Just as you thought that this blog would follow a predictable formula as you were waiting for the next article from 1976, we suddenly shake things up a little by moving backwards in time. And what better band to represent a shake up than this? Never afraid to experiment, Led Zeppelin were the masters of surprise, and Robert Plant took this element of surprise into his solo career many years later.
Enjoy this great article from 46 years ago and marvel in the fact that Robert Plant released his new album “Carry Fire” just two days ago. He is still doing it – still hungry to create! A true musician and a living legend.
Robert Plant in the talk-in
“Sometimes I wish I`d been Elvis… or Superman”
By Steve Peacock
You`ve just come from the studios. Were you recording for the fourth album?
Yes, it`s that long dragging-out thing of mixing a lot of the tracks. The intention originally was for a double album, and then we thought `well, not this time` – but then we`ve been saying `not this time` since the second album. Jimmy (Page) took all the material over to Sunset Sound in Los Angeles with a very famous producer who said it was THE studio, and did the mixes. We finished recording in February and the idea was to mix it there and get it out in March. But he brought the tapes back and they sounded terrible, so we had to start mixing all over again. It`s a drag having to do it twice, but we`re coming to the tailend of it now.
So it`s basically Jimmy who`s producing the album?
Well, we all discuss the thing, but when it comes to putting it right down he`s usually the one to do it. I`ll be there as often as I can because I know exactly what I want, but I know that if I`m not there then we know each other well enough to know exactly what we both want. But for me it`s really a case of getting to know things at the moment. I can go along there and sit for twelve hours and suggest things, but I like to be of some practical use. Still it`s only three years now that I`ve been in a position to get accustomed to recording studios. It`s growing pains that I`ve got now.
The first two albums were very hard musically, but on the third there was a lot more acoustic stuff. Is the new one following on in that sort of direction?
I don`t think there`s any set thing. We don`t get into any mould and stay there. People might want us to, and other people might not want us to, but bollocks anyway. Most of the mood for this new album was brought about in settings that we hadn`t come across before – we were living in this old falling apart mansion somewhere out in the country, I can`t quite remember where, and we had the Stones mobile truck, so the mood was… bang! like that, and we could hear the results immediately. There was no big scene about going back into the studio and doing it again because we had time to experiment, especially with drum sounds.
We did this thing called “When the Levee Breaks” which is an old Memphis Minnie number, a Kansas Joe McCoy thing, and the drums on it sounded incredible. There was a secret to it which we just stumbled across really, which was just one microphone, just one – and the revelation of finding out that one microphone did more than about 35 in a studio set the mood really; it was enthusiasm. Out of the lot I should think there are about three or four mellow things… they`re really improved a lot – there`s a thing called “Stairway To Heaven” and a thing called “Going To California”, but also there`s some nice strong stuff, some really… we don`t say `heavy` do we?
You can say heavy if you like.
Well, I don`t know whether we do. But it`s strong stuff, and its exciting, and the flame is really burning higher and higher and higher. But its probably best that we keep out of the way and quiet, and then when the album comes out we`ll wait for the torrent and the retort.
Do you think that sort of music succeeds on an album? I mean obviously it gets people going on stage and you get that feeling, but when it`s just coming out cold off an album do you think…
Yeah, but it isn`t as simple as one, two three, four and away we go – I don`t think it ever has been like that, because “Communication Breakdown” at the beginning wasn`t a one, two, three, four, and we`ll see you at the end. There`s groups who do that who are supposed to be copyists of us and things like that, but you listen to groups who are `copyists` of yourself and there`s nothing going on. I mean, to have people coming along and saying Grand Funk are the Led Zeppelin of America and they`re really knocking Zeppelin off their position – you`re going well `please stop, I think you`ve got it wrong`.
Do you really enjoy doing those acoustic things?
