Robert Anthony Plant CBE (born 20 August 1948) is an English musician, singer and songwriter. Best known as the lead vocalist and lyricist of the rock band Led Zeppelin, he has also had a successful solo career.
With a career spanning more than 40 years and possessing a powerful wide vocal range (particularly his trademark high-pitched screams), Plant is regarded as one of the most significant singers in the history of rock music, and has influenced contemporaries and later singers such as Freddie Mercury, Axl Rose and Chris Cornell. In 2006, heavy metal magazine Hit Parader named Plant the "Greatest Metal Vocalist of All Time". In 2009, Plant was voted "the greatest voice in rock" in a poll conducted by Planet Rock. In 2008, Rolling Stone editors ranked him number 15 on their list of the 100 greatest singers of all time. In 2011, readers of Rolling Stone placed Plant in first place of the magazine's list of the best lead singers of all time.
Life and career
Plant was born in the Black Country town of West Bromwich (then in Staffordshire, now in West Midlands) to parents Robert C., who worked as a civil engineer, and Annie C. (Cain) Plant. He grew up in Halesowen, in Worcestershire, now West Midlands. Plant gained an interest in singing and rock and roll music at an early age.
He left King Edward VI Grammar [secondary] School for Boys 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 Johnson, Bukka White, Skip James, Jerry Miller, and Sleepy John Estes. Plant had 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 a young singer with a powerful voice working in the Midlands.
Led Zeppelin (1968–1982)
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:
According to Plant:
Plant and Page immediately hit it off with a shared musical passion and 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 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 eponymous debut album hit the charts in 1969 and is widely credited as a catalyst for the heavy metal genre. Plant 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 age five of a stomach infection while Plant was engaged on Led Zeppelin's concert tour of the United States. It was a devastating loss for the family. 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:
Plant's lyrics with Led Zeppelin were often mystical, philosophical and spiritual, alluding to events in classical and Norse mythology, such as "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 "The 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.
That musical inspiration eventually culminated in "Kashmir". 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.
Arguably one of Plant's most significant 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.
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, Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, and his other fellow contemporary, Jim Morrison of The Doors. 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, skipping, 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:
One of the oddest awards he's received is the Rock Scene Magazine "Chest O Rama". Readers of the magazine had to decide who had the best chest in rock and Plant was the winner. When they contacted him about it, he replied: "I'm really greatly honoured although it's hard for me to be eloquent on the subject of my chest."
Solo career (1982–present)
After the break-up of Led Zeppelin in December 1980 (following the death of John Bonham), Plant briefly considered abandoning music to pursue a career as a teacher in the Rudolph Steiner education system; going so far as to be accepted for teacher-training. He nevertheless embarked on 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" (1983), "Little by Little" (from 1985's Shaken 'n' Stirred), "Far Post" (originally only on the B-side of "Burning Down One Side" but popularised by airplay on album-oriented rock stations), "Tall Cool One" (a No. 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 No. 3 hit with a remake of the Phil Phillips' tune, "Sea of Love" and a follow-up hit with a cover of Roy Brown's "Rockin' at Midnight". Although Plant avoided performing Led Zeppelin songs through much of this period (he occasionally would improvise his unique Zeppelin screams into his set), his tours in 1983 (with 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 Moya 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 1981, Plant and Page occasionally collaborated on various projects, including The Honeydrippers: Volume One album in 1984. 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.
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: Fourteen years of speculation from their fans and occasional sniping between the two former members ended when Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin reconvened their former musical partnership to produce No Quarter. Having long resisted offers from MTV to reform to do an Unplugged show, they finally accepted as part of a deal that also allowed them to visit Morocco to record new material. The album combines the results of both of these projects. The Led Zeppelin material features new arrangements and new instrumentation, including strings, Egyptian musicians and the haunting vocals of British-Asian star Najma Akhtar. 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.
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).
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 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 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.
From 2007–2008, Plant recorded and performed 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.
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 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 12 September 2010 at the Bowery Ballroom in New York, another eleven-date autumn tour in Europe was announced to last from October to November 2010. North America tour dates were announced 16 November 2010, with the first show being 18 January 2011 in Asheville, North Carolina.
A new studio album called Band of Joy was released on 13 September 2010 on the Rounder Records label. The album was nominated for Best Americana Album in the 2011 Grammy Awards, and Plant's performance of "Silver Rider" on the album (a cover from the Low album The Great Destroyer) was nominated for Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance.
The band played their final scheduled show together at the Big Chill Festival at Eastnor Castle Deer Park in Herefordshire on 7 August 2011. The show ended with Plant bidding his bandmates "a fond farewell".
On 30 September 2011, Plant and Band of Joy played in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, as part of the 11th Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival.
