1948 – Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin is born in Wes…

Led Zeppelin

1948 – Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin is born in West Bromwich, England. Five of the group’s albums reach No. 1 on Chart Toppers’s pop album chart. In the mid-80s Plant organizes the Honeydrippers, featuring rock legends Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Nile Rodgers. The ensemble has a No. 3 hit in 1985 with “Sea of Love.”

Robert Anthony Plant (born August 20, 1948, West Bromwich, England), is an English rock singer and songwriter, famous for his membership in the English rock band Led Zeppelin as the lead vocalist, as well as for his successful solo career. He recently released a folk based album with folk singer Alison Krauss.

Life and career

Early career

Plant was born in West Bromwich, then in Staffordshire, now in West Midlands, to parents Robert C. and Annie C. (Cain) Plant, but grew up in Halesowen, formerly Worcestershire, now part of the Metropolitan Borough of Dudley. He left school in his mid-teens and developed a strong passion for the blues, mainly through his admiration for Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Willie Dixon, Robert Johnson and early rendition of songs in this genre. He abandoned training as a chartered accountant after only two weeks to attend college in an effort to gain more GCE passes and to become part of the Midlands blues scene. and sang with a variety of bands, including The Crawling King Snakes, which brought him into contact with drummer John Bonham. They both went on to play in the Band of Joy, merging blues with newer psychedelic trends. Though his early career met with no commercial success, word quickly spread about the “young man with the powerful voice”.

Led Zeppelin

Main article: Led Zeppelin

Early years
Led Zeppelin in 1969. From left to right: John Bonham, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones.
Led Zeppelin in 1969. From left to right: John Bonham, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones.

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.

Later years

In August 1975, he and his wife Maureen (m. 1968-1983) 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 oldest son Karac died of a stomach infection when Plant was engaged on Led Zeppelin’s concert tour of the United States. 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.

These events had a major effect on Plant, and represent a turning point in Led Zeppelin’s music, as In Through The Out Door featured a lighter and more progressive sound under the direction of John Paul Jones, with fewer of the hard-rocking numbers the band had been known for. Plant has told an interviewer “I had a couple of bad knocks which, no matter what happens, will always have taken their toll on me. I know that my kind of vision, or the carefree element I had, disappeared instantly when I had my automobile accident in 1975. That kind of ramshackled ‘I’ll take the world now’ attitude was completely gone.”

Solo career

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” (1985), “Tall Cool One” (a #25 hit in 1988) and “I Believe” (1993), 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”, along with a lesser hit with “Rockin’ at Midnight.” Plant avoided performing Led Zeppelin songs through much of this period.

On rare occasions, Plant performed with both living members of Led Zeppelin: In 1985 for Live Aid (with Phil Collins and Tony Thompson on drums), 1988 for Atlantic Records 40th anniversary, 1995 when the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and 10 December 2007 to honour the memory of Atlantic Records cofounder Ahmet Ertegün, the last three with Bonham’s son Jason filling in on drums. Additionally, Plant, Jones, and Page attended—and performed at—Jason’s wedding in 1990. Despite enormous public demand, Plant declined a $200 million offer to tour with Led Zeppelin after the 2007 show.

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.” Plant first collaborated with Jimmy Page post-Zeppelin in the studio on the 1988 Page solo effort, Outrider. He later collaborated with Page on the 1998 album, Walking into Clarksdale, which features all original material from the pair. Starting at the close of 1999, Plant performed at several small venues with his folk-rock band, named Priory of Brion.

In 2001, Plant appeared on Afro Celt Sound System’s album “Volume 3: Further in Time.” The song “Life Begin Again” features a duet with Welsh folksinger Julie Murphy, emphasizing Plant’s recurring interest in Welsh culture (Murphy would also tour in support of Plant).

In 2002, with his then newly-formed band Strange Sensation, Plant released a widely acclaimed collection of mostly blues and folk remakes, Dreamland. Contrasting with this lush collection of often relatively obscure remakes, the second album with Strange Sensation, Mighty ReArranger (2005), contains new, original songs. Both have received some of the most favorable reviews of Plant’s solo career and four Grammy nominations, two in 2003 and two in 2006.

As a former member of Led Zeppelin, along with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, Plant received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005 and the Polar Music Prize in 2006. Plant still actively tours. His sets typically include recent, but not only, solo material and plenty of Led Zeppelin favourites, often with new and expanded arrangements. A DVD titled Soundstage: Robert Plant and the Strange Sensation, featuring his Soundstage performance (filmed at the Soundstage Studios in Chicago on September 16, 2005), was released in October 2006. An expansive box set of his solo work, Nine Lives, was released in November 2006, which expanded all of his albums with various b-sides, demos, and live cuts. It was accompanied by a DVD. All his solo works were re-released with these extra tracks individually. It was reported on Billboard’s website that Plant is contributing two tracks to the Fats Domino tribute album; Goin’ Home: A Tribute To Fats Domino. The performers list indicates that he will cover “It Keeps Rainin'” with the “Lil’ Band O’ Gold” and “Valley Of Tears” with “The Soweto Gospel Choir”.
Robert Plant on stage with Alison Krauss at Birmingham’s NIA, 5th May 2008
Robert Plant on stage with Alison Krauss at Birmingham’s NIA, 5th May 2008

On June 23, 2006, Plant was the headliner (backed by Ian Hunter’s band) at the Benefit For Arthur Lee concert at New York’s Beacon Theater, a show which raised money for Lee’s medical expenses from his bout with leukemia. Plant and band performed thirteen songs – five by Arthur Lee & Love, five Led Zeppelin songs and three others including a duet with Ian Hunter. At the show, Plant told the audience of his great admiration for Arthur Lee dating back to the mid-Sixties. Sadly, Lee died of his illness six weeks after the concert.