I do, because I manage to plonk guitar on about three numbers on this album and it means so much to me to be involved more than just vocally, to know that I`ve been able to contribute something a little more. But they can be so good because they can start off in one vein, and when you come to do them on stage they`re nearly always like a stomp type of thing, and it gets really close to the people. That`s all it is really with us, I think – just saying well, “Good evening, and if you don`t laugh and if you cry, and if you don`t shout, and if you don`t moan, and if you don`t argue, then you haven`t had your money`s worth”. There`s no story.
Everybody`s getting hung up on critics and things, but if they just let people get on with it, and let audiences pay their five bobs or seven-and-sixes or whatever we try to keep it to and just came out saying something and laughing, then whatever it might be, so long as people get something positive out of it then we`ve done our job.
Have you ever thought of doing a solo album of stuff that maybe doesn`t come out through Led Zeppelin, or are you satisfied with Led Zeppelin as a vehicle for everything you want to do?
It can be the vehicle for anything that any of us want to do. John Paul`s delving very deeply into electronic stuff now, which to begin with I thought was a bit harsh. But listening to him a bit more and watching him a bit more and knowing him a lot more… it all fits in. We don`t get on each other`s nerves, because each time we feel as if we`re going to do that we just say “See you in a week”, so every time a new idea comes up it`s chewed and chewed. That`s why people can`t expect us to keep to “Whole Lotta Love” and things like that, because somebody might arrive at a rehearsal or a session and say “How about this?”
The idea of a solo album occurs obviously, to everyone, but the thing is who else could play on it apart from me? There`d only be three other people, and that`s Bonzo and Jonesy and Jimmy, because they`re the most accustomed to what I do – vocally and everything else. I`ve sung with other people, people who I`ve admired and things like that, but there`s a thing that spurs up in me when we (Led Zeppelin) are doing something good and it gets into a good thing. I don`t mean repeating “Whole Lotta Love” every night, but there may be a section in the middle that which has never arisen before, and at that point everybody just looks around at each other and goes “Right”, and we go from there.
You do tend to do things like “Whole Lotta Love” a lot though. Is this because you really like it or because you feel it is expected of you?
Well it is expected isn`t it? But it isn`t just “Whole Lotta Love” because that lasts on stage maybe four minutes, and for the rest, the construction that comes at different parts in that four minutes, spreads it to a ten minute thing. But within that ten minute thing, there are parts where the audience are up and applauding, there are parts when they`ll maybe be quiet, and there are parts where they`re shouting their heads off. That`s how all that started really, with things like “Dazed And Confused” and “How Many More Times” – when we recorded “How Many More Times” we just didn`t know what we were going to do; we knew the basic riff, but we didn`t know “The Hunter” was going to come into it, or “Rosie” – they come on the night, or they come at the session.
I think that`s why we`re still together and we`re not bitching at each other or anything like that, because we know that wherever it is – even if it`s in Iceland – if we suddenly hit on something… you can feel it coming from behind – the bass and drums suddenly knit together and its like a big handshake between the two and they go off, and Jimmy and I`ll stay doing something else. It`s like a good jigsaw puzzle. That`s why a solo album would be useless because you wouldn`t get half of it together. You could bring in all the incredible musicians you liked – the Memphis Horns, anybody – but you wouldn`t get such a strong buzz. I wouldn`t anyway.
Do you never feel held back by what your audience expects, or do you feel that what they want is what you have to play?
Well, I don`t think that what they want is what we have to play, because we didn`t have to play “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” or “Friends” and things like that because it wasn`t expected of us was it, and we did get a bit of a knocking for it, although personally I think that album (III) is the best thing that we`ve done. But you see you can get upset momentarily by the remarks, and probably all the way through this interview you`ll get this one coming from me, but for all the people who griped and took the trouble to write gibberish to the music papers there were a lot of people who were surprised that we`d taken that much trouble to go that much farther.
Well certainly when I heard you were doing things like that I thought good, now they`ve made their name they`re going to start thinking about a wider scope of music.
