josh White
Josh White

It was Josh White’s version of “Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dying Bed,” recorded in 1933, that Jimmy Page cited as the inspiration for “In My Time of Dying”. The line “Well, well, well/So I can die easy” is present in Josh White’s version but not Blind Willie Johnson’s. 


Bob Dylan


The song entered popular music when Bob Dylan included a version on his 1962 self-titled debut album. His is closest to Josh White's but named "In My Time of Dyin'". The first time Dylan sang "In My Time of Dyin'" was at this recording session. He fretted the guitar with the lipstick holder; a make shift slide he borrowed from girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, who sat next to him through the recording session.


Fear Itself

Fear Itself album back cover
Fear Itself album back cover

Fear Itself
was a short-lived psychedelic blues-rock band fronted by singer Ellen McIlwaine. They were from Atlanta, Georgia, but in the late 1960s the group was based in New York City and was part of the Greenwich Village music scene. Their 1968 self-titled debut album contained an extended interpretation of the tune that clocks in at 8 minutes and 44 seconds.


Led Zeppelin
That’s gotta be the one, hasn’t it?
John Bonham
Led Zeppelin’s recording of “In My Time of Dying” is one of the band’s best tracks from any of their albums. Unfortunately, the songwriting credits are listed “John Bonham/John Paul Jones/Jimmy Page/Robert Plant.” Zeppelin had a reputation for this type of stuff. 

Led Zeppelin Icarus logo
Led Zeppelin Icarus logo

Common practice when covering this type of material is to mark it “Traditional, arranged by…”. Dylan's version of  “In My Time of Dyin'” is credited as “arr. Bob Dylan” while the Fear Itself LP read “adapted & arr. by Ellen McIlwaine.”  There was no ending when the band started recording the song. They were just jamming and improvising. You can hear drummer John Bonham say, “That’s gotta be the one, hasn’t it?” at the conclusion of the track

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