History | 23 June 2016Robert Plant: The Middle-Class Blues Boy Share article facebook twitter google pinterest Jon Bream has spent his life watching and writing about rock’s greatest players. In his beautifully crafted and memorabilia-filled book Whole Lotta Led Zeppelin, 2nd Edition: The Illustrated History of the Heaviest Band of All Time, he includes several memories, stories and analyses contributed by rock greats about the influential group. One such summary in this book is from London-based rock reporter Garth Cartwright. Read how he describes legendary Zeppelin lead singer and lyricist Robert Plant. Robert Plant: The Middle-Class Blues Boy Where Mick Jagger’s pouting, camp stage presence set the standard for 1960s rock vocalists, Robert Plant’s bare chest, golden hair, and orgasmic shriek established a new threshold across the 1970s. And it’s an image that remains iconic today. Iconic, yes, and open to parody: Plant himself is openly critical of the heavy metal dunces that continue to imitate—badly—what Led Zeppelin pioneered. Refusing to engage in self-parody—unlike Jagger, who appears trapped by the persona he created almost fifty years ago—Plant, an intelligent man and extremely versatile vocalist, has moved on comprehensively from the image he projected as singer in the world’s heaviest band, Led Zeppelin. Robert Anthony Plant was born on August 20, 1948, in West Bromwich, in England’s West Midlands. His father worked as an engineer and played in a brass band. Robert was a bookish child who early on decided he wanted to be Elvis Presley. He grew up inspired by African American blues and soul music; he recalls his parents cutting the plug off his Dansette record player after he played “I Like It Like That” by New Orleans R&B singer Chris Kenner seventeen times in a row. The teenage Plant initially followed his parents wishes that he study to be an accountant, but after two weeks of working as an accredited clerk he threw the training aside and announced his decision to follow a career in music. His parents were aghast, but ultimately felt they had to let their son work the blues out of his system. He sang for the band Listen, which was signed by CBS Records, and Plant made his recording debut with Listen on a cover of the Rascals’ “You Better Run.” After Listen disbanded, Plant cut two solo singles for CBS, which marketed him as pop balladeer akin to Tom Jones. In 1966, at age twenty, he married and took a job on a roadpaving crew to support his pregnant wife. Plant labored away during the day while singing in a variety of local bands at night. As vocalist in the Crawling King Snakes, he met drummer John Bonham; both would later play in the Band of Joy. Although none of these bands achieved anything beyond provincial fame, Plant’s powerful tenor vocal did establish his reputation as a blues-rock shouter of note. He sang occasionally with British blues mainstay Alexis Korner and, in 1968, joined the band Hobbstweedle, which took its name from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings—perhaps an early sign of Plant’s fixation with fantasy. When Jimmy Page approached vocalist Terry Reid to sing in the New Yardbirds, Reid passed on the offer but suggested Page check out Plant. Page thus attended a concert by Plant with Hobbstweedle at a teacher training college in the city of Birmingham. Page and Plant found they shared similar musical passions and set about forming Led Zeppelin, Plant championing Bonham as the band’s drummer. The instant success of Led Zeppelin definitely owed a good degree to Plant: his tall, lithe figure, fl owing blonde hair, wailing vocals, and lyrics infused with sexual allusion and Tolkeinesque imagery created a vivid, compelling presence that marked the band out from so many others also playing “heavy blues.” Plant would co-write the majority of Led Zeppelin songs with Page, and the duo became the band’s focal points, both tossing manes of hair and pulling poses that would be imitated by generations to come. Led Zeppelin’s reputation as road warriors with a penchant for extreme hedonism went before them, and Plant was the ultimate groupie conquest. Indeed, the singer’s sexual magnetism earned him the nickname “Percy,” and legend has Plant declaring “I am a golden god!” from the balcony of the Continental Hyatt House in Los Angeles in 1975. Yet Plant was brought back to earth later that year when he and his wife, Maureen, were seriously injured in a car crash in Rhodes, Greece. This meant Plant had to sing his vocals for Presence, the band’s seventh album, from a wheelchair and forced Led Zeppelin to cancel the year’s remaining tour dates. Worse was to come. In 1977, while on tour in the United States, Plant’s son Karac died, forcing the cancellation of the tour. By now Led Zeppelin’s sound was changing, becoming less oriented toward heavy blues, more focused on melody and keyboards. When Bonham died in 1980, Plant had no qualms about calling it quits. He embarked