“Nobody’s Fault but Mine” is a gospel song that has been recorded by many musicians over the years. The first known recording of this song was by American gospel blues musician Blind Willie Johnson in 1927, titled “It’s Nobody’s Fault but Mine”.
In an interview, Jimmy Page explained:
“Robert Plant came in one day and suggested that we cover it, but the arrangement I came up with was nothing to do with the Blind Willie Johnson original. Robert may have wanted to go for the original blues lyrics, but everything else was a totally different kettle of fish.”
Led Zeppelin biographer George Case adds “Page was likely more mindful of John Renbourn’s 1966 acoustic take than Blind Willie Johnson’s”.
Lyrically, “Nobody’s Fault but Mine” has been called “Led Zeppelin’s ‘Hell Hound on My Trail'”, another Robert Johnson 1937 Delta blues song tells of a man trying to stay ahead of the evil which is pursuing him, but it does not address the cause or lasting solution for his predicament.
In Blind Willie Johnson’s “It’s Nobody’s Fault but Mine”, the problem is clearly stated: he will be doomed, unless he uses his abilities to learn (and presumably live according to) biblical teachings.
Led Zeppelin retain Blind Willie’s admission that he ultimately is to blame, but add Robert Johnson’s sense of despair. However, they shift the focus from religion to one “relevant to the Zeppelin lifestyle of the day”.
Their lyrics include “that monkey on my back”, a commonly used reference to addiction, and “the devil he told me to roll, how to roll the line tonight”; to overcome, Plant concludes “gonna change my ways tonight”. “For Robert [Plant] and perhaps the others, it was a sort of exorcism”.
“Nobody’s Fault but Mine” follows a “call-and-response method of dramatic construction”. Page’s slide guitar intro has been described as like “a supersonic 1970s interpretation of Johnson’s beautiful slide guitar technique”.
Page triple-tracked his guitar intro; playing one guitar an octave higher than the others and using a phaser. Plant adds a blues-style harmonica solo mid-song. Drummer John Bonham and bassist John Paul Jones maintain the rhythm of the song, adding some syncopated accents during repetitions of the introductory phrase.