Thursday, February 19, 2009

Plant's Grammy bump fuels 'Raising Sand' sales to No. 2

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss are back in the spotlight again, now that their 2007 album has stolen the show at the Grammys.

Billboard reports that Raising Sand sold 77,000 copies last week, not only making it the week's "greatest gainer" but also bumping it to the No. 2 spot on the album chart. This ties the album's previous highest position, achieved when the album debuted on the charts upon its release in October 2007. Billboard says Raising Sand "has now sold 1.26 million to date."

Plant and Krauss were just interviewed for CNN too:

In case anybody hadn't yet heard Plant explain why he doesn't want to tour again with Led Zeppelin, CNN of course asked that question:
CNN: You gained a lot of fans with this project, but there are those Led Zeppelin diehards who've been holding their breath for a reunion tour -- especially since you reunited for the Ahmet Ertegun tribute concert at Wembley [Wrong, CNN! It was the O2 Arena] in 2007.

Plant: Well, we had a really good night, and we had great rehearsals, and it was very emotional -- and if you like, quite elevating. But it was the right thing to do to do it that way. There's no bandwagon. We've already been around the world, and did what we did when we were young men.

CNN: That sounds like a man who's looking forward, and not back.

Plant: Only last week, I was being grilled again by Alison to get into shape and get it right. And that's fantastic! I really want that. I don't want to go around, everybody thinking, "That's what he did." Because this is what I do, and every day, it should be more interesting.
That's a better explanation than his earlier admission that he was afraid of something.

But the media have also been attracted to the fact that Plant and Krauss were snubbed at the Brit music awards. They did not receive even a single nomination for a Brit, in sharp contrast to the reaction by the Recording Academy as evidenced by their wins in all five Grammy categories in which they were nominated.

Not only that, but a report by Reuters UK even ran the egregiously erroneous headline:

Robert Page blanked at BRITs

The singer's name appeared correctly as Robert Plant in the article, but the "Robert Page" headline (which has since been fixed) shows once again that, sometimes, people still clumsily confuse their Zeppelin members.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Robert Plant duet adorns Fairport Convention's latest live album

The duet of Led Zeppelin's "The Battle of Evermore" sung by Robert Plant and Kristina Donahue at the Cropredy Festival last August will make it onto a new CD of highlights from Fairport Convention's performance, called Live at Cropredy '08.

The song was performed as a tribute to Fairport singer Sandy Denny, whose memory was being specially honored in 2008, the 25th anniversary of her death. Part of this new live CD serves the same purpose, according to the band's official Web site:
"The centre section of the recording, like the festival performance itself, concentrates on Sandy Denny's wonderful contribution to Fairport's repertoire. Contributors include Chris and Kellie While, Kristina Donohue [sic] and Robert Plant, and Vikki Clayton."
At Plant's invitation, Denny guested with Led Zeppelin in the studio when recording "The Battle of Evermore" for the band's fourth album.

Video and audio of Plant and Donahue's duet were uploaded to YouTube two days after they ran through it onstage at Cropredy, but the recording on the album is far superior. For the album, the recording was by Paul Smith, and remixed and produced by John Gale. A 30-second MP3 clip of the recording of the song used on the album can be heard here.

Festival organizers have been unveiling the lineup of acts for this year's event, giving an opportunity recently to Fairport's Simon Nicol to be quoted in the North Devon Journal as to why Plant and other hugely popular artists are attracted to perform at or attend Cropredy each year. Nicol says it's the casual interaction among musicians and fans:
"Everyone who plays there and wants a drink has to go out to the bar and stand there with everyone else. That is a tradition now and everyone respects it. Even huge stars like Robert Plant can come to the festival and people won't pester him for autographs. It's a unique experience for him and he really enjoys it. If he goes anywhere else he's got to have blacked out windows on the limo. It's crazy."

Monday, February 9, 2009

Earliest Led Zeppelin footage, previously unseen, emerges online

Dennis DiMatteo brought his father's 8mm camera with him to the Fillmore East in New York, N.Y., on Jan. 31, 1969. The camera was already pushing 20 years old at the time and was one of the models that needed to be wound up to shoot just a few seconds at a time.

Throughout the night, DiMatteo was able to capture only about a minute's worth of footage, mostly of the sensational opening act for Iron Butterfly. And that opening act was Led Zeppelin.

A crowd numbering in the hundreds had gathered at the Fillmore for the show. And since Led Zeppelin's first album hadn't yet been out for even a full month, it's rather likely some people had come just to see Iron Butterfly and had no idea what was going to hit them when the opening act took the stage.

Audio recordings that surfaced years ago that attest to the heavy sound Led Zeppelin was evoking at two of the four Fillmore East performances over that weekend 40 years ago. But never before has such an early glimpse of the band's visuals been presented to the public.

