Johnny Depp and Jeff Beck have been accused of lifting lyrics for their song “Sad Motherfuckin’ Parade” from an obscure “toast” performed by a Missouri State Penitentiary prisoner and released by folklorist Bruce Jackson in 1974.
Rolling Stone reports that the track from their collaborative album 18, which is billed as an original song written by Depp, contains numerous lyrics that are similar to lines from “Hobo Ben,” a poem credited to Slim Wilson. Jackson met Wilson in 1964 while the latter was incarcerated for armed robbery and featured his toasts — an often-lewd form of traditional Black folk poetry — in a 1974 book called Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me and a companion album of the same name.
In some of the least explicit lines of the toast, Wilson — whose name is a pseudonym — says, “I’m raggedy, I know, but I have no stink/ And God bless the lady that’ll buy me a drink/ Heavy-hipted Hattie turned to Nadine with a laugh/ And said, ‘What that funky motherfucker really need, child, is a bath.'”
For starters, “Sad Motherfuckin’ Parade” seems to get its title from “Hobo Ben,” in which Wilson says, “Better try to keep you ass in this corner of shade/ ’Cause if the Man come you make a sad motherfuckin parade.” It also contains a number of near-identical lyrics.
“I’m raggedy, I know, but I have no stink,” Depp sings on the track. “God bless a lady that’ll buy me a drink/ Sad motherfuckin’ parade/ What that funky motherfucker really needs, child, is a bath.” Depp and Beck are the solo writers credited on “Sad Motherfuckin’ Parade.”
Update — August 5th: A spokesperson for the 18 album team shared a statement saying they are “reviewing the inquiry relating to the song ‘Sad Motherfuckin’ Parade.’ If appropriate, additional copyright credits will be added to all forms of the album.”
While speaking to Rolling Stone, Jackson gave an incredulous reaction. “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,'” he said. “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.”
Hear “Hobo Ben” at Rolling Stone and listen to “Sad Motherfuckin’ Parade” below.