Robert Plant

So Robert Plant's off the road from the Band of Joy, and he's looking for another gig or two to occupy his time and maybe become his next permanent band. For now, all he wants is to keep the momentum going, so he's just going around, ticking things off his to-do list. He's got a few priorities in the music world.

To the disappointment of many, none of them is aimed at reuniting Led Zeppelin.

Well, why would he? It's not like he needs the money! And he's done that. Basically, he's done that enough and he's into all sorts of things. He's always on a journey; he's always exploring. He's traveled constantly since the '70s, and the part he really digs is "The Ocean." Not the song, but who the song's talking about: the people all over.

Robert Plant digs people. He digs them on every level, from every culture. He enjoys people. One level on which he connects is when they share a deep knowledge of a wide variety of musical genres, but especially of acts that cannot accurately be categorized. The same way no one-word label such as "rock" or "metal" could ever encompass Led Zeppelin. Not even "heavy."

Plant's connection with Jimmy Page was instant. During their first encounter solely for the purpose of discussing music, they both had a few ideas of the type of music they'd like to be playing. They both suggested folk. They both suggested Joan Baez. And their precision was right down to the very song: "Baby, I'm Gonna Leave You." They both had the LP. Page immediately invited Plant to join Led Zeppelin.

Nowadays, whenever Robert Plant has a musical kinship with somebody, he often makes a promise to do something together. Just ask Bobby Gillespie, singer of Primal Scream. If you're out one night and Robert tells you he'll come by and record with you, there's a good chance he'll play harmonica for one of the tracks on your next album. Or he'll sing with you, like he's done for Scott Matthews, Afro Celt Sound System, and Buddy Miller.

Now, you can add to that list "Les Misérables" star Alfie Boe, 39, a top male operatic performer in musicals. It's just been announced today, Sept. 26, that Robert Plant's going to guest on Boe's next album. They'll do "Song to the Siren" by Tim Buckley, long a favorite tune of Plant's. It happens to be something he's performed live regularly in the 2000s with the Strange Sensation, since their recording of it for Plant's album Dreamland.

He is also a guy who likes to put together new lineups. For a while following Led Zeppelin, Plant's first few touring bands, roughly his studio bands, didn't have names (unless they already existed, as was the case with the Acts of God or Chernobyl Poppies). But since the second coming of Page and Plant in the mid 1990s, his bands have had names. Sometimes, they're co-billed, such as Robert Plant and the Strange Sensation, or Robert Plant and the Band of Joy.

At the same time, there's also been another kind of band Robert Plant has put together. The other model for naming his band is just to drop his own name from it together and, instead, have one collective label. Honeydrippers started out this way. They played once as the Skinnydippers! Priory of Brion was this way. And last week, Crown Vic turned out to start off this way, too.

The new band features a quartet of Austin scene cats who are thrilled to be with Plant. Drummer Dony Wynn's an unmistakable guy who's played with Dr. John, Patti LaBelle, and, appropriately, Robert Palmer. Guitarist David Grissom is there, with bass guitarist Glenn Fukunaga, and keyboardist and accordion player Michael Ramos. Crown Vic is also songstress/backing guitarist Patty Griffin, who was always performing in her own right as a songstress in Texas.

Her last solo album, Downtown Church, features the production of Buddy Miller. He's the one who brought her in to salvage a post-Alison Krauss, all-male jam lineup that just wasn't quite working. They needed something, and Buddy came up with Patty Griffin, much to Plant's liking. His delight with, and enamor of, her probably triggered the name! They collectively made the Band of Joy album and then devoted a solid 12-month period to touring.

Once their tour wound down and Plant was mostly commitment-free from the concert industry, he and Griffin found themselves naturally joined at the hip (groin). They assembled the Fukunaga-Griffin-Grissom-Plant-Ramos band for the appearance of "Patty Griffin and special guests" on opening night of the Trans-Pecos Festival of Music and Love in West Texas, in a town called Marfa. And called it Crown Vic.

On Thursday, Sept. 22, their act appeared alongside those of Tift Merritt, Barbara Lynn. Nobody said so officially until the day of the show that Robert Plant was one of Patty Griffin's special guests, but everybody in the area knew anyway. The open secret is another Robert Plant tradition, in the cases of the Honeydrippers off and on from 1981 to 1985, the Priory of Brion in 1999 and 2000, and back in the mid to late 1970s during those two long breaks in the career of Led Zeppelin (Melvyn Giganticus and the Turd Burglars, anyone?).