Now we see how the band rocking out in rather stunning quality! Led Zeppelin was more than just something to listen to. It was also a sight to behold. Watch as the ruffle-sleeved Robert Plant, at age 20, belts into the microphone with John Paul Jones to his right side. Witness as Jimmy Page slides his left hand across his fretboard as he shakes his other hand, grinding that violin bow into the strings! There's so much history to be gleaned and appreciated from such a small portrait of the band's visuals at this time.

DiMatteo's silent footage, shot only three rows from the stage and recently transferred to a digital format and posted online, is believed to be the earliest video footage that exists of Led Zeppelin performing live. It's earlier by well over a month than the 32 minutes of professional TV footage from a concert appearance in Denmark on March 17, which was included on Led Zeppelin's 2003 DVD.

An altered version of the rough footage has also been posted online with audio clips of the band's rendition of "Dazed and Confused" from the same date.

And Led Zeppelin's official Web site has already been updated to include the video footage. DiMatteo's footage has been posted there, loosely synchronized with actual audio from renditions of "Train Kept A Rollin'," "I Can't Quit You Baby" and "Dazed and Confused" performed that date.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

With Alison Krauss, Robert Plant hasn't met a Grammy he hasn't won

"Never a dull moment," said Alison Krauss while accepting her fifth Grammy award of the night, this one the year's top prize, for Raising Sand with Robert Plant. Her Grammy tally now stands at 26, more than any other female's.

And since Plant was in on each of the new ones tonight, as well as the Grammy he and Krauss earned last year, his lifetime Grammy count now stands at seven awards plus a Lifetime Achievement recognition that was given to Led Zeppelin only four years ago.

So, with Krauss at his side, Plant has never met a Grammy he hasn't won.

Their Grammy wins tonight were:
  • Record of the Year for "Please Read the Letter" from Raising Sand: The award goes to Plant, Krauss, producer T Bone Burnett, and engineer and mixer Mike Piersante.
  • Album of the Year for Raising Sand: The award goes to Plant, Krauss, producer T Bone Burnett, engineer and mixer Mike Piersante, and mastering engineer Gavin Lurssen.
  • Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals: The award goes to Plant and Krauss for their collaboration on "Rich Woman" from Raising Sand.
  • Best Country Collaboration with Vocals: The award goes to Plant and Krauss for their collaboration on "Killing the Blues" from Raising Sand.
  • Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album: The award goes to Plant and Krauss for Raising Sand.
It's the kind of treatment Led Zeppelin never received in its heyday. The group was nominated for Best New Artist in 1970 but lost to Crosby, Stills & Nash. And that was it for nominations that had anything to do with the music. Other aspects of the bands were recognized, though: Led Zeppelin II was nominated for its album cover but lost, and four subsequent albums -- Houses of the Holy, Physical Graffiti, Presence and In Through the Out Door -- were all nominated for Best Album Package but lost.

But in the spirit of reassessing the past, Led Zeppelin's untitled fourth album became one of 189 records or albums named to the Grammy Hall of Fame in February 1999, and the group received a Lifetime Achievement award in 2005.

Plant was nominated for new musical work two years in a row in the 1990s. The first time was for "Calling to You" from his solo album Fate of Nations, but it lost in the Best Hard Rock Vocal category to "Plush" by the Stone Temple Pilots. Then the following year's Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal went not to Page and Plant for their new version of "Kashmir" on No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded but to Blues Traveler for that hip, three-minute ditty called "Run-around." With Page 10 years ago, Plant's luck finally changed for the better, when the award in Best Hard Rock Performance went to them for their new single, "Most High," from Walking into Clarksdale. Then again in 2004, neither of Plant's Grammy bids yielded him a coveted trophy; he was nominated for Best Rock Album with his album Dreamland and Best Male Vocal Performance for his single "Darkness Darkness" -- yielded him a coveted trophy.

Not that it could have precipitated his current Grammy award streak, but 2009 marks the first time Plant attended any official Grammy ceremony. Even last year, when he and Krauss won in Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals for "Gone, Gone, Gone (Done Moved On)," Plant opted to be somewhere else. It was a Grammy sweep on Feb. 8, 2009, though, when he showed up not only to perform a two-song medley with Krauss but also to accept their awards all night.

"In the old days, we would have called this selling out," remarked Plant upon receiving the Album of the Year award. "But I think it's a good way to spend a Sunday."

Interim Grammy count: Four of four, one to go

We're now halfway through the awards ceremony, and thus far Robert Plant and Alison Krauss have stolen the show with their two televised awards. They also swept the two categories that were announced prior to the telecast, which were Best Country Collaboration With Vocals and Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album.