Recently, Plant has been recording music with bluegrass star Alison Krauss. Their album, Raising Sand, was released on October 23, 2007 on Rounder Records. The album, recorded in Nashville and Los Angeles and produced by T-Bone Burnett, includes the two songwriters doing lesser-known material from R&B, blues, folk, and country songwriters including Mel Tillis, Townes Van Zandt, Gene Clark, Tom Waits, Doc Watson, Little Milton Campbell and the Everly Brothers. The song “Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)” from Raising Sand won a Grammy for Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals in 2008. Also in 2008, Plant performed with bluegrass musicians at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival. He appeared as a suprise guest during Fairport Convention’s set at the 2008 Cropredy Festival, performing Led Zeppelin’s The Battle of Evermore with Kristina Donahue as a tribute to Sandy Denny.

Voice and singing technique

Robert Plant’s voice and singing technique was very unusual compared to other rock lead singers of the era such as John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and others, and these traits helped to define the unique sound of Led Zeppelin. One of his biggest influences was Steve Marriott of Small Faces and Humble Pie. Plant once said he wanted to “be Steve Marriott” when he was younger.

Plant possesses a tenor voice and his vocal style has been showcased in many Led Zeppelin songs such as “Communication Breakdown”, “Dazed and Confused”,”Since I’ve Been Loving You” and “Whole Lotta Love”. Plant became one of the most significant rock singers of the 1970s influencing the style of many of his contemporaries like Steven Tyler, Joey Ramone, Ann Wilson, Bono, Freddie Mercury, Alice Cooper, Bon Scott, Brian Johnson, David Coverdale, Dee Snider, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ian Gillan, Geddy Lee, David Lee Roth, Sammy Hagar, Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson and Robin Zander, and later rock vocalists such as Jeff Buckley, Axl Rose, Scott Weiland, Eddie Vedder, Chris Cornell, Shannon Hoon, Ian Astbury, Andrew Stockdale, Justin Hawkins, Tori Amos, Andrew Wood, Sebastian Bach, Chester Bennington, Thom Yorke , Koshi Inaba and Chris Robinson.

Plant received treatment for vocal nodules in 1973 and possibly 1974. This resulted in a drop in range of voice and a harsh timbre on the 1975 album Physical Graffiti.

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Plant’s lyrics are often mystical, philosophical and spiritual, alluding to events in classical and Norse mythology, such as the “Immigrant Song”, which refers to Valhalla and Viking conquests. However, the song “No Quarter” is often misunderstood to refer to the god Thor; the song actually refers to Mount Thor (which is named after the god). Another example is “The Rain Song”, which contains allusions to various pagan rituals.

Plant was also influenced by J. R. R. Tolkien, whose book series inspired lyrics in some early Led Zeppelin songs. Most notably the “Battle of Evermore”, “Misty Mountain Hop” and “Ramble On” all contain verses referencing Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Conversely, Plant sometimes used more straightforward blues-based lyrics dealing primarily with sexual innuendo, as in “The Lemon Song”, “Trampled Under Foot”, and “Black Dog”.

Welsh mythology also forms a basis of Plant’s interest in mystical lyrics. He grew up close to the Welsh border and would often take summer trips to Snowdonia. Plant bought a Welsh sheep farm in 1973, and began taking Welsh lessons and looking into the mythology of the land (such as Black Book of Carmarthen, Book of Taliesin, etc.) Plant’s first son, Karac, was named after the Welsh warrior Caratacus. The song title “Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp” is named after the 18th Century Welsh cottage Bron-Yr-Aur owned by a friend of his father; and later inspired the song “Bron-Yr-Aur.” The songs “Misty Mountain Hop,” “That’s the Way,” and early dabblings in what would become “Stairway to Heaven” were written in Wales and lyrically reflect Plant’s mystical view of the land. Critic Steve Turner suggests that Plant’s early and continued experiences in Wales served as the foundation for his broader interest in the mythologies he revisits in his lyrics (including those myth systems of Tolkien and the Norse).

The passion for diverse musical experiences drove Plant to explore Africa, specifically Morocco, whose musical inspiration most evidently culminated in the classic track “Kashmir” (which is not in North Africa, but rather between India and Pakistan). Both he and Jimmy Page revisited these influences during their reunion album No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded in 1994. In his solo career, Plant again tapped from these influences many times, most notably in the 2002 album, Dreamland.

Undoubtedly one of Plant’s most significant and influential achievements with Led Zeppelin was his contribution to the track “Stairway to Heaven”, an epic rock ballad featured on Led Zeppelin IV that drew influence from folk, blues, Celtic traditional music and hard rock among other genres. Most of the lyrics of the song were written spontaneously by Plant in 1970 at Headley Grange. While never released as a single, the song has topped charts as the greatest song of all time on various polls around the world. Other fans however argue that Plant made a better performance in other Led Zeppelin epics such as “Kashmir” or “Achilles Last Stand”.

Plant is also recognised for his lyrical improvisation in Led Zeppelin’s live performances, often singing verses previously unheard on studio recordings. One of the most famous Led Zeppelin musical devices involves Plant’s vocal mimicking of band mate Jimmy Page’s guitar effects. This can be heard in the songs “How Many More Times”, “Dazed and Confused”, “The Lemon Song”, “You Shook Me”, “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and “Sick Again”. He is also known for his light-hearted and humorous on-stage banter, often referred to as “plantations.”

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