It was first reported that Robert Plant's new band, The Sensational Space Shifters, would be debuting at 2012's WOMAD festival in Wiltshire, England. An intimate warm up gig was then announced in Gloucester on 8 May to a crowd of 400. Although it was initially reported that there were 10 members of the band, along with Plant the band consists of former Strange Sensation members, Cast guitarist Liam "Skin" Tyson, Justin Adams, Billy Fuller and John Baggot along with Dave Smith, Juldeh Camara and Patty Griffin. In addition to Womad and the Gloucester show, the Sensational Space Shifters are scheduled for the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi on 10–12 August.
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." At the 1990 Silver Clef Award Winners Concert at Knebworth, Plant was joined by Jimmy Page. Some of their set was released on the subsequent live album and video. In 1995, Led Zeppelin were 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 and Jones 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."
In February 2013, Plant hinted that he was open to a possible Led Zeppelin reunion in 2014, stating that he's "got nothing to do in 2014."
Robert Plant married Maureen Wilson on 9 November 1968. The couple had three children: daughter Carmen Jane (1968) (married to Charlie Jones, Plant's bass player for solo tours); and sons Karac Pendragon (1972–1977), and Logan Romero (1979). The couple divorced in August 1983. Also, Plant has a younger son, Jesse Lee (1991), with Shirley Wilson, sister of Maureen.
In 1977, during Led Zeppelin's US tour, Plant received a phone call from his wife, Maureen. He found out that his son, Karac, was seriously ill. Two hours later, he received another call from his wife. Karac had died of a stomach infection. Karac was 5 years old.
In a 2012 interview with the Independent newspaper, Plant revealed that he was living in Austin, Texas, with American singer, Patty Griffin. Although the interview started rumors of their marriage with Plant quipping, “I eloped and ran off to Texas”, his manager subsequently denied the nuptials: “Robert has not married Patty Griffin,” his rep said. “He was just referring to the fact that he’s been residing in Texas.”. However, the marriage is confirmed twice on Robert Plant's personal website: "The recently-married Plant and Griffin were scheduled to appear at both nights of the show... Both husband and wife performed each of their own songs and several covers of Led Zeppelin’s hits, including the band’s 'Band of Joy' record which first brought them together."
On 14 August 2009, it was announced via the Wolverhampton Wanderers text message news service that "Rock Legend and lifelong Wolves fan Robert Plant is to become the club's third Vice President." Plant officially received the honour before kick-off at the club's first match of the season against West Ham. Plant was five years old when he first visited Molineux Stadium. He recalled in an interview with his local paper, the Express & Star, in August 2010: "I was five when my dad took me down for the first time and Billy Wright waved at me. Honest, he did. And that was it – I was hooked from that moment."
In late 2010, BBC Two aired a documentary titled Robert Plant: By Myself. It features Robert Plant discussing his journey with Led Zeppelin and various projects since.
According to Sunday Times Rich List, Plant is worth £85 million as of 2012.
Robert Plant is one of the most significant singers in rock music and has influenced the style of many of his contemporaries, including Geddy Lee, Ann Wilson, Sammy Hagar, and later rock vocalists such as Jeff Buckley and Jack White who imitated his performing style extensively. Freddie Mercury of Queen, and Axl Rose of Guns N' Roses were also influenced by Plant. Encyclopædia Britannica notes "Exaggerating the vocal style and expressive palette of blues singers such as Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters, [Robert] Plant created the sound that has defined much hard rock and heavy metal singing: a high range, an abundance of distortion, loud volume, and emotional excess". Plant received the Knebworth Silver Clef Award in 1990.
In 2006, heavy metal magazine Hit Parader named Plant No. 1 on their list of the 100 Greatest Metal Vocalists of All-Time, a list which included Rob Halford (2), Steven Tyler (3), Freddie Mercury (6), Geddy Lee (13), and Paul Stanley (18), all of whom were influenced by Plant. In 2008, Rolling Stone named Plant the 15th greatest singer of all time on their list of 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. In 2009, he was voted the "greatest voice in rock" in a poll conducted by Planet Rock. Plant was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2009 New Year Honours for his "services to popular music". He was included in the Q magazine's 2009 list of "Artists of the Century" and was ranked at number 8 in their list of "100 Greatest Singers" in 2007. In 2009, Plant also won the Outstanding Contribution to Music prize at the Q Awards. He was placed at no. 3 on SPIN's list of "The 50 Greatest Rock Frontmen of All Time".
On 20 September 2010 National Public Radio (NPR) named Plant as one of the "50 Great Voices" in the world.
- Pictures at Eleven (1982)
- The Principle of Moments (1983)
- Shaken 'n' Stirred (1985)
- Now and Zen (1988)
- Manic Nirvana (1990)
- Fate of Nations (1993)
- Dreamland (2002)
- Mighty ReArranger (2005)
- Raising Sand (2007; with Alison Krauss)
- Band of Joy (2010)
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Image from Discogs