Monday Night Music Byte
Robert Anthony Plant, CBE (a/k/a Robert Plante) (born 20 August 1948), is an English rock singer and songwriter, best known as the lead vocalist and lyricist of the rock band Led Zeppelin. He has also had a successful solo career. In 2007, Plant released Raising Sand, an album produced by T-Bone Burnett with American bluegrass soprano Alison Krauss, which won the 2009 Grammy Award for Album of the Year.
In 1968, the guitarist Jimmy Page was in search of a lead singer for his new band and met Plant after being turned down by his first choice, Terry Reid, who referred him to a show at a teacher training college in Birmingham— where Plant was singing in a band named Hobbstweedle. Page explained:
When I auditioned him and heard him sing, I immediately thought there must be something wrong with him personality-wise or that he had to be impossible to work with, because I just could not understand why, after he told me he’d been singing for a few years already, he hadn’t become a big name yet. So I had him down to my place for a little while, just to sort of check him out, and we got along great. No problems.
According to Plant:
I was appearing at this college when Peter and Jimmy turned up and asked me if I’d like to join The Yardbirds. I knew The Yardbirds had done a lot of work in America – which to me meant audiences who would want to know what I might have to offer – so naturally I was very interested.
Plant and Page immediately hit it off with a shared musical passion and after Plant joined the band they began their writing collaboration with reworkings of earlier blues songs, although Plant would receive no songwriting credits on the band’s first album, allegedly because he was still under contract to CBS Records at the time. Plant brought along John Bonham as drummer, and they were joined by John Paul Jones, who had previously worked with Jimmy Page as a studio musician. Jones called Page on the phone before they checked out Plant, and Page hired Jones immediately.
Initially dubbed the “New Yardbirds” in 1968, the band soon came to be known as Led Zeppelin. The band’s self-titled debut album hit the charts in 1969 and is widely credited as a catalyst for the heavy metal genre. Plant, however, has commented that it is unfair for people to think of Zeppelin as heavy metal, as almost a third of their music was acoustic.
In 1975, Plant and his wife Maureen (now divorced) were seriously injured in a car crash in Rhodes, Greece. This significantly affected the production of Led Zeppelin’s seventh album Presence for a few months while he recovered, and forced the band to cancel the remaining tour dates for the year.
In July 1977 his son Karac died at the age of five of a stomach infection while Plant was engaged on Led Zeppelin’s concert tour of the United States. Plant retreated to his home in the Midlands and for months afterward he questioned his future. Karac’s death later inspired him to write the song “All My Love” in tribute, featured on Led Zeppelin’s final studio LP, 1979’s In Through the Out Door.
Plant enjoyed great success with Led Zeppelin throughout the 1970s and developed a compelling image as the charismatic rock-and-roll front man, similar to his contemporary in The Who, singer Roger Daltrey (who adopted the look in the late 1960s), and his predecessor, Jim Morrison of The Doors who, while not displaying the same visual appearance, also exuded sexuality upon the stage. With his mane of long blond hair and powerful, bare-chested appearance, Plant helped to create the “god of rock and roll” or “rock god” archetype. On stage, Plant was particularly active in live performances, often dancing, jumping, snapping his fingers, clapping, making emphatic gestures to emphasise a lyric or cymbal crash, throwing back his head, or placing his hands on his hips. As the 1960s-1970s progressed he, along with the other members of Led Zeppelin, became increasingly flamboyant on-stage and wore more elaborate, colourful clothing and jewellery.
After the breakup of Led Zeppelin in 1980 (following the death of John Bonham), Plant pursued a successful solo career beginning with Pictures at Eleven in 1982, followed by 1983’s The Principle of Moments. Popular tracks from this period include “Big Log” (a Top 20 hit in 1983), “In the Mood” (1984), “Little by Little” (from 1985’s Shaken ‘n’ Stirred), “Tall Cool One” (a #25 hit off 1988’s Now and Zen) and “I Believe” (from 1993’s Fate of Nations), another song written for and dedicated to his late son, Karac. In 1984, Plant formed a short-lived all-star group with Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck called The Honeydrippers, who had a #3 hit with a remake of the Phil Phillips’ tune, “Sea of Love” and a followup hit with a cover of Roy Brown’s “Rockin’ at Midnight.” Although Plant avoided performing Led Zeppelin songs through much of this period, his tours in 1983 (with superstar drummer Phil Collins) and 1985 were very successful, often performing to sold-out arena-sized venues.
Through the 1980s and 1990s, Plant co-wrote three solo albums with keyboardist/songwriter Phil Johnstone. Now and Zen, Manic Nirvana, and Fate of Nations (featuring Máire Brennan of Clannad). It was Johnstone who talked Plant into playing Led Zeppelin songs in his live shows, something Plant had resisted, not wanting to be forever known as “the former Led Zeppelin vocalist.”
Although Led Zeppelin split in 1980, Plant and Page occasionally collaborated on various projects, including The Honeydrippers: Volume 1 album in 1984 (there has never been a Volume 2). In the spring 2 years later Robert performed at the Birmingham Heart Beat Charity Concert 1986 which was a very special event. The pair again worked together again in the studio on the 1988 Page solo effort, Outrider, and in the same year Page contributed to Plant’s album Now and Zen. Also, on 15 May 1988 Plant appeared with Page as a member of Led Zeppelin (and in his own right as a solo artist) at the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary concert.
Please enjoy this video clip of Robert Plant performing “Tall Cool One” at the Atlantic Records 4oth Anniversary Bash at Madison Square Garden in 1988.