It`s been there with James from the word off really, because really it was his conception and compared to mine his alternatives were numerous. I think he probably could have started doing something like that, but that probably it wouldn`t have been as largely accepted. It`s nice to have an audience and to say `Right, we want to please people` and to get the ultimate kick out of it ourselves, because really there`s very little else to get kicks out of apart from music, and the arts generally. You can`t really turn up one day and decide to do a completely acoustic album and write twelve acoustic numbers three minutes long. But it isn`t as if it has to be acoustic… on this new album the electric numbers are, in my eyes, a lot better than the ones before. They may not be as instantly commercial, but if you listen to them long enough I think there`s a lot more thought and a lot more maturity in them.
How much is Led Zeppelin as a whole aimed at a commercial market? I mean, how much does that enter your thinking when you`re writing a song or making an album or doing a stage appearance?
Well they are three vastly different things. Writing a song, all it is is that you`re in a certain mood and something starts to come out. It might never reach an audience and there are things that haven`t reached audiences. If at the end of a song it`s a gas then it`s on the LP, and if it`s a gas that we want to think about a bit longer then it`s not, or maybe there isn`t room for it on the album. Writing a song is the last place you`re going to start thinking about 2 x 20,000 people in Madison Square Garden. What was the second one?
Making an album.
Making an album is a case of making your own personal idea of what is perfection at that point. I mean with the third album, I shed a couple of tears because I was so happy with it, but a lot of people weren`t, so there`s one proof of its pudding.
You don`t conciously think `we can`t use that because…`
Oh Christ! It would be pointless me having a word with you if that was the case wouldn`t it? If that was the case I`d want to be on the front of the ——– every week (Robert did mention the name of a music paper but, ever true to the journalistic ethic that `dog doesn`t bite dog` we omitted it). I`ve seen people, mind you, who worry about the position of their guitars before they go on stage at “Top Of The Pops” – and there`s another farce. Bonzo and I went there the other night, and we went into the bar, and there were record pluggers everywhere. There was nil conversation – the whole thing stank. I`m afraid we became objectionable, because the more it went on the more I was thinking `why?`, and `When`s the train to Worcestershire?`, and `How did I get in here anyway?`, and I got in because I said I was Mickey Most anyway, and they didn`t know I wasn`t. I`m going to get shot next week now. But the whole thing typified exactly what you were saying do we think about – and we don`t. You can`t because if we did I`d have done something really silly to myself by now. That is The Business.
How about when you`re on stage, and there are all these people who`ve come to see the Led Zeppelin that they know; don`t you ever feel tempted to shock them and do something that is completely unexpected from you? Or is it very important to you to play to your audience, to play to what they want?
I don`t think you can decide when you go on stage. I mean, you can`t deny that when you`re in a position to impress then you give them all you`ve got – everything, everything that you`ve got. But the mood changes so often through three hours – you get knackered in one place or maybe your head`s spinning round and round – but there`s a part, five minutes on as it`s building to it that you suddenly get caught up, and you go right up with it and you take off somewhere.
It`s just a case of light and shade really, and the audience are there as a blackcloth to your light and shade so they can either get off on it or please themselves. There`s no premeditation – there is in the fact that “Whole Lotta Love” will come somewhere towards the end of the night – but not really otherwise.
Yes, but would you leave out “Whole Lotta Love” for instance?
No. Because a lot of people have come because they enjoy that, and they haven`t really had the time to get into “Friends” and “Celebration Day”… but “Whole Lotta Love” has to be there to get everybody in. Ah, that`s a rash statement. To get the people in who wouldn`t have come just to hear the other things.
You think that by doing “Whole Lotta Love” you can lead people to things that maybe they wouldn`t have thought of?
To give them the chance of hearing things that we reckon are worth hearing, as opposed to just the cliched… what has become our National Anthem. But don`t forget that in the past year in the eyes of the Press I`ve gone from a pre-Raphaelite f—ing entity to a Viking warrior or something – so really it would be nice for them to stop thinking about all that and just have a listen to things they might not have given a second thought to before. I`m so much more adamant now when I`m singing things like “That`s The Way” than I ever was when I recorded it, and I`ve seen people get off on the fact that I emphasise the parts that I feel need emphasising, and I feel it come back.