This new one, Crown Vic might be a continuing entity, as long as it can outlast the attempt at a follow-up to Raising Sand, with Alison Krauss. After they picked up every one of the six Grammy awards for which they received a nomination, their participation at each other's side dwindled in February 2009. He kept tour guitarist Buddy Miller by his side, and Krauss went back to Union Station. Thus far, Plant and Krauss haven’t revived their working relationship.

A variety of new bands and types of lineups are one way Plant challenges himself musically, and from which he derives satisfaction that he’s constantly evolving and trying new things. Maybe his biggest lesson learned from performing with Krauss was the way he learned to listen to other voices and blend with them. In their case, it was harmonies. Between 1994 and 1996, he and Jimmy Page earned have the same experience of sharing stages with orchestras. Now, Plant appears regularly with ensembles and super-choirs.

Next, he’ll try his hand singing “Song to the Siren” alongside the operatic tenor Alfie Boe, in a live concert setting. Plant says of himself, “The evolution of my voice is like playing a guitar.The more you play guitar, the more dexterous you become, the more your fingers move faster and all that sort of thing. It’s the same with your voice. With Alison, I had to learn to sing harmonies, something I’d never done with Zeppelin. My voice has changed over the years and now I’m duetting with a tenor!” The extent to which they will perform together, likely only east of the Atlantic Ocean, has yet to be announced.

As evidenced by Thursday's Crown Vic performance in Marfa, Texas, that new and proudly American live lineup can rock it out electric and have some good down-home fun, especially with the Cajun vibe provided by Michael Ramos on accordion. Sometimes, they go acoustic and Patty Griffin can play, too -- maybe even mandolin.

Mandolins and acoustic: That particular combination of instruments, by the way, is one of the best elements of Led Zeppelin's untitled fourth album, of which Crown Vic played almost half on Thursday. And as November marks the 40th anniversary of release, Led Zeppelin's surviving members have every right to be proud of their fourth album -- not only this year but every year.

And isn't that exactly the advice Robert Plant bestowed when granting his blessing upon Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience? "I don't know why you don't do it whenever you feel like it, to be honest,” he said in a joint radio interview in May 2010, “because we all do whatever we want to do."

As the Zep song "For Your Life" says, "You can do it if you wanna." But if reuniting Led Zeppelin just doesn't happen to be up Robert Plant’s alley, he doesn't have to do it. He has a lot of things going on, by design, and giving his OK to a Led Zeppelin reunion -- outside of the rare charity thing for Ahmet Ertegun -- doesn't seem like it's going to be one.

11 comments:

  1. EVERY1S 4getting,PLANT knows pagey, jonsey & jason layed down some original licks AND put them up, for now
    THEY all said it was some special stuff ,
    so you know its put up for robert to here when he's ready. ROBERT knows this, he knows its the first colaboration of pagey & jonsey since Zep & he knows what "they" call "special" COULD BE PRETTY DAM SPECIAL

    ROBERT WILL get to it when the time is rite, & im sure if it "inspires him"
    he cant help himself, its in his nature to expand on it
    z1inspector at aol

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    1. Hope he gets inspired before it's too late. They aren't getting any younger, that's for sure!

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  2. BTW
    RIP ronnie james DIO
    (whos favorite band was zeppelin)

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  3. Robert stop being selfish and self centered. You should do a reunion for the thousands of fans that never got to see Led Zeppelin in concert because of Bonhams early death. We have been loyal fans for 30 + years. Why not be thoughtful of us and give us that one concert we have longed for all our lives. No doubt you have enjoyed the money that we have spent on countless DVD's, CD's, posters, t-shirts, magazines and books so please give back a little. Believe me a watered down version of the young Zeppelin would satisfy our hunger for one chance to see our alltime favorite band. Scott Hansen

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    1. Anonymous (at 5:59 PM) - Robert Plant owes you nothing. He owes me nothing. He owes his thousands of fans nothing. He gave it his all at the time of Led Zeppelin and for that you should be thankful. The band broke up 30+ years ago. Give it a rest already. Without Bonzo, there will never be a Led Zeppelin again. Just like without John and George, there will never be the Beatles again. Robert is still entertaining audiences, which is far from being selfish. I personally can't wait to see his performance next month.

