Thursday, April 24, 2008

Where things currently stand between Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin

Here's a topic that will never go away. Where do things stand between Robert Plant and his former bandmates in Led Zeppelin?

Well, the topic would go away if he were joining them. Rumor has it that Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones are playing with Jason Bonham in a London rehearsal studio, aiming to write some new music.

I can confirm for sure that Robert Plant isn't there. I just saw him two nights in a row in Tennessee. I can also confirm that Jimmy, Jonesy and Jason were not there. (Members of the Spin Doctors were at the Chattanooga show though, down a few seats from Alison Krauss's parents.)

Robert's concerts with Alison contain a few examples of what I would call "Zeppelin moments." What I'm referring to do has nothing to do with the song choice. It has everything to do with Plant's enthusiasm and energy while he's performing. The band gets tight and in the pocket, and once they achieve that, they can become loose. And a Zeppelin moment is not a Zeppelin moment solely because it is tight but loose, or because there is light and shade (which there certainly is in Plant and Krauss's song arrangements). A Zeppelin moment is defined by the presence of unbridled emotion. There were two distinct Zeppelin moments in Knoxville: They came in "Hey Hey, What Can I Do" and "The Battle of Evermore." There were also two distinct Zeppelin moments in Chattanooga, and they weren't even in Zeppelin songs! (I know I'm going out on a limb here. Love me or hate me; agree with me or disagree with me. Just don't shoot the messenger. I know what I felt at the show.) The Zeppelin moments in Chattanooga were in Townes Van Zandt's "Nothin'" and the Page-Plant song "Please Read the Letter." There, I said it.

In his constant and ongoing evolution since 1980, Robert has written and covered songs that mean as much to him as the ones he wrote with Led Zeppelin. Songs by Arthur Lee, Bukka White, Skip Spence and Gene Clark hold personal meaning to Robert, as much as tunes by Willie Dixon, Blind Willie Johnson and Memphis Minnie did to him in the Zeppelin era. He has spent more than 20 years latching onto those influences and writing incredible solo material. And in that time, we witnessed him first abandoning the Zeppelin material and then re-embracing it, arguably even improving on it. Along the way, he has come to terms with his history, becoming able to play Led Zeppelin songs in concert once again, and even without making it necessary to share the stage with Jimmy Page or John Paul Jones (or, hell, for that matter, Jason Bonham). Robert has come to terms with who he is.

Know who he is? Lyricist for "Black Dog." Lyricist for "The Battle of Evermore." Singer on "Black Country Woman." Lyricist and bluesy belter on "Hey Hey What Can I Do." Singer on "When the Levee Breaks." All of that, and more. Think he's ashamed of that? Hell no!

["Misty Mountain Hop" and "Living Loving Maid (She's Just a Woman)" aside, right? And his self-inflicted Spinal Tap references notwithstanding.]

Point is, he's come to terms with his past life as Led Zeppelin's dynamic frontman and has discerned a way to make that complement everything he's doing today, whether it be with the Strange Sensation or Alison Krauss or whatever. What he's doing is commercially viable, and it's lately been dramatically successful, both commercially and critically, moreso than anything else he's done recently.

But notice the words I've just slipped by you? "Past life" as Led Zeppelin's singer. Probably didn't make you flinch. Probably not. He was Led Zeppelin's singer in 1980. Yeah, he did it again a few months ago, but it was as foreign to him playing a fourpiece version of "In My Time of Dying" as it was for us, the listeners. He didn't know what to do onstage when approaching that song. He's said as much himself; listen to David Fricke's interview with him in Rolling Stone if you don't believe me! Robert Plant was unsure of how to carry himself heading to the stage in London this December. Why? Because he had to go back in time, way back in time, to get there. Mentally. Personally. Maybe physically. Zeppelin was how many years in the past? We're talking 1980, so what's that? 2007 minus 1980... That's 27 years!? Sounds like "past" to me, over a quarter of a century.

Ok, let's use the word "challenging" here. You tell me, I'm a dumb guy here. What's more challenging: doing something you've already done, decades ago, and proved recently you can still do, or spreading your wings and trying something brand new? Which is more challenging? To be sure, I'm talking about the difference between singing on a Led Zeppelin tour that would be teeming with the "Ramble On"s and the "Rock and Roll"s that come with a tour.... And oh yeah, don't forget "Stairway to Heaven"... Difference between that and what he's doing now, the Raising Sand 2008 tour.