But then I feel it come back from “Whole Lotta Love” because it`s A climax – its not the best climax that the group will ever have, but its nice to see people climaxing in every possible way around you. Really, when people pay money – and you can`t really say that they can get away without paying money – they should be able to have every aspect, every mood every angle, for three hours YOU. Not `how does it look?`
There are times when your stage act, the way you move around, does look a bit contrived – all that stuff with mike stands. I admit its not so much now, but in the early days, like that first tour with the Liverpool Scene and Bloodwyn Pig…
Yeah, well that was the first one we ever did. At that stage I was a vocalist, full stop. What could I do when I had three people around me who were really getting it on? I got excited, and when you get excited you can round and round in circles – I mean I`ve run behind the amps and leant up against the amps and blown one because it`s been so good – but you can`t go around and have a little guide book to original poses when you`re getting excited. If I didn`t get excited I`d leave the group tomorrow. So really these pre-meditated things are just… well, I know damn well they`re not (pre-meditated) and I don`t think they look that way either. It`s just another extension of this vocal- thought – motion – audience thing – it`s the supreme contact. We`ve lost a lot over the ages of contacting one another, reaching each other through means apart from speech, and it`s not a page out of some book on erotica when I`m dancing around, it`s just `Well great!`
How do you feel now about singing a lyric like “Squeeze my lemon `till the juice runs down my leg”?
I think that was poetry at one time. In it`s original context, that Robert Johnson album, “Travellin` Riverside Blues” – I was playing the album the other night and I felt so proud of owning it, and that line “squeeze my lemon `till the juice runs down my leg” was just so indicative of that person Robert Johnson. When we recorded that it was in LA and it was a time when there was a lot of looning – and there was a lot of looning going on – and it was one of those states of mind you get into when everything`s rosy and shining, and so a lyric like that comes zooming in. It`s borrowed, admittedly, but why not? I really would like to think that someone who heard that and then saw some clever critic writing about Plant living off the far superior Robert Johnson, or whatever they have to say to keep their jobs, would go and listen to Robert Johnson as a result. But I wish I`d written that, I really do. Sometimes I wish I`d been Elvis… or Superman, or that fella in the San Franciscan cartoons who always ends up an alley with some chick with her legs up in the air.
But Robert Johnson… just him, the sympathy between guitar and vocal, the whole atmosphere of a record that was done in some back room – you can do that with John Lee Hooker and it`s 40 minutes of boredom half the time, sometimes. But this Robert Johnson thing was a complete and utter statement. He was almost the innovator of the walking bass and all that sort of thing that Tommy McClennan and Muddy Waters grew from. Tommy McClennan especially came along afterwards and said well, that`s it, that the ultimate personal blues. But “squeeze my lemon” – I wish I could think of something like that myself. But it`s not cool to do that these days, you realise that don`t you? If I`d been Elvis Presley I could have done something like that, but he cottoned on to Arthur Crudup instead. I could have just been a Robert Johnson bloke.
What do you think Led Zeppelin has achieved after three years of phenomenal success in terms of stardom, or whatever you like to call it – audience reaction?
Well I hope we`ve made the impression by now that nothing is the norm, that nothing need be the same next time. We haven`t categorised ourselves. And I don`t think we`ve thrown ourselves at the public as much as a lot of other people who say they haven`t – we don`t put ourselves in the way of glory. But three years is such a short time to start making any grand assessment. We`ve had the opportunity to be super-duper incredible stars, and we could have lived on that much more than we have done, but I think its just a case of holding back all the time because if you take the reins that are given to you, you end up destroying yourself – overdoing it, over playing it, over living it, and suddenly finding out that the things from your past don`t fit in at all with what you`re doing now. Therefore it`s much better for me to go home and be as I have been for years and years and years, then make some new being out of myself…
I haven`t set myself any sort of position, and I don`t look up to myself as being this that or the other. It`s easy to say you don`t, and do, but I think if I just carry on like this then our success will carry on for a long time, at least I hope it will. But anyway, our ability will increase and that`s the main thing. I`m not going to lose sight of dry land, I don`t think, though I`ve seen a lot of people do that.
