Born Robert Anthony Plant on August 20, 1948, in Bromwich, Staffordshire, England; married wife, Maureen, c. 1969; children: Carmen, Logan Romero (a second son, Karac, died in 1977). Addresses: Record company--Atlantic Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019. Website--Robert Plant Official Website: http://www.robertplant.com.
With the 1988 release of Now And Zen, Robert Plant celebrated his twentieth anniversary as a reigning vocalist of hard rock. Plant has been at rock music's forefront since he joined Led Zeppelin in 1968. His best-known songs, including "Stairway to Heaven" and "Whole Lotta Love," are classics that remain the definitive expressions of early 1970s rock. Since the 1980 demise of Led Zeppelin, Plant has undertaken a solo career that reflects his mature but ongoing interest in his chosen genre. Now and Zen has received better reviews than any of his Led Zeppelin work, and heralds a new direction for the thoughtful rocker. Plant told People magazine that when his group disbanded after many well-publicized disasters, he still had the ambition to make good music. "My intention was to go in the complete reverse direction from sliding into obscurity," he said. "After the end of Zeppelin, I didn't really see anything. But as time went on, I started to pick up the pieces." Now, touring on his own to sellout crowds, Plant has proven himself an artist "with deep roots in the music's past but a lively interest in its present---and future---as well," according to Rolling Stone reviewer Kurt Loder.
In early 1968 Plant was an obscure singer with a band called Hobbstweedle, based in England's Midlands region. Rolling Stone contributor Stephen Davis described the British teenager as "a great tall blond geezer who looked like a fairy prince and possessed a caterwauling voice. They called him the Wild Man of Blues from the Black Country." Plant's name came to the attention of Jimmy Page of the Yardbirds; Page was trying to start a new band and needed a charismatic lead singer. Page and some friends travelled to Birmingham to hear Plant perform at an obscure teachers' college. Plant amazed them with his keening soprano, so out of context with his tall, rugged physique. "It unnerved me just to listen," Davis quoted Page as saying. "It still does, like a primeval wail." Davis noted that Page was soon convinced that Plant had the very voice he needed, one with a "distinctive, highly charged, sexual quality." Plant accepted the opportunity to work with Page, and convinced his friend John Bonham to join the group as well. In October of 1968 Led Zeppelin was founded, with Plant, Page, Bonham, and John Paul Jones.
The Rise and Fall of Led Zeppelin
People correspondent Jim Jerome wrote: "From its launch in 1968, Led Zeppelin seemed to be testing the dubious proposition that heavy metal could be lighter than air. Yet through the 1970s, rock's fiercest foursome was more than buoyant: Led Zep sold some 40 million LPs worldwide [and] set concert attendance records all over the planet." Plant hit his stride as a lyricist while in the group, composing songs such as "Kashmir," "Black Dog," "Misty Mountain Hop," and the winsome "Stairway to Heaven," based on ancient Celtic legends. Davis claimed: "With its starkly pagan imagery of trees and brooks, pipers and the May Queen, shining white light and the forest echoing with laughter, "Stairway to Heaven" seemed to be an invitation to abandon the new traditions and follow the old gods. It expressed a yearning for spiritual transformation deep in the hearts of a new generation. In time, it became Led Zeppelin's anthem."
Unfortunately, in a tradition they helped to spawn, the members of Zeppelin conducted themselves with reckless hedonism while on tour, abusing alcohol and drugs and indulging their sexual appetites with ever-willing female fans. Plant told Rolling Stone that he recalled few details from those days. "I can remember a stream of carpenters walking into a room as we were checking out," he said. "We'd be going out one way, and they'd be going in the other way, with a sign, CLOSED FOR REMODELING, being put on the door. It's kind of embarrassing."
Dire predictions followed the excessive behavior, and indeed the group began to be plagued with extreme bad luck. As Davis put it, by 1975 "the old Zeppelin carnival atmosphere had dissipated." In that year Plant and his family were involved in an automobile accident; two years later, Plant's young son died unexpectedly of a severe respiratory infection. A certain rivalry had always existed in Led Zeppelin---especially between Plant and Page---and this also escalated. The group finally split up in 1980, following the alcohol-induced death of Bonham. Plant told People that Bonham's death "was one of the most flattening, heartbreaking parts of my life. ... It was so final. I never even thought about the future of the band or music." When he began to recover, however, Plant returned to the stage with one determination---he would not be content to rehash the Zeppelin classics for the rest of his career. "I went out and stifled whatever cries there were---not the least of them from myself---for Zeppelin material," he said. "People don't want to let go of something they loved so much. It's a shame to say goodbye."
In Search of an Identity
"Scorned by the punks and embarrassed by cheap Zeppelin imitators, Plant spent his first three solo albums roaming the shifting terrain of Eighties rock in search of an identity that had nothing to do with lemon squeezing or 'Stairway to Heaven,'" noted David Fricke in Rolling Stone. "He never found it. ... For all of their adventuresome drive and hip future-rock angularity, Plant's solo records in general lacked the unbridled passion and risky spontaneity of Zeppelin in full flight." Undaunted by the new critical indifference to his work, Plant continued to experiment. One such lark, a five-track EP called The Honeydrippers, Volume One, went platinum in 1985. In that short set of songs, culled from vintage rhythm and blues tunes, Plant was joined by Page, Jeff Beck, and pianist Paul Shaffer, among others. All were surprised by the success of The Honeydrippers, but courageously decided not to proceed exclusively in that direction.