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    2. They are now old men. get over it, it's over. Led Zeppelin was once a young vibrant, sexy, energetic band that does not exist anymore. Enjoy the CDs and videos and move on. They owe us nothing, if anyone missed a gig in the 70's that's not LZ's fault. It's ours for not getting off our butts when we had the chance. They were out there for 10 years!

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    3. Anonymous, Do you really think that having old men in their 60s get up on stage is going to re-create what was done by young men in their 20s? You're the type of "fan"who whinges because a band won't get together, and then will whinge when they do and for some reason you don't get exactly the same experience as they provided in their youth. They've completed that stage of their journey. Get over your fantasy, stop living in the past and live in the here and now, as things are.

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  4. Excellent write-up, Steve. You've got a handle on Plant's wanderlust and continuing quest to live up to the motto of 'Ever Onward'.

    I can completely understand the desire for a reunion, but I can't understand the sense of entitlement and resentment, especially at this point, when the guys are in their 60s. If you weren't there, you missed it. Sorry, but it was here for a limited time only. I include myself in the category of those that missed out, even after seeing the Page/Plant/Jones/Jason Bonham lineup at The O2. That was magical for me, but I'm not deluded enough to think it was the same thing as seeing Led Zeppelin in the 1968-1980 period, and I don't believe buying anything branded with "Led Zeppelin" entitles me to a performance by that band, any more than I would think buying Pink Floyd or Beatles stuff gets me a ticket to a PF or Beatles performance. When you pay for a CD, DVD, poster, t-shirt, or magazine, that's exactly what you're buying - not a chance to see the band live.

    Also...Anonymous1 AKA z1inspector desperately needs an extensive spelling lesson and some instruction on the proper time to employ CAPS LOCK.

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  5. Thank you for this wonderful article. I appreciate the breakdown of his PoB and after bands.

    I echo Wyatt (above) in deeply wanting a Zep reunion, of some sort, but we have no entitlement to such. I don't really care for what Robert's doing nowadays, but he does, and that's what counts.

    He always seems to keep growing as an artist, and that is highly commendable.

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  6. I have been a huge zeppelin fan for over 33 yrs. my dad brought me up on it. I have longed my whole life to see you guys in concert. I own your box sets,t-shirts,banners,flags and I even have one of your first original posters that advertised your concert that hung out side of a bar. I always say I would never get on a plane but if you guys got back together for a reunion tour I would most definitely get on that plane.

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  7. The magic is in the music. Especially if you are 15, it's summertime, and you live near an ocean. Those years were special. My closest girlfriend and I would just walk, talk, and mostly sing. I think we sang all of Houses of the Holy more than 200 times one summer.

    I met Robert Plant after college, marriage, and before babies. I didn't look like the Zep fan that day. I was in a suit, having come from my office -- and already felt a little distanced from the LZ super-fan I had been a few short years before. I'll tell you this -- there was definitely something other-worldly about him; in a positive way. This had nothing to do with whether he was high -- I doubt it, as he was handling himself extremely well and was about to be interviewed, at length, at the mighty WNEW of NYC. Despite the push of his handlers, he was courteous and focused on our conversation. I like to remember being tactful, and suggesting that my friend and I get out of the group's way. I do hope it happened like that, because my friend told me that I did "lose it" when he first came through the doors. I know I settled down when we spoke.

    I realized, not long after, that the magic was what I'd made of the music and how it connected to my life. I was predisposed to exploring and nurturing my own artistic, fantastic, and spiritual tendencies before I discovered those themes, among others, expressed in Led Zeppelin's music; and that side of me is still intact. So, though I know this won't bend the passionate under 25s; I think it's nice to share how the music's relevance to my life became apparent as I got older. (It's good to understand the root of your obsessions! :-)

    I didn't mean to make this comment a personal journal entry -- it just worked out that way, as I was reflecting. My point, to anyone reading, is that there WAS something deep, and important, in the music; and it wasn't just about thinking Robert might be my soul-mate. The deep, important stuff was inside of me. And my soul-mate is here. I'm married to him.

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