One of my biggest lasting visual impressions of the shows the past two days is of Robert sharing a single microphone with two other male singers, with Alison Krauss a few feet away delvering a spiritual number. He's harmonizing with these guys. He's humbling himself. In Knoxville, I tried to figure out which of the three male voices was his, and I couldn't. Have no clue. Promised myself to listen more closely in Chattanooga and figure out for sure who was who. And I was a lot closer to the stage and I blocked off all distractions and put nothing between me and the sound and visuals coming at me. Know what? I still have no clue which voice was Robert Plant's. No clue! My favorite singer in the world! And I couldn't tell you if that voice was his or that of some dudes named Buddy Miller or Stuart Duncan. And that's the whole point. He blended so well. He's working out with this thing. Now you tell me what's challenging. Not only challenging but enticing. Plant may view it as reverting to the past or repeating history unnecessarily to try out a Led Zeppelin tour and give that another go. Even if there's the call of new material, it may not be enough to draw his interest.

And bear in mind, as my traveling mate just reminded me, there aren't enough doctors in the world to support a Led Zeppelin tour.

Above photo from Robert Plant and Alison Krauss concert Knoxville, Tenn., courtesy of Bruce "The Buckeye"


  1. Hey Steve,

    I certainly respect Robert for his amazing solo career and his refusal to rest on his laurels.

    However, in terms of challenges, I can think of no greater challenge for any veterin rocker to try to create new music that is a viable seque from the original music.

  2. Hey, Glen, you got me thinking about a new Zeppelin album. I assume you left off the letter "l" in "sequel." Saying sequel implies it is a continuation of previous work. Although each Led Zeppelin album stands on its own, indeed two of them were given the names of sequels: namely, Led Zeppelin II and III. If you count the untitled fourth album as the fourth in this series, Houses of the Holy as Led Zeppelin V, etc., up through Coda as Led Zeppelin IX, then a new album including Jason would be Led Zeppelin X.

    Know the shot by Chris Dreja on the back of Led Zeppelin's first album? Recreate that for the front cover of Led Zeppelin X, using a modern-day Ross Halfin shot. But put a big X on it covering the album artwork. The faces fit perfectly into the resulting four triangular spaces.

    Crazy idea, but it would work. But there would have to be a challenging project to get all four guys to consent. Hopefully, that effort is underway already!

    And Plant could do this in 2009 after his current mission is accomplished.

  3. Hi Steve, a friend of mine, Dave, who lives in New Orleans tried to get me to come down to JazzFest to see Robert & Alison (I live in Missouri). I declined choosing to catch dates in St. Louis and Nashville (much closer, gas prices y'know?). Last night my wife answers the phone and I hear her say excitedly, 'What?!!!!! Can you get his autograph?!!!!! Here, you've got to tell Randy!' She hands me the phone, well, it's my good buddy Dave, who's in a New Orleans restaurant, and as he's talking to me, says that not 10 feet away from him is the Golden God himself, talking on a cell phone. Dave, the good buddy that he is, naturally says that if I'd have come down I could've been there with him. I told him to shut up and do me a favor and not bother him.

    In regards to the future of Led Zeppelin possibly without the participation of Robert Plant, Jimmy needs to return to the genesis of the band and make the same phone call he made forty years ago. Terry Reid.

    As always, keep up the great work, Randy

  4. Hey Steve,

    I ment segue not sequal. To me seque is more of a continuous flow rather than to revisit the past. I'm very intrigued by Jimmy's recent comment that he has some great new material that he has written, that is as good as anything he's ever done. Combine that with what JPJ has shown us on his solo projects and musically we can have an amazing album.

    Robert is all about moving forward and if the music warrents it, I can certainly see Robert participating in this kind of project.

    However, it just may be really bad timing right now because of Roberts success with Allyson. 3 or 4 years ago, he may have been totally into it, but right now he certainly doesn't need it...but if not now, when?

  5. I enjoyed your post & thought you made many telling points. (Although you are *so* wrong about MMH!) The Zep moments thing is dead-on, in my view. The reason why no one can replace RP in LZ is that his lyrics are so important. JP & JPJ can write music & arrangements all the day long, but Zep only came good when RP started to express himself. I think you've nailed the problem here in your post. You can't move forward if you are looking back, and LZ are abotu energy, moments & movement. My guess, as you suggest too, is that we might see them do one-off shows from time to time. And that should be enough. If they do an album, I'd suggest looping Bonzo samples & going in a seriously progressive direction. Otherwise, what's the point?

  6. Glen, right on.

    Randy, interesting idea regarding Terry Reid. From what I understand, he is still performing well. I wonder if all these years later, he would reconsider that invitation if re-extended.

    Another crazy, out-there idea I had would be if Led Zeppelin were to reunite only for good causes, how about global warming? Just imagine the promotions: "In the 1970s, one band rocked the world. Today, they're reuniting to save it. Join Led Zeppelin for a limited engagement to help curb global warming. They are putting on a green concert series. You'll be amazed by the small carbon footprint left by these dinosaurs." Hahaha.

