He’s regarded as one of the greatest frontmen of one of the greatest bands of all time, so it would be understandable to think that you probably know everything there is to know about Robert Plant, the owner of one of rock and roll’s greatest voices. However, like all of us, Plant has led a life full of intrigue and excess, giving rise to plenty of tales which might not be known by the common fan.
In celebration of Robert Plant returning to Australia next year to play Bluesfest with his Sensational Space Shifters, as well as a number of sideshows, we’ve decided to take a look back some of the obscure facts from Robert Plant’s life and career that you might not have been aware of.
Robert Plant, C.A.
For an iconic sex symbol like Robert Plant, one would assume that he would always have dreamed of being some sort of musician, aiming for the world’s stages. Well, as it turns out, Plant’s early years were spent in books, with the rocker choosing stamp collecting as a hobby rather than music.
In fact, Plant had actually aspired to become a chartered accountant, thanks in part to his father’s influence. Leaving school after two weeks of training in this field, he abandoned his studies in favour of becoming part of the blues scene that was becoming popular at the time. The rest, as they say, is history.
Page, Jones, Bonham, & Winwood
Initially, Led Zeppelin formed as The New Yardbirds, and were fronted by Jimmy Page. While auditioning members to be in the group, Page had reportedly witnessed countless musicians try their luck at being the band’s singer. In fact, two of the musicians that Page liked included Scottish folk singer Donovan, and Steve Winwood, who would later gain fame as a member of Blind Faith and Traffic.
While we’re pretty glad that Jimmy Page ended up choosing Robert Plant as the group’s singer, could you imagine how Led Zeppelin would have sounded with the singer of ‘Valerie’ up the front?
Plant Gives Bonzo A Gig
Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham is often considered to be one of music’s greatest drummers. However, if it wasn’t for Robert Plant, they could have had Procol Harum’s B.J. Wilson on the skins. While still in the auditioning phase of the band, the group needed a drummer. Impressed by B.J. Wilson’s skills, Jimmy Page asked the rocker to join, but he turned it down.
Plant then remembered John Bonham, his old bandmate from his pre-Led Zep group, Band Of Joy. Jimmy Page was also familiar with Bonham’s work, having seen Plant perform with Band Of Joy before, and upon his recommendation, agreed to allow John Bonham to join Led Zeppelin. Can you just imagine how ‘Moby Dick’ would have sounded with the guy from ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ providing the beats?
Page, Plant, & Baez
When Jimmy Page and Robert Plant first met in 1968, they shared a mutual love over folk singer Joan Baez, in particular her version of the song ‘Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You’. In fact, they enjoyed Joan Baez so much that the band decided to cover her song for their first album, leading to their cover often being mistaken for an original.
Robert Plant: Ghostwriter
If you were to take a look at the credits of Led Zeppelin’s self-titled debut record, you might recognise that there were approximately no songs credited to Plant, despite the fact that he actually wrote six of the nine songs on the record. Reportedly, the reason for this is that Plant was still under contract for a record company different to Atlantic, Led Zeppelin’s record label at the time. While many, including Zeppelin’s manager dispute this claim, it’s still rather curious as to why he was left off the credits list.
Led Zeppelin I(dentification)
A famous story about Robert Plant’s early days involve the rocker attempting to buy a shirt in London’s upmarket Carnaby Street. Apparently, Plant attempted to buy the shirt using a cheque, for which he needed identification.
Upon being asked for ID and having none, he instead went out to his car, grabbed a copy of Led Zeppelin’s first album (which was, for some reason, in his vehicle), and showed it to the sales assistant, who allowed him to purchase the shirt.
During the band’s 1970 European tour, they skirted with controversy somewhat when Frau Eva von Zeppelin threatened the band with legal action. Her problem? As a descendant of Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, the bloke who invented the Zeppelin which gave Led Zep their name, she believed that the group were disrespecting her family’s name.
In order to appease Frau von Zeppelin, the band decided to change their name… for one night only. Yes, if you were lucky enough to have been in the crowd during the band’s show on February 28th, 1970 in Copenhagen, we have bad news – you didn’t see Led Zeppelin perform, legally, the band you witnessed were called ‘The Nobs’.
“No ‘Stairway’? Denied!”
One of Led Zeppelin’s most famous songs, ‘Stairway To Heaven’, became a little overplayed in the decades following its release. In fact, by the year 2000, the song had racked up close to three million plays on the air. While Robert Plant wouldn’t have heard it every time it was played, he still became rather sick of the song, to the point where he once paid a radio station $10,000 to never play the song again.
Reportedly, Plant was listening to a radio station in Oregon that was running a fundraiser to stay on the air. One of their attempts to gain cash included asking for $10,000 to never play the classic Led Zep song again. Plant heard their plea and decided to use a credit card that belonged to Atlantic Records to give the station its much-needed funds, and guaranteed he’d never have to listen to his legendary song on their airwaves ever again.
The group’s seventh studio album, Presence, was recorded whilst Robert Plant was confined to a wheelchair. Apparently, Plant had been injured in a car wreck that had left him in a rather bad way. After resting up in both France and the USA, Plant was again shipped off to Munich, Germany, where the band recorded the album over the course of 18 days.
As Jimmy Page once explained, “Robert was really keen to do the recording, and we all were, because there wasn’t anything else that we could do.”
During the recording of Led Zeppelin’s eighth album, the penultimate In Through The Out Door, the group were lucky enough to use the facilities at Polar Studios in Sweden. In case you’re not familiar with your Scandinavian recording studios, that’s the same studio which was owned by ABBA, and where the Swedish group recorded albums such as Voulez-Vouz and Super Trouper.
Legend has it that during the recording process, Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson from ABBA decided to take Robert Plant out for a night on the town during at a nearby sex club. While we’re not sure if Plant managed to get any inspiration from his time at the club, we wouldn’t be surprised if it emerged that ‘Whole Lotta Love’ was recorded following a similar incident.
Robert Plant Hated His Early Work
Considering that he’s managed to be considered as one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time, you’d think that Robert Plant would be pretty happy about the work that he’s done over the years. Well, as it turns out, musicians can be their own toughest critics.
Just a few days ago, Plant opened up to The Guardian about how much he hated his vocals on Led Zeppelin’s early work. “I realised that tough, manly approach to singing I’d begun on ‘You Better Run’ wasn’t really what it was all about at all,” he noted.
“Songs like ‘Babe I’m Going To Leave You’, I find my vocals on there horrific now. I really should have shut the fuck up!”
Robert Plant & the Sensational Space Shifters Bluesfest sideshows
Monday March 26 & Tuesday March 27
Sydney Opera House, Sydney, NSW
Tickets: Sydney Opera House
Sunday April 1 & Monday April 2
Palais Theatre, Melbourne
Tickets: Ticketmaster | 136 100
Sunday April 8
Riverside Theatre, Perth, WA
Tickets: Ticketek | 13 28 49
Also playing Bluesfest Byron Bay 2018 on Friday March 30th