Is it true that Led Zeppelin was originally formed by Jimmy, to kind of cash in on the market left open in America when the Yardbirds split up?
No, not really. What happened was that Jimmy didn`t want to pack up altogether, but Relfy and all that lot did, and the stuff that the Yardbirds were doing was exciting – the fact that it had been overlooked in England and that the Yardbirds had overlooked England also was by the by. The Yardbirds weren`t the biggest thing in America but they were the innovators almost of something that smelt refreshing to the American public. The ideas that Jimmy had were his own ideas, some of which he got out in the Yardbirds, some of which he didn`t. His ideas were fresh, and they excited me, and the ideas that I`d got, lyrically, didn`t have to coincide with what he was doing – they could have been totally different, and if they had been then I imagine that the group would have been different altogether.
But we came together and we had the same likes and dislikes anyway, and blah, blah, you know it all anyway because you`ve read it a million times. But the point was, had that fusion not been the way it was we might have been like anybody – Edmundo Ross if you like. It didn`t have to be the way it turned out, because you can`t tell someone how to write a song. Had I been a different kind of person or had anybody else in the group been just fractionally different, it would have been a different kettle of fish.
Yes, but would you have been asked to join the group in that case? Or did Jimmy want those sort of people to make a band that would play that sort of music?
Well you don`t think Jimmy asked me to join the group before he`d seen me work, do you? I mean he didn`t say `I`ll have you, now what can you do?`
Obviously not, but the point I`m trying to make is that it is an accepted story that the group was formed for that reason, to fill the gap left by the Yardbirds, whatever it may have developed into now.
People have said that, and it has been said by the people who say things for us, but this is where you lose the artist or the person who is directly involved. That was the case in as much as Jimmy wanted to continue as the Yardbirds were with a powerful thing. His alternatives were great and I know that at one point he probably wanted to do something at the other end of the scale, which he`d probably have done equally as well. But it wasn`t a case of filling in any gap – it was the fact that I went to Jimmy`s and because of what he had written and what he was playing the group turned out the way it did.
Had it been simply a gap to be filled it would have been easy to take every cliche, everything from the Yardbirds, everything from everybody else who was fading or messing around, and built something on it. I`ve seen a lot of groups do that – a lot of groups who are supposed to be Led Zeppelin copies – and you can take so much, but that doesn`t make you original. And I think we were (original), despite the orientations that were there, and will always be there because I have to listen to sounds and I can`t avoid it.
But we weren`t created to fill that gap primarily. Although it was my first chance of doing anything constructive with established people, apart from Alexis (Korner) and people like that, I just couldn`t have changed after all those years of battling and saying I believed in what I was doing. I had the Band of Joy, and we couldn`t get many gigs in the Midlands, and we finally made Middle Earth and things like that, so I`d been adamant that long that it would have been pointless for me just to do anything, to accept being told to do anything, just to fill that gap.
It`s a fine point and it would take me a long time, and I`d have to know you a long time, before I could get into explaining it in the finest detail, but it is something that mustn`t be just stated as a fact. Its not as simple as that.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. Any errors in the text from the original magazine may not have been corrected for the sake of accuracy. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of Sounds also contains articles/interviews with these people: Al Kooper, Leo Lyons (Ten Years After), Elton Dean, Edgar Broughton, Fat Harry, Stan Tracey, Keef Hartley, Stephen Stills, Jack Lancaster, Juicy Lucy, Heaven, The Moody Blues, Ian McDonald, J.J. Band, Natural Acoustic Band.
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