    Professor Andrew, do you think it would matter if Terry Reid or somebody else sang for Jimmy, Jonesy and Jason even if this vocalist was not quite the lyricist Plant is? Terry Reid could write some silly songs about saving the planet.

    OK, now I've just about lost all my readers.

  7. It's not a social cause, but how cool would it be for LZ to be the "final act" in Yankee Stadium before they tear it down.

  8. Not buying it Steve. He's had 27 yrs to do something different and frankly, doing other peoples songs does not come anywhere near the challenge of writing new, good long lasting material. The Who just wrote an awesome album, and perform as well as they did yrs ago, with 2 members!! Your explanation holds zero weight in my eyes. Plant would be nobody w/o Jimmy's songs and production. he can only do what he does today becuase of Jimmy and the Zeppelin. you will nevr convince me otherwise!

  9. Undeniably, Robert is who he is because of who he was. It would be foolish to attempt proving otherwise, and Plant admitted he is who he is because of his involvement with Jimmy Page when he invited him to perform with him on Unledded.

    As to whether Robert is or has been capable of writing something compelling and memorable after Led Zeppelin is debatable. The critical acclaim for his solo albums has increased with each release, from where I stand. But does that make them memorable? It's up to the fans to decide what the songs and albums mean to them. Does Fate of Nations measure up to Physical Graffiti? Could "Tin Pan Valley" earn Robert more glory than "Stairway to Heaven" has? These are matters of opinion.

    Outdoing one's own previous work is a challenge, and certainly when your previous work is multiplatinum stuff that earned worldwide respect the world over and made legions of people into loyal and ardent fans for generations, the challenge is tougher.

    But this is not his current challenge. Now, his mission is to reinterpret material from influential and/or contemporary artists and material from his own or Alison's past. And he is doing very well with that on the Raising Sand tour, as he did on Dreamland.

    I just wonder what setting will provide him with his next muse for new material...

  10. Robert doesn't owe me, you, Jimmy or anyone else anything. If he ever does anything else with Jimmy and the boys will be because it will feel right to him and no other reason.

    Whether you like his solo career or not, you have to respect him for not trying to recreate Zeppelin II in his solo efforts. He continually explores new musical expressions and has exposed many "hard rock" fans to these diverse styles.

  11. I dont think Robert owes us anything, but I do think he owes Jimmy everything. Jimmy was an established musician and Robert got a break from Jimmy...period. Alexis Corner? Band of Joy, yeah their huge! The thing that bothers me is that its very difficult for Jimmy as a guitarist to do projects and tour without Robert, because Jimmy doesnt sing. Robert is the front man, its easier for him to go out without Jimmy. I do respect his solo efforts, but the only one I ever liked enough to buy was Fate of Nations. I dont expect a long reunion, however I dont see anything wrong with doing one tour, dedicate 6 months to a yr to Zeppelin, and go back to your other projects. Give the money after expenses to charity, and no one can say you sold out for money. you can't tell me he didnt enjoy the show, he evn said he did, he just doeant like all the pomp and crap that goes with it.


    Steve, After reading the comments about the O2 show, it looks like more people side with me about Plant no beig prepared for the show.


  13. Anonymous said he thinks all Robert got from Jimmy Page was a break. Well, am I the only one that thinks that maybe, just maybe that's exactly what Robert Plant does not want to be reminded of. Everyday bands and performers throw in the towel because the breaks were not there for them, no matter their talent. So yes, it does matter that Jimmy Page gave him a call and that Reid recommeded him.
    That being said everyone in entertainment owes someone else for their break. No one ever made it alone.
    As for it being difficult for Jimmy to do projects and tour without Robert??? Are ya nuts? Jimmy has been doing just that for the past 27 years. And I have to say, after seeing a tape of Jimmy playing with Coverdale alongside one made of Robert and his band at about the same time, it is easier for me to watch someone else sing Led Zeppelin songs than to watch someone else attempt to play them.
    I agree with you they should tour as Zeppelin. Jimmy Page and all the other members of the band know that they were never as good separately as they were together. It was magic. It was perfection. It was like that at the O2 in December. But maybe when your singer's heart isn't in it anymore, it's time to find a new one whose is.

  14. Kim, I am not nuts, and Jimmy has not been doing that for 27 yrs. You need to do some studying of Post Zep action. Jimmy has not done anything for almost 10yrs, before the 02. He did the Firm in the 80's, which was ok, Outrider, which wasn't that great 2 tours with Plant and one with The Crows. I dont think thats a lot of action for the greatest rock guitar player ever. Two of those were w/ Plant! Zeppelin is jimmy's baby and i really believe Zeppelin is what drives him and what he wants to continue.


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