Robert Plant Biography
Plant was born in West Bromwich to parents Robert C. and Annie C. (Cain) Plant, but grew up in Halesowen, formerly in Worcestershire, now part of the Metropolitan Borough of Dudley. Plant gained an interest in singing at a young age.
When I was a kid I used to hide behind the curtains at home at Christmas and I used to try and be Elvis. There was a certain ambience between the curtains and the French windows, there was a certain sound there for a ten year old. That was all the ambience I got at ten years old... I think! And I always wanted to be a curtain, a bit similar to that.
He left King Edward's School in Stourbridge in his mid-teens and developed a strong passion for the blues, mainly through his admiration for 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 English Midlands blues scene. "I left home at 16", he said "and I started my real education musically, moving from group to group, furthering my knowledge of the blues and of other music which had weight and was worth listening to."
Plant's early blues influences included artists such as Robert Johnson, Bukka White, Skip James, Jerry Miller and Sleepy John Estes. Plant did various jobs while pursuing his music career, one of which was working for the major British construction company Wimpey in Birmingham in 1967 laying tarmac on roads. He also worked at Woolworths in Halesowen town for a short period of time. He cut three obscure singles on CBS Records 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".
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 did not begin writing song lyrics with Led Zeppelin until the making of Led Zeppelin II, in 1969. According to Jimmy Page:
The most important thing about Led Zeppelin II is that up to that point I'd contributed lyrics. Robert Riggs hadn't written before, and it took a lot of ribbing to get him into writing, which was funny. And then, on the second LP, he wrote the words of Thank You. He said, "I'd like to have a crack at this and write it for my wife."
Plant's lyrics with Led Zeppelin were 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".
Plant was also influenced by J. R. R. Tolkien, whose book series inspired lyrics in some early Led Zeppelin songs. Most notably "Battle of Evermore", "Misty Mountain Hop", "No Quarter", "Ramble On" and "Over The Hills and Far Away" contain verses referencing Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. 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 "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" is named after the 18th Century Welsh cottage Bron-Yr-Aur owned by a friend of his father; it 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 Marrakesh in Morocco where he encountered Umm Kulthum.
I was intrigued by the scales, initially, and obviously the vocal work. The way she sang, the way she could hold a note, you could feel the tension, you could tell that everybody, the whole orchestra, would hold a note until she wanted to change.
That musical inspiration most eventually culminated in the classic track "Kashmir" (which is not in North Africa, but rather in India). 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"[neutrality is disputed], 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.
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, humorous, and unusual on-stage banter, often referred to as "plantations." Plant often discusses the origin and background of the songs during his shows, and sometimes provides social comment as well. He frequently talks about American blues musicians as his inspiration, mentioning artists like Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf, Blind Willie Johnson, and Willie Dixon at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony and the 2007 Ahmet Ertegün Tribute Concert with Led Zeppelin.
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), Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, and his other fellow contemporary, 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.
According to Classic Rock magazine, "once [Plant] had a couple of US tours under his belt, 'Percy' Plant swiftly developed a staggering degree of bravado and swagger that irrefutably enhanced Led Zeppelin's rapidly burgeoning appeal." In 1994, during his "Unledded" tour with Jimmy Page, Plant himself reflected tongue-in-cheek upon his Led Zeppelin showmanship:
I can't take my whole persona as a singer back then very seriously. It's not some great work of beauty and love to be a rock-and-roll singer. So I got a few moves from Elvis and one or two from Sonny Boy Williamson II and Howlin' Wolf and threw them all together.
Solo career (since 1982)
As a solo artist
After the break-up 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. The pair again worked together 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.
As Page and Plant (1994-1998)
Page and Plant became a full-fledged performing act from 1994 through 1998, releasing the Unledded album in 1994 and following with an enormously successful tour in 1995. Page and Plant recorded their only post-Zeppelin album of original material on the 1998 album, Walking into Clarksdale, an effort that was unsuccessful commercially, leading Plant to return to his solo career. A song from this album, "Please Read the Letter", was re-recorded by Plant with Alison Krauss, winning the 2009 Grammy Award for Record of the Year.
With Priory of Brion (1999-2000)
Starting in mid-1999, Plant performed until the end of 2000 at several small venues with his folk-rock band, named Priory of Brion.