Plant returned to his solo career, forming his own backup band and trying his best not to load his concerts with Zeppelin songs. His fourth solo album, Now and Zen, was a critical and commercial hit. "This record is some kind of stylistic event: a seamless pop fusion of hard guitar rock, gorgeous computerization and sharp, startling songcraft," wrote Loder. "[It] is so rich in conceptual invention that you barely notice that Plant sings better on it---with more tone, control and rhythmic acuity---than he has in the seven years since Led Zeppelin imploded. Better, in some ways, than ever."
With the success of Now and Zen, Plant softened toward his Zeppelin music and began adding a substantial amount of it to his concert sets. "I wanted to establish an identity that was far removed from the howling and the mud sharks of the Seventies," he told Rolling Stone. "So if I go onstage now and sing 'Misty Mountain Hop,' it's cool because I've given it the time in between. I can come out and do it without having traded on it all the way down the line." Asked if he was pleased about the enduring popularity of Led Zeppelin music, Plant concluded: "When I look back, I don't get any sense of great achievement out of the fact that people still like [the music] a lot. I get achievement out of the fact that it was good."
Finding a Voice
Critical and public acceptance of Now and Zen reinvigorated the adventuresome Plant to further his musical and thematic explorations. His follow-up album, Manic Nirvana, went gold despite yielding no hit singles. In 1993 he released Fate of Nations, another critically lauded effort that featured socially conscious and personal themes in such songs as "Great Spirit" and "I Believe," the latter a song inspired by the death of Plant's son in the 1970s. Musically, Plant employed the same core band as on his previous effort, and collaborated with them on the songwriting, which gave the album a cohesion missing on much of his earlier solo work. The band willingly accompanied Plant on his excursions to exotic musical territory, whether it was the Middle Eastern and North African flavor of such songs as "Calling to You," the Celtic backing vocals of "Come into My Life," or a faithful rendering of Tim Hardin's folk standard "If I Were a Carpenter."
In 1994 Plant reunited with Page for No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded, a successful television special and subsequent album release that was almost as well known for its exclusion of Zeppelin bassist Jones, with whom Plant had publicly feuded since the dissolution of their band. Unledded contained acoustic reworkings of such classic Zeppelin tunes as "The Battle of Evermore," and three new songs. Two of the original songs were recorded in Morocco and featured world musicians. The duo toured in 1995, and released their first album of original material since the demise of Zeppelin, 1998's Walking into Clarksdale. The album's title refers to the Mississippi Delta town where the blues genre took hold. The partnership between Plant and Page then went into hiatus.
In 2002 Plant returned to recording with Dreamland, a strong album of cover material and original songs. Among the covers included on the album are the 1960s' garage rock chestnut "Hey Joe," the Tim Buckley ballad, Song to the Siren," and Bob Dylan's "One More Cup of Coffee." In 2003 Plant released a two-disc retrospective of his solo career, featuring recordings made both before and after his tenure with Zeppelin. He reunited his band from Dreamland, now collectively known as the Strange Sensation, for the 2005 release Mighty Rearranger. The diversity of styles and earnestness of Plant's performances prompted Uncut critic Nigel Williamson to write: "Call it a comeback, if you like. The simple truth is that as a mature statement by someone who's done it all, but still retains a desire to create something new and fresh, Mighty Rearranger is a record of considerable depth, admirable adventure and surprising passion."
by Anne Janette Johnson and Bruce Walker
Robert Plant's Career
Rock singer/songwriter, c. 1965--. Prior to 1968, played with Hobbstweedle, Band of Joy, and Alexis Korner; joined Led Zeppelin, 1968; member until 1980; performed in film The Song Remains the Same, 1976; founded the Honeydrippers, 1985; solo artist, 1980--; released solo albums beginning in 1982, including Pictures at Eleven, 1982; Now and Zen, 1988; Fate of Nations, 1993; Dreamland, 2002; Mighty Rearranger, 2005.
- Selected discography
- Solo albums
- Pictures at Eleven Swan Song, 1982.
- The Principle of Moments Atlantic, 1983.
- Shaken 'n' Stirred Es Paranza, 1985.
- Now and Zen Atlantic, 1988.
- Manic Nirvana Atlantic, 1990.
- Fate of Nations Atlantic, 1993.
- Dreamland Universal, 2002.
- Sixty Six to Timbuktu Atlantic, 2003.
- Mighty Rearranger Sanctuary/Es Paranza, 2005.
- With Led Zeppelin
- Led Zeppelin Atlantic, 1969.
- Led Zeppelin II Atlantic, 1969.
- Led Zeppelin III Atlantic, 1970.
- Houses of the Holy Atlantic, 1973.
- Physical Graffiti Swan Song, 1975.
- Presence Swan Song, 1976.
- The Song Remains the Same Swan Song, 1976.
- In Through the Out Door Swan Song, 1979.
- Coda Swan Song, 1982.
- With the Honeydrippers
- The Honeydrippers, Volume One Atlantic, 1985.
- With Jimmy Page
- No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded Atlantic, 1994.
- Walking into Clarksdale Atlantic, 1998.
- Davis, Stephen, Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga, Morrow, 1985.
- The Rolling Stone Record Guide, Random House, 1979.
- Entertainment Weekly, May 13, 2005.
- People, August 27, 1979; August 9, 1982; May 23, 2005.
- Rolling Stone, January 31, 1985; July 4, 1985; March 10, 1988; March 24, 1988; July 14-28, 1988.
- Uncut, May 2005.