on a solo career in 1982 with the well-received Pictures At Eleven and has since regularly toured and released albums. He was vocally critical of the new heavy rock bands that imitated Zeppelin and in 1988 challenged Rick Rubin’s sampling of Zeppelin for his Def Jam productions by sampling Zep himself on his own Now And Zen album. Plant’s solo career flagged in the 1990s, leading him to reunite with Page in 1994 as Page–Plant. This attracted much media attention and found the duo touring the world playing Zeppelin numbers. Yet the poor sales that met their 1998 album Walking Into Clarksdale pushed Plant’s return to performing solo. His recent albums include West African elements—Plant has performed at Mali’s Festival in the Desert—and refusing to conform to nostalgia and rock music clichés. “Maybe it would be a relief if I just behaved myself and stuck to the corporate repetition,” mused Plant on his refusing simply to do Led Zeppelin over and over. “I’ve got to be known as a chap that likes variety, for my own sake, never mind anyone else’s. This is crucial to me. I couldn’t go on and reinvent the spirit of the huge monster that was because I couldn’t feel comfortable. I don’t know the guy who sang in Led Zeppelin. I see some very funny pictures of him, then I see rock’s vile offspring trotting behind in lurex pants and leather gloves with the fingers cut off.” That said, Plant did agree to reform Led Zeppelin for a one-off charity gig in memory of Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun in December 2007. The concert, held in London’s O2 Arena, was a huge success. Previous Zeppelin reunions at awards events had been embarrassing shambles—Plant refused even to join Page, Jones, and Bonham Jr. when the band was given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. Yet the 2007 reunion concert led to suggestions that a worldwide tour would now be in the cards. Plant was, at the same time, enjoying the greatest success of his solo career with Raising Sand, an album cut with bluegrass superstar Alison Krauss. The album’s huge commercial impact in the United States resulted in the duo winning Best Pop Collaboration for “Gone Gone Gone” at the February 2008 Grammy Awards. Said Plant of the project: “Since I was a kid, I’ve had an absolute obsession with particular kinds of American music. Mississippi Delta blues of the thirties, Chicago blues of the fifties, West Coast music of the mid-sixties—but I’d never really touched on dark Americana. I was invited to do a show at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to celebrate the life of Leadbelly. Throughout my life, from the very early stages in the folk clubs in Worcestershire, everybody was singing Leadbelly songs. I thought it would be a good idea to try a duet so I contacted Alison. We had nothing to lose and everything to gain. We rehearsed in a hall for the Armenian residents of Cleveland, Ohio, and it was really good singing together. I thought I’d probably been around too long but she taught me to sing delicate harmonies. I really had to think and learn about musical intervals. I’m absolutely ecstatic because there’s nothing worse than being stereotyped. Alison brought such texture to my world. It was fascinating and very good fun.” Plant remains a singer on a quest to make fresh, earthy music. Buy from an Online Retailer US: UK: This second edition of the history of rock’s heaviest band gives you even more reasons to rock! This all-star tribute features many of today’s top rock journalists from Rolling Stone, CREEM, Billboard, and more, as well as reflections on the band from some of rock’s greatest performers, including members of the Kinks, Aerosmith, Heart, Mott the Hoople, the Minutemen, the Hold Steady, and many more. Glorious concert and behind-the-scenes photography cover the band from the first shows in 1968 as the New Yardbirds through today. More than 450 rare concert posters, backstage passes, tickets, LPs and singles, t-shirts, buttons, and more illustrate the book. A discography and tour itinerary complete the package, making a book as epic as the band it documents. Created from the ashes of the Yardbirds by guitarist and session wizard Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin featured virtuoso bass player John Paul Jones, gonzo drummer John Bonham, and Robert Plant, a vocalist like no other before him. The band single-handedly defined what rock ‘n’ roll could be, leaving in their wake tales as tall or as real as we wanted them to be. All of that, plus exclusive commentary from Ray Davies of the Kinks, Steve Earle, Kid Rock, Ace Frehley of Kiss, Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty, Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, Lenny Kravitz, Dolly Parton, and many more make this book one that no fan of Led Zeppelin will want to miss! Share article facebook twitter google pinterest If you have any comments on this article please contact us or get in touch via social media.