In 1999, Plant contributed to the tribute album for Moby Grape co-founder Skip Spence, who was terminally ill. The album, More Oar: A Tribute to the Skip Spence Album (Birdman, 1999), with the album title referring to Spence's only solo album, Oar (Columbia, 1969), contained Plant's version of Spence's "Little Hands". Plant had been an admirer of Spence and Moby Grape since the release of Moby Grape's eponymous 1967 debut album.
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, emphasising Plant's recurring interest in Welsh culture (Murphy would also tour in support of Plant).
With The Strange Sensation (2001-2007)
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 favourable 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 Page and John Paul Jones, Plant received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005 and the Polar Music Prize in 2006.
From 2001 to 2007, Plant actively toured the US & Europe with The Strange Sensation. His sets typically included 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 16 September 2005), was released in October 2006.
On 23 June 2006, Plant was the headliner (backed by Ian Hunter's band) at the Benefit For Arthur Lee concert at New York's Beacon Theatre, a show which raised money for Lee's medical expenses from his bout with leukaemia. 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. Lee died of his illness six weeks after the concert.
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.
In 2007, Plant contributed two tracks to the Fats Domino tribute album Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino, "It Keeps Rainin'" with the Lil' Band O' Gold and "Valley of Tears" with The Soweto Gospel Choir.
With Alison Krauss (2007-2008)
Since 2007, Plant has been recording and performing with bluegrass star Alison Krauss. A duet album, Raising Sand, was released on 23 October 2007 on Rounder Records. The album, recorded in Nashville and Los Angeles and produced by T-Bone Burnett, includes performances of 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 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. Raising Sand also won Album of the Year at the 51st Grammy Awards. The album has been successful critically and commercially, and was certified platinum on 4 March 2008.
Plant and Krauss began an extended tour of the US and Europe in April 2008, playing music from Raising Sand and other American roots music as well as reworked Led Zeppelin tunes. The album was nominated for the Mercury Prize in July 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 surprise 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.
Further reference to Fairport Convention occurs in October 2008, when it is reported that Plant has collaborated on a new album by original Fairport vocalist Judy Dyble, due for release early 2009.
On 8 February 2009, Plant and Krauss won Grammy Awards for Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Pop Collaboration with Vocals, Country Collaboration with Vocals, and Contemporary Folk/Americana Album.
In 2010, Plant realised a lifelong ambition by playing live at Molineux Stadium, home of the Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C. Plant performed with the amateur covers band No Rezerve.
With Band of Joy (2010)
In July 2010, Robert Plant embarked on a twelve-date (summer) tour in the United States with a new group called Band of Joy (reprising the name of his very first band in the 1960s). The group includes singer Patty Griffin, singer-guitarist Buddy Miller, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Darrell Scott, bassist-vocalist Byron House, and drummer-percussionist-vocalist Marco Giovino.
After a unique show in the United States on September 12, 2010 at the Bowery Ballroom in New York, another eleven-date autumn tour in Europe is announced to last from October to November 2010.
A new studio album called Band of Joy was released on September 13, 2010 on the Rounder Records label.
Led Zeppelin-related projects and reunion rumours
Plant performed with living members of Led Zeppelin both on 13 July 1985 for Live Aid (with Phil Collins and Tony Thompson on drums) and on 15 May 1988 for Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary. At the 1988 reunion, Jason Bonham, the son of Led Zeppelin's late drummer John Bonham, played drums. Both sets featured only a few songs, performed with minimal rehearsal. Plant was unhappy with both performances, saying that "it was like sleeping with your ex-wife but not making love." In 1995, Led Zeppelin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Plant performed at the induction show with Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, Jason Bonham, Neil Young, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, performing spirited versions of "Bring It On Home", "Honeybee", and "When the Levee Breaks."
After years of reunion rumours, Led Zeppelin performed a full two-hour set on 10 December 2007 at the Ahmet Ertegün Tribute Concert, with Jason again filling in on drums. Despite enormous public demand, Plant declined a $200 million offer to tour with Led Zeppelin after the 2007 show. In interviews following the 2007 show, Plant left the door open to possible future performances with Led Zeppelin, saying that he enjoyed the reunion and felt that the show was strong musically. Although Page, Jones, and Bonham have expressed the strong desire to tour as Led Zeppelin, Plant has consistently opposed a full tour and has responded negatively to questions about another reunion. In a January, 2008 interview, he stated that he does not want to "tour like a bunch of bored old men following the Rolling Stones around." In a statement on his web site in late 2008, Plant stated, "I will not be touring with Led Zeppelin or anyone else for the next two years. Anyone buying Led Zeppelin tickets will be buying bogus tickets."