Jimmy Page with a mandolin outside of Headley Grange,
  where Led Zeppelin IV was written and mostly recorded

“When the Levee Breaks” (Led Zeppelin)
Guitar tab - in an alternate key/tuning

by Tim Darling (email) - August, 2015

Music articles

Overview / Summary

Originally a blues song by husband and wife Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie written in 1929, it was re-invented as dark, brooding jam by Led Zeppelin as the closing track of their 1971 album, Led Zeppelin IV. As one of the best songs on the best album of possibly the greatest rock band of all time, it's a track that has been covered many times since.

I worked out the chords in the tunings I used to record the Sinatra songs (where the halfsteps between each string are: 4-3-2-3-4 instead of the standard guitar tuning’s: 5-5-5-4-5 - more about that here.) There are 2 guitars, one in open A6 and one in open C6 (the latter played as capo 3 on the former).

Download the full mp3 on iTunes. (I’d be happy to post it for free, but I have to cover the royalties.)

Guitars, bass guitar, tabs/arrangement: Tim
Vocals: Audrey Callahan
Violins: Maria Grig
Mixed and mastered: Ziv Music
Zeppelin's version starts is in the key of F (a guitar with open G tuning, then the tape was slowed down 2 half steps); this version is A, 4 half steps higher. I largely played the same tablature as Jimmy played (see below) and so, given the open A6 tuning vs open F tuning, the chord voicings varied a bit from the original, beyond just the key change.

Rhythm guitar:
In open A6 tuning (as played) ...  

   Verse  (pattern varies)          Bridge                    Chorus
   C6 A6                       D6   D#6 F6  G6   D6 C6 D6 A6  A6          E6      D6   E6 G6 A6
C# -3-0--0-0----3-0----3-0---3/5----6-/8---/10\---5-3--5-0----0-12-12---0-7-7---0-5-5---7-10-12-------------
A  -3-0--0-0----3-0----3-0---3/5----6-/8---/10\---5-3--5-0----0-12-12---0-7-7---0-5-5---7-10-12---------------- 
F# -3-0--0-0----3-0----3-0---3/5----6-/8---/10\---5-3--5-0----0-12-12---0-7-7---0-5-5---7-10-12----------------
E  ---------------------------------6-/8---/10\---5-3--5-0----0-12-12---0-7-7---0-5-5---7-10-12-------------
C# ---------------------------------6-/8---/10\---5-3--5-0----0-12-12---0-7-7---0-5-5---7-10-12-------------
A  ---------------------------------6-/8---/10\---5-3--5-0----0-12-12---0-7-7---0-5-5---7-10-12--------------

Here's what the above translates into in standard tuning:
e  ---------------------------------3-/5------
B  -5-2--2-2----5-2----5-2---2/5----4-/6--
G  -5-2--2-2----5-2----5-2---2/5----5-/7---
D  -7-4--4-4----7-4----7-4---4/7----8-/10----  etc
A  ---------------------------------10/12--
E  ---------------------------------11/13---

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All text copyright © 2015 Tim Darling.