And when the cameras started rolling inside the Staples Center, the awards continued to roll in. Plant and Krauss repeated last year's win in the Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals category, and then they picked up Record of the Year too.

And of course they'll perform by the time the winner is announced for the top prize, Album of the Year. They're supposed to perform a five-minute medley of "Rich Woman" and "Gone, Gone, Gone (Done Moved On)." "Rich Woman" is the Raising Sand track that earned them this year's victory in Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals, and the other song is what earned them last year's award.

Another track, "Please Read the Letter," is the one that earned Plant and Krauss their Record of the Year. It was the second single from Raising Sand.

Stay tuned for a final recap later!

Taking risks and chances possible only in the past?

Is turning down an opportunity to sing with Led Zeppelin a courageous move or not?

We seem to have two sides to this coin.

On one side, you have Robert Plant the cult hero, admired for his intrepid and offbeat partnership with Alison Krauss at a time most of the world is clamoring for him to re-team with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones and give that whole Led Zeppelin thing another go. Championing this suggestion is Spin magazine's editor, Doug Brod, who says the public characterizes Plant "as a guy who's not afraid to take chances." The implication is that by turning his back once again on the past, Plant is courageously forging ahead into unknown territory, earning as many as five Grammys this evening.

On the flip side of the coin is the notion that Plant is afraid after all -- afraid of taking the biggest chance, which could involve singing songs in his 60s that he sang when his vocal range and his onstage persona knew no bounds. It could also involve submitting once again to fate and trotting off again with some old friends to see if they could draw something out of themselves that they did not know was there, and once again become the world's biggest rock band.

Plant's not willing to do that, and the conclusion is that it's because he's afraid. But it's surprising who's saying this: none other than Plant himself. He remarked Jan. 27 in an interview for U.K. deejay Ben Jones that it is "very hard" to do justice in light of certain expectations and possible disappointment. In other words, he's fearful of letting people down. He admitted on the air to being "frightened" by his limitations.

This suggestion of Plant's is only the latest in a series of comments he's made that play off an idea that Led Zeppelin was a courageous unit. He said in a promo interview conducted for the 1990 Led Zeppelin box set that the group "was bold and brave" and "took risks and chances which are no longer possible if you start from scratch."

"No longer possible," he said back then, "if you start from scratch."

Is it necessarily the case that it can't be done? I mean, the one time there was a Led Zeppelin reunion concert this century, he met the challenge head-on. Not only Plant but also Page, Jones and drummer Jason Bonham. They've all proven they've retained enough of that magic formula to fill a two-hour concert set. So even if the ability to pull it off was in question back in 1990, it can't be the excuse anymore. This recent event has proven otherwise.

For him, it's not the point to ask if he can do it anymore -- hell, he may even be more sure than ever that he can. And that one-night-only performance at the Ahmet Ertegun tribute concert in December 2007 wasn't his only venture down that path. There were the less-than-stellar reunions at Live Aid in 1985 and at the Atlantic 40th birthday celebration in 1988, which made an extended reunion seem like a fruitless affair. There were aborted attempts at reunions in 1986 and 1991 that never advanced beyond discussions, rehearsals and the refusal of offers. There was the five-year collaboration between Page and Plant in the mid 1990s that left Jones wondering why he wasn't included. So it's not like this is something that hasn't been attempted or at least considered before.

Plant brings to the table a more poignant question with regard to the current situation. It's one of what the purpose would be in reforming the band. A radio program once captured Plant's statement on the futility of a reunion: "The media keeps playing on the fact that it could reform. Somebody could rebuild Stonehenge, but it's not gonna happen." And similarly, last July, he compared a Led Zeppelin reunion to a new episode in the Indiana Jones film series. He told Nashville's Tennessean newspaper that there had been a new Indiana Jones movie, but so what? The old ones are classics, and the latest installment failed to live up to the expectation of being rated an immediate classic.

Well, what if it had been? Wouldn't the filmmakers be popularly hailed as history-repeating engineers? Maybe that's the point of revisiting the past.

Plant may have addressed even these points in his recent Ben Jones interview. He says, for one thing, that any attempt at revisiting the past requires "a new, fresh, make-over start." And he also says that committing "to visit old ground" is difficult to do.

Difficult, sure, but not impossible. Just challenging. You can't do it if you're frightened, and that's what Plant readily admits he is!

But then again, Plant in the same minute reverts to another argument, that the reunion is impossible anyway. It's as impossible today as it was at the end of 1980, he says, because John Bonham's death made the band incomplete. It will remain incomplete "no matter what you do."

I guess that's news to Jason Bonham, and to those who found him fully capable of filling his father's shoes at the O2 Arena in London when he bravely and boldly put his reputation on the line when he took a risk and a chance in filling in for the world's greatest rock drummer.